Overview: On Sept. 21, 2013, Al-Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group from Somalia, attacked Westgate Mall in neighboring Kenya. The siege lasted 49 hours, leaving 71 dead and hundreds wounded. Told from the vantage point of more than 100 security cameras revealing hours of previously unseen mall surveillance video, and drawing on extensive photos taken during the attack and testimony from survivors and rescuers depicted in the footage and photos, TERROR AT THE MALL recalls the horror of the attack, as well as the courage and resilience of ordinary citizens in the face of mass murder.
TERROR AT THE MALL debuted on HBO on Monday, 09.15.
Expectations: This is an incident I remember from last year, though I cannot recall all the details. In fact, I don’t remember seeing any footage of the attack just still photos. But, what I do recall about it is that it created a bit of a back-and-forth dialogue with myself. It stated with being hung up on the word “terrorists” that was used. My first reaction was on the lines of what the hell would terrorists be concerned with someplace like Nairobi Kenya. My definition of “terrorists” automatically denoted an Islamic extremist from the Middle East. I thought that those thugs wouldn’t waste their time is some African country south of Egypt, would they?
It was going to prove me wrong at the end, but I didn’t know it. Having been a big fan of VICE News I knew that there were terrorist cells around the globe and that that ilk was not exclusively the threats we have been keeping an eye on. I was stereotyping. Besides, in Africa tribes have been hacking at other tribes for a long time. I knew that from VICE as well. Well, wouldn’t you know that after I had convinced myself that I was falsely accusing our most common terrorist foe that it in fact turned out to be Al-Qaeda in the end! Funny that I remembered that internal debate, but I go back and forth on issues like that all the time.
Anyway, being more specific to TERROR AT THE MALL I am not sure how graphic all the obtained footage is going to be. Any trailer is not going to show much detail. However, the trailer does quickly draw you into the incident. See for yourself.
I am sure there is more to this than just establishing our enemy and releasing the footage of that horrible day. The way it was handled and the carnage ceased was a bit of a controversy in itself, but I am not sure of all those details. I need to watch the piece first. I am sure I am in for a bit of a shock.
Gut Reaction: Man that ran the gamut of emotions; so much so that I needed time to sort through it all. Now don’t get me wrong. I know this is supposed to be a ‘gut reaction’ and it is, but I needed time to stew over them and determine how I was going to approach this segment. Had I just jumped into writing without processing everything it would have ended up quite a jumble of words. It is all good because I always appreciate a show that riles me up like that.
Why so riled up, you say? Did you watch TERROR AT THE MALL? The camera coverage from the Westgate Mall was so through that it felt like you almost lived through it yourself. In that one hour I felt shock, anger, disbelief, grief and even fear. I was in my comfortable spot with my laptop perched and no lights on but the glow of the machine and I was drawn in.
I was afraid for the people hiding behind a meat counter and the seven people huddled under a display table during an intense crossfire. Then there was the man who dragged his injured wife behind a café counter only to have a terrorist walk up and shoot him as well. Though there are scenes of shooting and death it is witnessed by a cold camera in the distance and nothing too graphic is displayed most of the time. But then a graphic moment does slap you in the face and you are floored.
A terrorist act is being played out. A narration explains what was got on the store cameras. Also survivors are interviewed reliving the day. For the most part they seem awful calm as they retell it. Moments of surprise catch you when you are told the terrorist’s appeared playful with some of the children and then were so heartless when they downed an arthritic old woman without blinking an eye. And all that happens before any authority arrives. They didn’t show up until 3 ½ hours into the massacre. That in itself adds another wave of emotions to the story. The whole siege until its conclusion took 40 hours. I’ll refrain from any further facts so as to encourage you to watch it for yourself.
In Conclusion: By the time 2015 comes around and I look back on the documentaries of this year TERROR AT THE MALL will surely stand out as one of the best. The unbelievable story will linger and the emotional ride taken will not be forgotten. I didn’t take a detailed look at every moment of this crime against humanity here. It is best to watch it, no correction, absorb it for yourself, but be prepared because it is raw and rough. It is also well worth it.
Other HBO air dates: 09.18 at 1:30pm, 09.21 3:45pm, 09.23 at 10:30am & 6:00pm and 09.27 at 12:30pm. On HBO2 see it on 09.25 at 3:50pm & 1:00pm, 09.30 at noon and into October. It is also at HBOGo.
Bonus: Producer/director Dan Reed took hundreds of hours of footage to piece together this harrowing story. Here are a few quotes from him snagged from a HuffPost piece and from the New York Times.
“This is what really happens inside a terrorist attack. This is how intimately casually violent it is.”
“What I’ve tried to do is create a sense of the intimacy of violence. It’s that collision of worlds that happens in a protected space. There they are eating cake at the cafe. Here they are lying in a pool of blood.”
“As soon as I saw the first security camera images I thought this could give an opportunity to show a terrorist attack from the inside as you’ve never seen it before, and also to put together what happened.”
“Making this one really broke my heart. I don’t know if I can do this kind of film again.”
Next Week: DEATH ON A FACTORY FARM an encore presentation from 2009 which is about whether there is animal cruelty on farms that raise livestock for the meat market. We will review.