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Oscar-Nominated 'The Square' Team Talk Filming a Revolution (VIDEO)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 31, 2014 at 12:29PM

TOH! interviews the team behind Oscar-nominated documentary "The Square," now streaming on Netflix.
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"The Square"
"The Square"

Jehane Noujaim's "The Square," which had its theatrical release and played DOC NYC  last fall, is in contention for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. It's racked up impressive wins including audience awards from Toronto and Sundance and Best Doc wins from the International Documentary Film Association and the Directors Guild of America. The movie is ripped from the headlines of the revolution in Egypt and takes you into the middle of the action. Noujaim admitted to me that managing this constantly evolving film with multiple passionate voices and participants was a challenge indeed. Here's our TOH! interview with Noujaim on the film's updated ending.

Netflix picked up "The Square" and made it available for streaming on January 17--the day after the nominations--which will be followed by a theatrical release in some cities in March. They're even buying billboards around Los Angeles for the film--it's hard to imagine the usual distribution suspects doing that. Check it out. 

I moderated an IDA Q & A with producer Karim Amer, actor/activist Khalid Abdalla ("The Kite Runner") and editor Pedro Kos. Video below.

Anne Thompson: Khalid, how did the producers find you and tell me about your role as the video uploader and how that became a part of this whole movement.

Khalid Abdalla: I discovered it was much harder to play yourself in a documentary than in a fiction film. In terms of the role of uploading videos, that was something that started two weeks after. When storytelling is what you do and everything in your experience is being falsified in the media, then you begin to find for yourself a role within that. And it just so happened that there was this space I had access to and came up with the idea of setting up a place which ended up being called Mosireen. Because a lot of our friends were imprisoned or tortured or otherwise, there became this necessity to produce videos. And over time we built this very very basic infrastructure with cables and internet and a few cameras, and we set up a YouTube channel.

Suddenly what had started as a small group of people suddenly became over the weeks following up to 70-90 people shooting, editing, uploading and within a few months Mosireen became the most watched nonprofit YouTube channel in the world for a period of time, and ever in Egypt.

So a lot of the footage you collected became part of the footage the filmmakers were working with?

Producer Karim Amer: We had amazing access because Cressida Trew was one of the cinematographers on the film and took us into places we didn't always want to be sometimes. But the majority of what you see in the film is shot by our team. We had four main cameras. As Jehaine was shooting, Muhammad Hamdy the DP actually taught our team how to use them, because Jehaine hadn't shot on DSLRs before and her main camera was confiscated when she arrived in Cairo actually. She had this as a backup because people were saying you can use these because people think they're photography cameras. You can get away with more. And then Cressida and Ahmed, the character, learns how to shoot halfway through the making of the film and he took us to some of the most beautiful shots in the front-lines of the battle, which is actually Ahmed's camera.

How much footage did you have and when did you think the movie was ever going to end?

Editor Pedro Kos: We had approximately 1600 hours of material. Over a period of two and a half years, with five cameras running constantly in the square plus outside the square. If you look, there's a huge editorial team on this film because there was just an incredible amount of footage.


This article is related to: Interviews, Interviews , Documentary, Documentaries, Video, The Square (Al Midan), Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Awards, International Documentary Association , DGA, Directors Guild Awards, Netflix, NetFlix


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.