(T)ERROR is a new documentary we recently completed that marks the first time journalists have gone behind the scenes of an active FBI counterterrorism sting operation. The film features unprecedented access to an active informant and offers viewers a rare glimpse of the government's counterterrorism tactics. (T)ERROR illuminates the murky justifications behind those tactics, and asks: Who is watching the watchers?
Although (T)ERROR has received numerous awards and garnered critical acclaim on the festival circuit, there is a risk our film, and the critical issues it explores, won't reach wider audiences.
We began production on this film in 2011 and finished it just in time for our world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this past January. We were thrilled to receive a Special Jury Prize for Break Out First Feature, as well as the Grand Jury Prize at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. And although (T)ERROR is completed, and has screened at festivals around the world - including the Tribeca Film Festival, the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and the Hot Docs International Film Festival - the future of the film is now in jeopardy. Because of the unprecedented nature of our reporting, (T)ERROR faces serious legal expenses and insurance costs, which will prevent us from releasing the film.
"The filmmakers of '(T)ERROR' obviously gain incredible and unprecedented access to the FBI and its operations — agent's conversations are filmed and heard by phone — and one now has to wonder if Cabral and Sutcliffe are on some kind of watch list. It’s not just the access that’s impressive, but what the filmmakers do with it."
-Rodrigo Perez, Indiewire
The sensitive and controversial nature of our film, and the possibility of legal retaliation from the government, puts us in a vulnerable position. Although all filmmakers are required to obtain insurance before distributing films, so that everyone involved is protected from potential lawsuits, we have been turned down by every single insurance broker - except one.
To our shock, the quote we received from that broker is 400% higher than the standard price paid by other filmmakers. We have also been working with a team of lawyers to guarantee nothing in the film puts us, our subjects, or our partners, in legal peril - an expensive necessity. Unfortunately, the costs of these protections are so high that we can not afford to distribute (T)ERROR.
We have had incredible support from a wide range of partners: Sundance, Tribeca, Chicken & Egg Pictures, IDA, Firelight Media, BRITDOC, the Bertha Foundation, and more. One of our most important champions has been ITVS, who became an early supporter after viewing a short sample. ITVS immediately recognized that a public television broadcast of the film could trigger a vital debate in this country about the FBI's counterterrorism tactics.
All of our partners continue to be passionate supporters of the film - but they're tapped out.
This is why we need you.
We have big plans for (T)ERROR: if we make our funding goal, we will be able to launch a national theatrical release of the film in October 2015. Your contribution will directly support our existing legal expenses, as well as the costs of an insurance policy, which will protect us and our partners from any legal repercussions throughout the film's release.
Most importantly, your support is critical in preventing the film, and the dialogue around it, from being suppressed.
The challenges we face getting this controversial story to the public pose troubling implications for other journalists. How likely is it that other filmmakers will continue to pursue dangerous and important stories, given the exorbitant costs we are facing? The rising price of journalistic freedom is unacceptable - and it comes at the expense of our democracy.
Your support for (T)ERROR signals not only your desire to aid this individual project, but a desire to see more independent, long-form reporting that goes behind the curtain of powerful institutions, and exposes difficult truths - no matter the price.
- Lyric & David
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
*Donate - Your contribution is your voice - please support! Every bit helps.
*Stay in touch - We're hoping to release the film in theaters in October 2015 - sign up on our website to help bring this film to your community!
YOUR SUPPORT MATTERS - by supporting this film, you signal your support for journalism freedom, and for open dialogue about our country's approach to national security, Islamophobia, and surveillance.
Lyric R. Cabral (Co-Director)
I have an extremely personal connection to (T)ERROR, as I have known the main character, "Shariff", a 63-year old FBI informant, for over a decade. Starting in 2003, while I was a young journalism student, Shariff was my neighbor. We lived in a 3-story Harlem brownstone and, for several years, we engaged in conversations about current events, and his history as a Black Panther. Later, court records revealed that his garden apartment was an FBI “safe house,” wired with audio and video surveillance, to record interactions between Shariff and Tarik Shah, a suspected terrorist. Shah, who I met on several occasions, was arrested on May 28, 2005 and, within days, the FBI swiftly relocated Shariff to South Carolina.
On the morning that he fled New York City, Shariff called me and, speaking frantically, made a cryptic request. "If anybody asks about me, don't give them any information and try to find out who they are." I pressed Shariff for more details, wondering what had motivated his relocation. "Come see me soon. I have a lot to tell you." In the summer of 2007, I traveled to South Carolina where Shariff confessed to me that he had been working as an FBI terrorist informant since 1991.
David Felix Sutcliffe (Co-Director)
Lyric and I first met while teaching film to teenagers at an afterschool program in Harlem, back in 2005. While teaching at the program, one of our students, a 16-year-old Muslim girl named Adama Bah, was arrested by the FBI after they accused her of being a "potential" suicide bomber. I ultimately ended up making ADAMA, an hour-long film about her and her family for PBS. And then, in the fall of 2011, Lyric casually inquired if I had any plans for a future project. I mentioned I had been fantasizing about making an informant documentary, but figured it was an impossible idea. How would you even find an informant?
And that is where our film begins.
"Riveting" - Indiewire
"One of the best documentaries of 2015" - Newsweek
"A vital expose" - Variety
"The Insiders" - interview with L Magazine
Since 9/11, there have been over 500 individuals in the US arrested for terrorism-related crimes. We were prompted to make this film after learning that nearly 50% of these cases featured informant-driven sting operations. And yet, Americans know almost nothing about these operations, or how domestic counter-terrorism investigations are conducted. The dearth of substantive reporting within mainstream media has created a void where Islamophobia, and fear-based policy decisions, have flourished. In addition to a widespread demand for change, we hope that (T)ERROR will inspire other journalists and media outlets to re-examine their current approach to national security reporting.
Both of us have produced documentary work that examines complex national security issues via intimate cinema verité, exploring the human consequences of surveillance. Lyric's current photo reportage, USA VS. we the people, examines the lives of Muslim-American families impacted by terrorism convictions. David's previous film, ADAMA (PBS, 2011) captured the story of Adama Bah, a 16-year-old Muslim girl growing up in Harlem who was arrested by the FBI on suspicion of being a "potential" suicide bomber.
Producer Christopher St. John (The House I Live In, Reagan, Freakonomics)
Executive Producer Eugene Jarecki (The House I Live In, Reagan, Why We Fight, The Trials of Henry Kissinger)
Executive Producer Nick Fraser (Man on Wire, Why We Fight, Pussy Riot)
Editor Nyneve Laura Minnear (The Girl With Black Balloons, The Lulu Sessions, Blast!)
Editor Jean-Philippe Boucicaut (Cesar's Last Fast, American Blackout, The Last Conquistador)
Music Robert Miller (Particle Fever, The House I Live In, Why We Fight)
Co-Producer Shirel Kozak (The House I Live In, Reagan, Freakonomics)
Chicken and Egg Pictures, Tribeca Film Institute, BBC Storyville, ITVS, IDA, Sundance, NYSCA, Firelight, Candescent, Women in Film, Bertha BRITDOC, Kindle Project, Good Pitch Chicago, The Film Collaborative, Ro*co Films
Risks and challenges
Is there a possibility we face legal repercussions for tackling this sensitive subject? Yes. Is the cost of protection a threat to journalistic freedom? Absolutely.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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