Documentary follows family of man jailed on conspiracy charge

Tuesday, November 11, 2008 | 12:25 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Line Halvorsen, Nordic filmmaker, wanted to go behind the headlines. 

Halvorsen's film, "USA vs. Al-Arian," is a documentary that follows Sami Al-Arian and his family after Al-Arian was arrested. Al-Arian was arrested in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 20, 2003, on suspicion of terrorism. 


WHAT: Showing of USA vs. Al-Arian and a discussion with the director, Line Halvorsen.

WHEN: 7:30 Tuesday

WHERE: Ellis Library Auditorium, Hitt Street and Lowry Mall, MU

COST: Free


The government alleged Al-Arian, who taught engineering at the University of South Florida, was a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group the U.S. government considers to be terrorist. 

At trial, Al-Arian was acquitted on some charges, the jury was hung on others. Later, he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge. He served 5 1/2 years in prison before being let out on house arrest on Sept. 2.

He is now in a legal battle over his refusal to testify for a grand jury in Virgina regarding a separate case. 

"The media already told the U.S. government's story," Halvorsen said after a showing of her documentary at Stephens College on Monday evening. "I wanted to tell the family's story." A second showing will be Tuesday at MU.

The film focuses on what his wife and children had to endure because of his arrest. 

Halvorsen said she hopes many people will attend Tuesday's showing, but she wanted to make clear that people should do more than simply attend the screening. "You should always check the facts; this is my version," Halvorsen said.

The film includes interviews from Al-Arian and his family and lawyers as well as the lawyers for the prosecution and others.   

The film, which premiered in Toronto in 2007, has won many accolades including Best Film at the New Orleans Human Rights Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Norwegian Documentary Film Festival.  

Halvorsen and Melva Underbakke, a human rights advocate and friend of the Al-Arian family, will lead a discussion after the film.

Underbakke has been to more than 60 U.S. cities to show the film, and Halvorsen has screened it in 14 countries. The two are in Columbia as part of a multistate tour of the Midwest.  

Halvorsen said she loves to come to the U.S. to show the movie because it is about this country, and she thinks it is important that people know the story.   

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