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Film Festival Highlight: Laura Poitras’ ‘The Oath’ Debuts Tonight at the Pacific Film Archive

As a storyteller, Laura Poitras is at once provocative and probing, and if her style draws us in with footage that could be described as misleading – her primary subject, former Osama bin Laden bodyguard Abu Jandal, is more compassionate than he initially seems – she delivers a thoughtful portrait of a difficult subject. Jandal is, it turns out, not a violent revolutionary or an advocate of suicide bombings. Who he is, and the lessons he imparts to his young followers, are far more complicated, but always guided by a rigorous adherence to what he regards as Islamic principle.

Jandal’s views are as chilling as they seem incredible – or so they seem, at first – and one might reasonably wonder why he chooses to commit them to film. Now living in Yemen, ostensibly rehabilitated and having lost his taste for al-Qaeda’s doomsday tactics, he has granted interviews to The New York Times and 60 Minutes. As the shockingly candid star of Oscar-nominated filmmaker Poitras’ remarkable new documentary, The Oath, he is never less than fascinating. Film festival attendees will have three chances to take in his story: tonight, at 8:40 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive; tomorrow night at 9 p.m. at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas; and Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Clay Theatre. For tickets, click here.