Film Review: In “The Square,” the Revolution Will Actually Be Televised

Film Review: In “The Square,” the Revolution Will Actually Be Televised


This post is part of Benevolent Media’s ongoing coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. For more information, read “The Benevolent Guide to the Sundance Film Fesitval.”

Filmmaker Jehane Noujaim‘s riveting firsthand account of the Egyptian revolution, “The Square (Al Midan),” took home the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival last week. Her eye-popping, ear-jolting, soul-pumping documentary, filmed in the heart of Cairo’s Tahrir Square over the past two years, tells the story of young Egyptian revolutionaries seeking new hope for their country. It takes over where the previous two generations of activists left off, trying to overthrow the regime. But this time, there’s a distinctly millennial twist: One of the undercurrents of the film is the role that media, art and technology plays in uniting people around a cause.

Noujaim is no stranger to the topic. Her 2004 documentary, “Control Room,” examined the perception of the United States’s war with Iraq, with an emphasis on Al Jazeera’s news coverage. That film won Noujaim the coveted TED Prize, which allowed her to make her wish come true: to create a day in which the power of film could form a global community of peace. This day was called Pangea Day, a live video-conference with music, film and speakers, hosted in cities all around the world, including Cairo, New York City and Rio de Janeiro.

Street art is a recurring element in the film. Photo via Kickstarter.

Street art is a recurring element in the film. Photo via Kickstarter.

One of the people followed in “The Square,” the actor Khalid Abdalla (“The Kite Runner”), is a prominent leader in the protests and demonstrations. Being fluent in English, he is often interviewed by Western newscasters. Coming from a family of activists, Khalid represents the modern, multi-cultural, border-crossing voice of the Arab Spring. At the activist’s headquarters, he encourages local mediamakers to capture evidence through digital film. They record what they see and post it on YouTube. One clip is a difficult-to-stomach video testimony of one of their friends, a brutally beaten and tortured protester. Abdalla and his crew are often seen from the vantage point of the impassioned observer, perched high on a balcony, aiming a camera like a sniper, targeting the story of the Square down below.

Interspersed throughout the film are recordings from state-owned news broadcasts–the media cronies–juxtaposed against raw footage of citizen-generated documentary–the media revolutionaries–armed with their laptops, headphones, cell phones, Skype chats and YouTube videos. In one scene, the revolutionaries project a home-edited video to commemorate their fallen brethren.

The film is divided into distinct chapters. Each cinematic respite features brief scenes of street artists, in the foreground of paint drips, brush strokes and aerosol stencils, creating murals that depict people fleeing from tear gas or a snake ensnared around a military tank. Music and song is also a common thread throughout the chaos.

Pledge $5 to "The Square" Kickstarter campaign and receive a digital download of a graffiti stencil based on Tahrir's street art. Photo via Kickstarter.

Pledge $5 to “The Square” Kickstarter campaign and receive a digital download of a graffiti stencil based on Tahrir’s street art. Photo via Kickstarter.

Now that the film has entered the world stage at Sundance–the premiere received a standing ovation–”The Square” is not ready to rest on its laurels. The filmmakers are calling on supporters to donate money so they can finish what they started, “supporting post-production facilities, editing, and the continued filming of current events in Egypt .” In their own words:

The time to tell this story is now. Egypt’s revolution is not over. From songs to graffiti, the Egyptian revolution is not just a flash, its a movement. That is why we’re making this film. To really tell the story of what happened (and is happening) in Tahrir Square, in Egypt.

As they say in the film, “No one can tell our stories except for us.” We are duty-bound to ensure that the story of Tahrir Square is told by the people who lived it.

Support the film on Kickstarter here.

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