There is a lot of compelling TV this weekend, ranging from the frightening to the frivolous. You could watch Homeland (Sunday, Super Channel, 9 p.m.) and see the Carrie character grapple with her mental state and with the machinations behind terrorist attacks.
Or you could, more wisely, watch a chilling documentary that goes to the heart of the current events that bewilder us. CBC has sensibly replaced a scheduled program with an award-winning Danish documentary about young Somali-European men who left behind their ordinary lives to become fighters and suicide bombers for Al Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.
Warriors from the North (Sunday, CBC NN at 10 p.m. on The Passionate Eye) received considerable praise when it was screened at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto earlier this year. No wonder. (The warning about it containing scenes of graphic violence should be heeded, by the way.)
It opens in Mogadishu in December of 2009. A group of doctors are graduating and there is a ceremony. Then the screen goes blank. A suicide bomber had blown up himself and killed everyone in the room.
He went to Somalia from Denmark and one of his fellow fighters, a young man known only as "The Shadow," is the main subject of the film. He talks to the camera calmly and in detail, explaining how he and his friends became radicalized and set out in their murderous rampage.
The banality of it all is breathtaking. The young man starts at the beginning: "I was downtown at a club. I was very drunk. Someone stole my girl." So he took a bus home, feeling blue: "I had enough of it all. I was drunk and angry. Nothing in my life made any sense."
Two young men he knew got onto the bus and they chatted. One was Abdi and the other was named Mohammed. They told the young man he was "living a very bad life." Abdi suggested he hang out with them. Just hang, talk, play soccer. So he did. A few years later, Abdi was dead. He was the one who blew up himself and the young doctors in Mogadishu.
The young man is at pains to emphasize how ordinary they all were. But, he says: "We were trapped between our traditions and the Danish way of living. We became like a family. We helped each other out. I'd never experienced that before." Eventually, after being steadily indoctrinated about Al Shabaab, he says, "I wanted to fight for something that was bigger than me."
The lengthy interview with "The Shadow" is interspersed with scenes of other radicalized young men explaining themselves. One says, of his killing mission, "I'll go to paradise." He says it over and over, obviously trying to convince himself.
In a statement about Warriors from the North, filmmakers Nasib Farah and Soren Steen Jespersen explain their motivation: "Warriors from the North is about the people who are easy to condemn and write off as 'extremists' or 'crazy jihadists,' but these young men grew up in the suburbs of Western Europe. They went to public kindergartens, schools and institutions. Whether we like it or not, they are a part of our societies and we have no choice but to try and understand them."
Understanding doesn't come easy, after the attacks on Paris. But the filmmakers are correct. And Warriors from the North is a chilling illumination of how ordinary teenage isolation can morph into radical rage and commitment to terrorism.
Also airing this weekend
Swift Current (Saturday, Global, 9 p.m.) is a very powerful documentary about former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, who was sexually abused by his junior hockey coach and has become an important advocate for victims of child abuse. This beautifully made film is drenched in beauty, pain and melancholy. Kennedy is harrowingly open about his life and what happened to him. But the film isn't only about him. It's also about his interaction with young people who have also been victims of abuse, in particular two students whom Kennedy met at a speaking engagement and were moved to speak painfully about their own abuse. This is raw, powerful television, made expertly by Joshua Rofé. Difficult to watch but very necessary.
The 2015 American Music Awards (Sunday, ABC, CTV, 8 p.m.) will take your mind off everything, as it is meant to. Performers include Jennifer Lopez, 5 Seconds of Summer, Coldplay, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, One Direction, Gwen Stefani, Carrie Underwood and The Weeknd, plus a bunch of special duets. Way more fun than the Grammys, usually.