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    Nabil Ayesh was arrested on September 11, 2001, while stopped at a traffic light in Philadelphia. He was detained for one year and seventeen days without charges. in Persons of Interest
    Nabil Ayesh was arrested on September 11, 2001, while stopped at a traffic light in Philadelphia. He was detained for one year and seventeen days without charges.

    The usual suspects

    Some of the people rounded up, imprisoned and finally released for lack of evidence during the government's anti-Islamic post-9/11 dragnet tell their stories in "Persons of Interest."


    (Originally reviewed at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in June 2004.)

    "Persons of Interest" is a doubly ironic title. The people we see speak to the camera — filmed in Macintosh-commercial simplicity against a plain white wall — are among those rounded up as "persons of interest" to federal authorities casting a wide net in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

    Directed by: Alison Maclean, Tobias Perse.
    Produced by: Lawrence Konner.
    Featuring: Muhamed Abushaker, Syed Ali, Khadrah Ali, Nabil Ayesh, Mateen Butt, Miriam Hamzeh, Mohammed Irshaid, Salem Jaffer, Amanda Serrano, Faiq Medraj, Syed Shah, Shokreia Yaghi.
    Cinematography: Richard Rutkowski.
    Edited by: Sandrine Isambert.

    Related links: Official site
    Cinema Village 22 E. 12th St. (212) 924-3363

    Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2004
  • Overview
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  • Human Rights Watch 2001
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  • The first irony is that if you're looking for terrorists, these people are of no interest whatsoever. (It's unlikely that there was ever a case against them, since they've all been released with neither a terrorism prosecution nor an apology to show for their troubles.) And the second irony is that the arrests and imprisonment of these ordinary people make them of interest to any citizen who cares about human rights in this country. It's important that their stories be told in a film like this.

    "Persons of Interest" is not bold or especially creative filmmaking. It doesn't try to tell a bigger story or add context to the words of its subjects, except for some scene-setting clips of Attorney General John Ashcroft. The subjects merely step up to the camera and tell what happened to them, their sons or their husbands. It's a document, plain and simple, and an important one.

    A senior citizen visiting from California is reported as suspicious by a Buffalo Burger King employee, and picked up by cops in an overdue rental car they say is stolen. He's held in solitary confinement for a month. A civil engineer who works on the 59th Street Bridge is arrested at his New Jersey home after he refuses to discuss his political opinions about the Mideast with authorities. He counts each of the 100 days he spends in solitary confinement. A Brooklyn sandwich maker with a World Trade Center postcard taped to the deli case is held for three months.

    A Pakistani-born principal in a securities firm is turned in by a vengeful business partner. Authorities find the following evidence in his Rockland County home: a flight-simulation video game, $200 in Pakistani currency, Islamic texts, and visitor's ticket stub to the World Trade Center. He is held in Rikers Island for 100 days.

    We only hear the arrested men's side of these stories, but that's enough. Given that the administration refuses not only to justify these detentions to the public but even to be held responsible for many of them in court, there is no other side to be heard. Making this film is one way of ensuring that the people whose freedom has been stolen and whose rights have been trampled are given some kind of voice against the state's stony silence.

    JUNE 10, 2004

    Reader comments on Persons of Interest:

  • Not very good   from elizabeth, Oct 4, 2004
  • Re: Not very good   from David Thomas, Jan 3, 2006
  • Powerful Film   from Barbara Cohen, Nov 24, 2004

  • Post a comment on "Persons of Interest"