Children of the Revolution
Published on June 8th, 2012 | by Sandra Larriva0
“Tahrir: Liberation Square” runs from June 11-17 at Maysles Cinema.
Running time: 90 minutes
A woman in a burgundy headscarf teaches a young girl to chant, “The people want the fall of the president” in the middle of Tahrir Square. A frantic girl refuses to leave the streets, afraid that her leader will return even after he has stepped down. She screams, “They want to shut us up,” upon hearing that the constitution has been suspended. A man in a sea of protesters writes on a piece of cardboard, “Mubarak is killer.” Men tie makeshift helmets to their heads as stones fall like rain from the sky.
These are some of the scenes we gain access to in “Tahrir: Liberation Square,” a film by archeologist Stefano Savona (“Palazzo delle Aquile,” 2011). The 90-minute production is, for the most part, a documentary in the strict sense of the word: a film that records a series of situations as they happened during the Egyptian revolution that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. There is no introduction, except for a title card reading, “Cairo, January the 30th, 2011, Sixth Day of the Revolution,” no narration, no talking heads, no political commentary or analysis, and no dramatic musical score. Even the camera’s counter runs on the screen throughout the film.
And that’s exactly where this documentary’s value lies: in its ability to give us outsiders a wider glimpse (beyond sound bites or b-roll) into what occurred on the days before and after Mubarak’s historic fall.
Captured with a small digital camera and sound recorder, “Tahrir: Liberation Square” is a true testament to the hopes, fears, struggles, and power of the Egyptian people, be it a devout Muslim man from Suez, a Cairene student who wears designer sunglasses and refuses to cover her hair, or a young inmate who was released from prison and paid 5,000 Egyptian Pounds (approximately $830) to show support for Mubarak on the streets.
Savona’s choice of “protagonists” for this film, however, is baffling, not only because he picked three unexciting, camera-shy Egyptians, but also because his apparent goal to keep scenes as unadulterated as possible is tainted. Several of the scenes come off as forced, even fabricated, making the viewer wonder if the protagonists look awkward because they’re thinking about their lines.
We only know that Elsayed, Noha, and Ahmed are the “protagonists” because of how often they appear before the camera and how rehearsed their performances seem. We don’t know anything about them, not even their names (unless, of course, we read the film’s press release), and while their discussions about the revolution and the future of Egypt do speak of a much larger picture, one sees no reason as to why these three Egyptians were put in the spotlight over other much stronger “characters” in the film.
In one of the most powerful scenes, a man in his sixties speaks to a group of protesters, “Our youth taught us that even if I’m not starving myself, I can’t just stay home and sleep.” He’s covered in sweat, enraged by the attacks perpetrated on protesters by government thugs. “Believe me, I’m a young Egyptian,” he says. “I’m sixty-two years old but I’m one of you. Believe me. I’m ready to die.”
Regardless of whether the scenes are raw recordings of the action or somewhat rehearsed dialogues, the film as a whole touches on many key aspects of this revolution: the unity of all Egyptians (men and women, young and old, poor and wealthy, Muslims and Christians) toward one common cause: toppling the regime; the rage provoked by the killing of hundreds of protesters at the hands of government officials and the hunger for justice; the widespread fear of either the Army or the Muslim Brotherhood “hijacking” the revolution; and the lack of a strategy for post-Mubarak Egypt. As one of the so-called protagonists says, “Ours is a revolution without a leader.”
The leaders of this revolution are the people captured by Savona’s small digital camera, those who, in the director’s own words, had to “learn to discuss, to listen, to confront each other in the space of an occupied public square where people even forgot to sleep in order to continue a political discussion of the future.” It would have been wise for Savona to find a more unobtrusive way to insert his camera in the middle of these discussions.