Jehane Noujaim: The Square

I watched this film online (on the fine festivalscope, link below, subscription-based) after it had been announced as one of the five nominees for the Oscar award in the feature documentary category.

The film has this synopsis description on the Oscar site (link below): “The events that have shaken Egypt since 2011 have taken the country from a revolution aimed at ending political oppression to the overthrow of the new president, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. At the center of the story is Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the gathering place for protesters and the site of many of the period’s most dramatic moments.”

… and drama there is, indeed, in this film that stays close to young revolutionaries for more than 2 years, catching the atmosphere of optimism after the fall of Mubarak, slogans, speeches in Tahrir Square, concerts, something’s gonna change – to the disillusion when the army has taken over and attacks the protesters, to more disillusion, when the Muslim Brotherhood negociates with the army, wins the election and appoints Morsi, who from the eyes of the young revolutionaries turns out to be worse than Mubarak. It’s observational reportage style footage that is the fundament of the film: People gathering. People in their tents. People being beaten up. People killed in the demonstrations, the mourning of their relatives, it’s terrible to follow. Some optimism returns to the face of Ahmed, when Morsi is taken away from power and the military is back. Yes, Ahmed (photo) is the character cleverly chosen by the director to bring in the emotional part – the young revolutionary, who is at the square discussing with people, who comments on what happens and how it influences him as time and events pass by. He is filmed in the streets, or through interviews. We read his face. The first, the direct works best, the latter feels a bit too staged. A scoop for the film, however, is that another central character is Magdy, who in an interview with the director is described as “a foot soldier” for the Muslim Brotherhood. His discussions with Ahmed, their friendship, stress that the director – although she follows the revolutionaries, who have also provided her with footage – does not want to condemn the Brotherhood as terrorists (as the military government does right now). Discussions like that as well as the actor Khalid’s skype conversations with his exiled wise father take the film take a step away from the constant bombardment of reportage material, whereas short interviews with military people made me confused – they can’t be as stupid as these ones all of them! 

USA, 2013, 1 hour 44 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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