Winner of the Slamdance docu jury award, “American Jihadist” doesn’t have a remotely clear view of its subject; nor does its subject represent himself clearly enough to compensate. Born Clevin Holt in the D.C. projects, this God-fearing soldier of Islam changed his name to Isa Abdullah Ali before fighting in Lebanon and Bosnia, experiences he discusses in riddles here. The U.S. Defense Dept. labeled him a “known terrorist,” which filmmaker Mark Claywell is oddly uncommitted to investigating for himself. Few fests seem apt to fall for a movie whose provocation is in name alone.
Given its lack of revelation, the film would have done better to position Ali as an unsolvable mystery rather than as a representative militant Islamist from the U.S. As it stands, “Jihadist” is further thwarted by the fact that much of what it attempts to describe has taken place in the distant past; suffice to say that the movie is no match for “The Oath,” Laura Poitras’ Sundance hit about the U.S. military trial against Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard. Tech credits are shoddy.