On Thursday, Feb. 18, Campus Action, the Electrical Engineering Department, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering Shane Cotter and English Lecturer Anastasia Pease collaborated to present a screening of the critically acclaimed documentary, “(T)error.”
A co-director of the documentary, David Sutcliffe, attended the screening. He introduced the film and hosted a brief Q&A at the end.
Campus Action originally organized a presentation of the documentary for the previous Thursday, Feb 11. However, upon noticing the emails promoting the screening, Cotter and Pease, who had already arranged Sutcliffe’s visit as part of their “Technology, Identity, and Security” Sophomore Research Seminar, contacted Campus Action to pause the group’s event and work together on a screening involving Sutcliffe.
Throughout the documentary, the directors follow FBI informant Saeed Torres. In following the daily life of Saeed, viewers learn that the informant’s struggle to financially support his son motivates his continual work for the FBI. Saeed also has a tarnished reputation for his involvement with the FBI, particularly his work in a sting to imprison suspected terrorist Tarik Shah.
Saeed knew the other director of the film, Lyric R. Cabral, and agreed to be filmed as he worked on a case in Philadelphia. Using the alias “Shariff,” Saeed investigates the motivations of Khalifa Ali Al-Akili, a Muslim area resident suspected of being a terrorist.
The documentary follows Saeed as he interacts with Al-Akili and tries to gather evidence to incriminate him, until this person of interest contacts authorities in fear that the FBI is targeting him for being a terrorist. This moment is a turning point in the film as filmmakers then form a dual narrative of the story, following both the informant and the person of interest as a the sting continues. Neither Saeed nor Al-Akili knows that the other person is being filmed.
Al-Akili attempts to uncover the true identity of Saeed, obtaining his name and personal phone number, which is traced back to the 518 area code. This surprised many viewers, as they did not know that the documentary’s story had such close ties to the Schenectady area.
After Saeed’s work as an FBI informant is revealed to the public, he returns home, but is alienated by his friends and family and falls into a depression. Meanwhile, the FBI hones in on Al-Akili, arresting him on a gun charge.
By the end of the film, Saeed’s career as an informant is over, and Al-Akili is sentenced to eight years in prison. Director Sutcliffe discussed the film with viewers, revealing his hopes that the film will raise awareness about Homeland Security efforts to devise stings, as well as unravel the truth about the discrimination Muslims face for their association with terrorism.
The film is scheduled to air on PBS this week. It was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015 and the Tribeca Film Festival.