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The Square - Oscar-nominated Documentary on Egyptian Uprising

Interviews
by Peter Belsito
March 2, 2014 9:01 AM
1 Comment
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The Square

I met recently with Jehane Noujaim, Director / Cinematographer (also Director of Control Room, Startup.com, Rafea: Solar Mama ) and Karim Amer Producer / Sound Recordist.

They are here in LA in advance of the Oscars which they will attend.

Jehane and Karim have lived both in the US and Egypt and have family in Egypt. Jehane was arrested more than once during production and was jailed. She said it was a terrifying experience.

They began filming when the occupation and mass demonstrations against the government began in Tahrir Square.

Director Jehane Noujaim

The Egyptian Revolution has been an ongoing rollercoaster over the past two and a half years. Through the news, we only get a glimpse of the bloodiest battle, an election, or a million man march. At the beginning of July 2013, we witnessed the second president deposed within the space of three years.

The Square is an immersive experience, transporting the viewer deeply into the intense emotional drama and personal stories behind the news. It is the inspirational story of young people claiming their rights, struggling through multiple forces, in the fight to create a society of conscience.

To quote the young participants - "We go to the square to discover that we love life outside it, and to discover that our love for life is resistance."

The camera became a revolutionary weapon.

The young revolutionaries in the film are armed with nothing more than cameras, social media, videos posted to YouTube, and a resolute determination to liberate their nation forever from dictators.

The film is made in a cinéma vérité style, giving us an up-close view of revolution from the ground. I've never seen such an historical piece shot in such an intimate way.

New technologies show us that the voice of young people cannot be silenced in this digital age. Our characters are fighting an ancient war with new weapons.

Tahrir Square

Featured in the film, Khalid and Aida co-founded Mosireen, a collective of individuals turning their cameras towards those in authority to hold them accountable for their actions in the square and beyond.

While the film's characters put their lives on the line to battle the largest standing army in the Middle East with nothing but stones, we as filmmakers were right behind them with our cameras. By living with our characters for nearly three years, the crew, especially Jehane and Karim, were also able to capture the personal sacrifices behind the headlines.

I had a long roaming discussion with Jehane and Karim about their film (which I liked and was very moved by) about Egyptian and world politics and the meaning of the movement depicted in the Square and how it fits and what it means to the world political movements happening now.

They spoke freely so the below quotes can be attributed to either of them or both. I know we all agreed to these sentiments.

Young activist Ahmed Hassan in "The Square"

"Today in Ukraine and Venezuela people feel they are not authors of their own future. Via the internet they, the Egyptian people and particularly the youth begin to see beyond their national boundaries and become self actualized. The sea of people becomes the power. Very contagious feeling. In the past Egypt had no culture of resistance. When the revolution in the streets began in Egypt went to the streets to create something different from the status quo. If previously society was shaped like a pyramid with all power at the top the new vision was of society as flat - the Square was flat and the masses were there. Egypt has so many problems. There is extreme pollution, bad water, an escalating gap between the rich and poor, steadily increasing cost of living and especially during the last 10 years all kinds of abuses from the Mubarek family. We think in this period the internet opened eyes in Egypt and especially to the mass of youth who then went to the Square by the hundreds of thousands and also throughout Egypt."

They have US distribution from Netflix. I recommend you see this remarkable film which will help your understanding not just of Egypt but of today's world.


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1 Comment

  • Jeff Shank | March 7, 2014 4:20 PMReply

    Wonderful piece Peter. As we know, THE SQUARE did not win the Oscar, but what a testament it is to freedom, democracy and the indomitable will of the Egyptian people. This is a film that will live in the hearts and minds of all who value the freedom and human rights that democracy fosters. It is, in every respect, a beautiful and watershed work of cinema.

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