An investigative documentary about a newly jailed Salafi-Jihadist recruiter in Norway has already caused a court battle over whether the right of filmmakers to document the inner workings of ISIS trumps the police's ability to fight terrorism.
Recruiting for Jihad, set to have its international premiere at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto later this month, features filmmakers Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen and Adel Khan Farooq following the notorious Norwegian Islamic recruiter Ubaydullah Hussain over a three-year period.
The directors got access to an ISIS missionary seeking young Norwegian converts that would make any Western news organization envious. But midway through shooting Recruiting for Jihad, three agents from Norway's police intelligence force raided Rolfsen's home to seize footage of Hussain and an 18-year-old ISIS recruit, who is referred in the film as Peter, driving to Gothenburg, Sweden, en route to wartorn Syria.
"They wouldn't leave the house without the footage of this trip. And I knew if I protested at all, they would put me in cuffs and take all of my material," he told The Hollywood Reporter. Rolfsen and Khan Farooq feared the seizure of their footage immediately following the arrest of Hussain and Peter at an airport outside Gothenburg would have a chilling effect on their film.
Still, with the police failing to produce an official court seizure order, the filmmakers rejected their demands. And the film now is at the center of a yearlong legal battle that pits national security against freedom of the press.
After some lower court losses, Norway's Supreme Court ruled the Recruiting for Jihad filmmakers didn't have to hand over their unpublished video on grounds they were entitled to protect their sources like the rest of the news media. "That case was about keeping journalists free to gather information," Rolfsen says.
On April 4, Ubaydullah Hussain was jailed for nine years by a Norwegian criminal court for organizing Peter's journey to Syria. Despite that conviction, Rolfsen defends his right to document the threat of European Jihadism and his attempt to understand how the closed world of ISIS can make converts out of disillusioned youth in the West.
"The police and we as filmmakers have different roles in society. The police have the right to arrest and prosecute, and we have the opportunity to investigate and expose this community," he argues. "We think we should keep both of those roles, and society can benefit from them," Rolfsen adds.
Hot Docs, North America's largest documentary festival, is set to screen 230 features in all after opening on April 27 with Lana Slezic's Bee Nation.