NYFF51 Spotlight: “The Square,” The Revolution Will Be Documented

Posted by Liv Behre on 9.25.2013



Khaled and Ahmed, two subjects in Jehane Noujaim's The Square.

Through this well-rounded and eye-opening documentary, the viewer gains a front row seat to history and a revolution that has not been told on the 24 hour television networks.

The Square screened as a work-in-progress at the Sundance Film Festival (where it won an Audience Award), but soon afterward, filmmaker Jehane Noujaim and her crew headed back to Egypt as a new crisis made Cairo's Tahrir Square a flashpoint once again. New clashes between protesters and Muslim Brotherhood supporters of President Mohammed Morsi prompted their return to Egypt's capital as protesters who fought for the ouster of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011 returned to the square after Morsi gave himself powers that signaled another turn away from democracy. The five main characters of the film (among them Khalid Abdalla, star of Marc Forster’s The Kite Runner) were among those back in the streets, fighting anew for the resignation of yet another dictator. "It wasn’t just a story about this political process, but more about the journey these characters have gone on from the removal of one dictator to the demand to remove the next dictator," noted Noujaim.

This seems to be the rhythm of The Square: when you think the country has finally found some peace, protesters are back on the street fighting yet again after another political crisis arises. Sometimes they face a horror that was only partially, or not at all, reported by the media, which is why Noujaim and her team made The Square as a cohesive feature documenting the country's fight for freedom and democracy, often with very disturbing imagery, but also with moments of levity and joy. A pivotal moment the director recalled is an arrest of one of the film's subjects: "That’s when you start to feel, OK, we have to keep filming this, because the world needs to see this."

The events that have unfolded in Tahrir Square are very personal to Noujaim, who grew up just a couple of blocks away. As soon as she returned to Egypt in January 2011 she went to the square, and what she found positively surprised her. "I grew up in a country...where people were so scared to talk about was going on... I came to a square where for the first time people were communicating with each other, with the hope about the future of their country that I had never seen in my life. And it was just the most incredible thing." 


The Square filmmaker Jehane Noujam

In an early review the film, the Hollywood Reporter said: "Jehane Noujaim’s The Square (Al Midan) captures the immediacy and intensity of the Egyptian revolution from the inside as it’s happening. The characters of The Square will pull you into a rollercoaster of emotions that range from shock to hope, revealing unkown details of a historical change that is still in process."

But is this movie really finished? "The revolution still continues," said Noujaim. "But we feel this film has ended. We’ve gotten it to a place where we can show it 10 to 15 years from now and the emotional journey of the characters has come full circle."

The Square
Director: Jehane Noujam

Section: Official Selection
Screens: 10/3 at 7:30pm

NYFF Official Description:

Filmmaker Jehane Noujaim (Control Room) and her crew spent 20 months shooting in Tahrir Square during the popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak, whose overthrow resulted in the inauguration of Arab Spring. For much of that time, Noujaim was in danger - she was regularly threatened, she was beaten, and at one point she was arrested and temporarily "disappeared". From hundreds of hours of footage, she and her editors crafted this tense, vivid verité portrait of events as they unfolded through the eyes of several regular participants – one member of the Muslim Brotherhood and four liberals, one of whom, Khalid Abdalla, has acted in films like Green Zone and The Kite Runner. The Square was one of the triumphs of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. But, given the rapidly unfolding events in Egypt, Noujaim has returned to Egypt, shot much more footage, and prepared a revised version of The Square - cinema catching up with history-in-the-making.

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