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'Tahrir: Liberation Square' Director Stefano Savona Talks Egypt, New Projects, Michael Moore & More

Photo of Christopher Bell By Christopher Bell | The Playlist June 12, 2012 at 5:05PM

Media coverage for the Arab Spring has slowed down in recent months, but that doesn't mean things in the Middle East have settled down. Egypt, for example, is facing election woes, and the President they toppled more than a year ago has just been given a verdict for his various crimes.
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Tahrir
There can be times where a culture could be sensitive about an outsider telling their stories. Did you encounter this at any point, whether it be shooting or at a screening?
I'm always afraid of the reactions of the Egyptians, because I am not Egyptian regardless of how long I was there for. Nobody ever bothered me in Tahrir Square, so once I became part of a group of people, if anybody ever asked who I was, they would ask the group but it was never really threatening. However, the few times I left the square I felt really in danger because at risk to be arrested or attacked by people against the revolution or simply against strangers. Especially for one specific week, people were hunting for journalists. Recently I showed the movie to Yousry Nasrallah who was at Cannes with his movie, and I was very anxious for his reaction. He told me that the Egyptian directors were not shooting during the revolution, they were a part of it, so in a way he was envious that I was able to document it. This was a bit reassuring. The first official screening in Egypt will be later in the month, so I'm curious about how Egypt will react to that. The way you shoot feels like the camera is the POV of an Egyptian partaking in the demonstration, rather than something documenting it. It's not touristy at all. I always tried not to have an Orientalist look to it, this is a place I've worked at for so long, but I always find a risk of falling into kind of an exoticism, just a kind of look that is not from the inside, because of course I am not Muslim or Egyptian. In a way, I feel like I belong there.

What's your take on most modern kinds of political documentaries? The kind with condescending narration or cute cartoons to illustrate points, post-Michael Moore stuff?
I hate them. Even with Michael Moore, it's a propaganda movie, it's composed in the same way. I hate all propaganda, even if I share 99% of their point of view. If you watch some propaganda movie from the Third Reich, it's the same kind of movie. They use the same stereotypes in the editing and the same way of degrading their adversary. It's funny, the only time in my life when I had sympathy for George W. Bush was when I was watching "Fahrenheit 9/11," which was weird because I never expected that to happen. I just don't think it's cinema, it's something else. I try to do the opposite... obviously, in every edit you make there is subjectivity, but I think that movies should give the freedom to the audience, and they should be able to go around in the movie and find their own way.

Tahrir
What are your thoughts on Egypt now, given the Mubarak trial and election?
It's very fluid and complex, every day I have news from there and it's always different, every day. There's a lack of hope from many of the friends I met in Tahrir, but at the same time there is still much hope because people are resisting. I think we have to judge this current situation not in the times of current news, but as a part of history. Of course, one year is not enough. The Mubarak regime lasted for thirty years, and we have to see what comes out of this history in two, three, or even ten years before we can say it was a defeat or that everything will end up as a political tragedy. There are plenty of things to be optimistic about, though. First of all, there is a public opinion now in Egypt which never existed before. So even the worst regime that might try to come in place, they'd have to deal with this public opinion. This is the beginning of something at least.

What's next for you?
There's the previously mentioned Sicilian archival project, there's another project in Gaza where I've been shooting a portrait of a family there, and I've been working about it for two years. This will eventually become a movie, I think I will finish in 2015. I also just started shooting another project, I started following a primary school in Palermo where a friend of mine is a teacher. The project is to stay with them for three years, I will follow them to the end of the primary school.

This article is related to: Tahrir, Stefano Savona, Documentary


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