Review at a glance: "American Jihadist" is the must-see documentary at Sidewalk, an objective look at American-born Muslim Isa Abdullah Ali. What drives a person to kill? In the case of jihadists, the answer seems fairly straightforward: religious fervor. As the movie "American Jihadist" shows, though, the answer is rarely that simple or black-and-white.
One benefit of getting a screener for a film festival is the ability to stop, to pause and play. Though I usually claim "bullshit" and "movies need to be watched consecutively in their entirety," I differ on one case: American Jihadist. It was so painfully acute in its portrayal of hate and violence, both at home and abroad, that I had to take a break halfway-fearing the negative effect on my upcoming dreams. The next morning I watched with fresh eyes the transformation of the film's focus, Isa Abdullah Ali (his Muslim name), as he evolved from a violent American into a somewhat reformed father of three.