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Before 'The Square' There Was '1/2 Revolution' (Gripping Documentation Of The Egyptian Revolution)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 21, 2014 at 1:47PM

Before 'The Square' There Was '1/2 Revolution' (Gripping Documentation Of The Egyptian Revolution)
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It's out on DVD, VOD and digital download, so check it out if you haven't. I recommend it!

I mention it, not necessarily to pit both films against each other, but given all the buzz around Jehane Noujaim's The Square, including its Oscar nomination this year, I thought I'd toss 1/2 Revolution into the "Egyptian Revolution documentary" pot, since, for one reason or another, it didn't receive anywhere near the same kind of attention (press, awards, etc) as The Square has, and is just as good a documentary on the subject matter, and deserves to be seen.

A Sundance Film Festival 2012 selection, 1/2 Revolution (directed by Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim) is an immediate, visceral, first-person documentation of just a few days of a still ongoing struggle, one year after that first day, January 25, 2011 (also referred to as the "Day of Revolt"), when protests erupted throughout Egypt, with tens of thousands gathered in multiple cities all over the country, targeting the then autocratic governance of President Hosni Mubarak (30 years in the making) - the poverty, unemployment, and government corruption.

Armed with consumer cameras, a close-knit group of friends risked death to capture the historic waves of non-violent protests, met with an equally determined and violent response from the government and armed forces, further intensifying the danger of the circumstances that would eventually envelope them in their neighborhood near Tahrir Square, during the early chaotic days of what has now come to be called the Egyptian revolution.

The viewer is thrown deep into the uprising from the film's first frame to its last. You're right there with the revolt, every step of the way (the tear gas, the batons, then the bullets) and are thus privy to events that you wouldn't have seen covered in the American mainstream media - bodies, battered and bloodied, lifeless, being dragged across concrete pavement by fellow protesters, bullets lodged in flesh, the impassioned screams for change, voices angry and resolute, willing to die for a cause.

It's 72 minutes of relentless struggle and this viewer found it exhausting, as it should be. It suggests that the filmmakers accomplished what they set out to do with the film - not just paint a portrait for the audience to view and analyze from a distance; We are thrown into the chaos, in into the streets with the insurgency, as their struggle becomes ours as well; We're invested and want to see them (or rather us) succeed.

And succeed they do, at least with forcing Mubarak to eventually step down under pressure, but only to be replaced with military junta rule, which was still in place a year later, hence the title of the film; meaning, the revolution hadn't ended (as a post-script, eventually Mohamed Morsi served as the 5th president of Egypt, from June 2012 to July 2013, when he was removed by coup).

A luta continua as the saying goes.

No pomp and circumstance; just raw footage of a few days of a chaotic historic moment in time, although with some calm, usually filled with impassioned discourse about the events taking place, in real time, in the streets - the gunshots, the screams, the explosions an ear-shot away; But it's mostly storm - a 72 minute rush.

It's not really a film that I'd grade as either *good* or *bad*; it just is. And your appreciation for it will depend on your interest in and understanding of the real events the film documents; so a little backstory would help.

In fact, if I were to point out one of the film's *weaknesses* it would be that it doesn't give the audience enough information on what inspired this new revolution. There are exclamations here and there, cursing Mubarak's 30-year rule; but a basic (at least) awareness of the country's recent history would be helpful here.

I couldn't help but think of another movie about a revolution - Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle Of Algiers - the 1966 film on Algeria's struggles for independence from under French rule; a film and a revolution that went on to inspire others (films and revolutions), just as I think 1/2 Revolution has the authenticity and power to do as well. 

Netflix picked up The Square, which is currently available to stream via that service. So look for it there.

1/2 Revolution isn't streaming on Netflix, but it's available on DVD, as well as on digital download/rental via services like iTunes and Amazon VOD.

Watch them both!

Here's the trailer for 1/2 Revolution:

This article is related to: Jehane Noujaim, The Square (Al Midan)


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