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Showtime Documentary Films has teamed with Alex Gibney and Peter Berg’s Film 45 for a new film certain to spark debate. Titled American Jihad, the Alison Ellwood-helmed documentary explores the phenomenon of home-grown jihadism as well as how young men are radicalized to commit terrorist acts and what can be done to prevent it.
Though production began about six months ago, the film has taken on greater relevance in the past few days in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order that bans immigration and travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries including Iran, Iraq and Syria. American Jihad offers a counterpoint to the new administration’s position that such a ban will keep the country safer, given that the doc delves deep into terrorist incidents that were perpetrated by American citizens as opposed to visa holders.
The film is set to premiere March 11 on Showtime.
“It definitely presents a different side to that narrative that you can stop terrorism in the United States or radicalization of Americans by banning people from coming in from certain Middle Eastern or Arab nations,” Showtime Docs head Vinnie Malhotra tells The Hollywood Reporter.
American Jihad became a natural extension of Berg’s feature Patriots Day, which chronicled the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and was made by Showtime sister company CBS Films. The doc marks a collaboration of Film 45, CBS Films, 60 Minutes and Gibney’s Jigsaw Prods.
Ellwood (History of The Eagles, Magic Trip) came at the story by analyzing the strategic outreach and online tactics used by terrorists overseas to reach susceptible Americans. The documentary also explores the impact of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen identified by the CIA as an al-Qaeda leader whose charismatic, highly personal recruitment tactics were responsible for influencing other Americans to the jihadist cause. As the first American-born terrorist targeted and killed by a U.S. drone strike overseas (during the Obama administration), al-Awlaki’s death held worldwide political implications and invigorated the momentum of U.S. radicalism. His story became even more timely this past weekend, when his 8-year-old daughter was killed by U.S. forces in Yemen during a mission ordered by the Trump administration. The Tsarnaev brothers, the pair behind the Boston Marathon terrorist blasts, were inspired by al-Awlaki.
“What we are highlighting in this film is the radicalization of American citizens — people who were born and raised in the United States,” Malhotra adds. “That in many ways is more of a concern to law enforcement.”
Sarah Dowland (Zero Days) produced American Jihad, which was executive produced by Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Going Clear, Zero Days) and Jigsaw’s Stacey Offman alongside 60 Minutes’ Michael Radutzky and Jeff Fager and Film 45’s Matt Goldberg, Brandon Carroll and John Logan Pierson. Richard Perello served as co-executive producer.
Before its Showtime bow, American Jihad will serve as the closing-night film at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Mont., in late February.
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