Oscar-nominated documentary about Egyptian revolution screens at the Frontline Club
By Helena Williams
On the day the 2014 Academy Awards Nominations were announced, the Frontline Club hosted a screening of The Square. After winning the Audience Award at both Sundance and the Toronto International Film Festival, the film is now in the run-up for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
The Square portrays the Egyptian revolution and some of its passionate activists, including British–Egyptian actor and filmmaker Khalid Abdalla (The Kite Runner, 2007), who was present for a Q&A together with cinematographer Cressida Trew.
Documenting from the early days of Egypt’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak to the aftermath of Mohamed Morsi’s ousting by the military, American–Egyptian director Jehane Noujaim’s film follows ‘revolutionaries’ Abdalla, Ahmed Hassan and Magdy Ashour as they live, and fight, through three years of revolution.
Coming from three generations that have been fighting for political reform in Egypt, and with his father in the audience, Abdalla explained he finds it problematic to answer questions about “what does now tell us about where we are going”. In response to a question about the current situation, he said he would rather look at what is moving people and what this can “tell us about where we come from and where we are headed”.
The film’s delivery was almost as problematic as its production. According to Abdalla and Trew, the documentary had several cuts because of the tumultuous and constantly changing events taking place. On her way to the film’s premiere at Sundance, director Noujaim realised events were unfolding in Egypt, that had to be included. The Square is now in its third cut.
“We had terabytes of footage,” said Trew, who said she joined the production team when she met Noujaim in Tahrir Square.
“It’s textbook on how you should never film a documentary.”
She explained filming the documentary was a very collaborative effort, with only little direction because of the constantly shifting and unpredictable events.
“We were bobbing around on this massive tide, this sea change. All you could do is follow your guts,” she said.
She added that it was the first time she had seen that version of the film.
Abdalla said that despite the struggle and unpredictable nature of Egypt’s revolution he was determined to continue the fight for change.
“At no point of the story did we know what the story was,” he said.
“We’re going through a massive shift. It’s possible that things will die down, but for this kind of stability that is fetishised you need the circumstances that ignited this revolution to go away.”
“As long as I’m not certain that in six to eight months time the balance of power won’t be the same as it is today, then we’ll be living in a revolution.”
“The Oscar [nomination] is great, it’s great that it might be able to be seen in Egypt,” said Abdalla, referring to the fact that that the film has yet to have a public showing in the north African country. The 2014 Academy Award winners will be announced on Sunday 2 March.