So often the story of a revolution is confined to history books or fragmented across news coverage. The Square is an opportunity to see an upheaval in real-time. Director Jehane Noujaim pieces together an incredible depiction of the ongoing Egyptian revolution that had a resurgance in 2011 when a mass protest took over Tahir Square. The success, failures, and political wrangling of the rebellion is examined in great detail by a very brave group of filmmakers.
The moment an armoured vehicle slams into a group of protestors you realise that you're on the front line. Noujaim and an army of roving cameras get close enough to see the sparks flare out of the barrel of a shotgun and it’s terrifying. Under the radar of the Egyptian government, and without the filter of a mainstream news organisation, Noujaim gets intimate footage of peaceful sit-ins, and captures the outbreak of violence when the regime decides to quash the movement. The power of a camera to expose the truth is in full effect, especially when the army hires street thugs to terrorise the tent city of Tahir Square, beating the residents with scrap metal and dragging their limp bodies off to be tortured. The images are distressing but it’s an ugly truth Noujaim forces you to face and it intensifies the struggle. These people are willing to bleed for their freedom and politicians (and everyone who benefits from their rule) are willing to kill to keep their power intact. Noujaim keeps the focus on a tight group of revolutionaries and how they passionately rally new followers, deal with abuse from the military, and struggle with their religious and political beliefs. Tahir Square becomes a melting pot for peace and there are plenty of impactful moments of equality in action to offset the outbursts of violence. The machinations of a political organisation called the Muslim Brotherhood complicates matters as they exploit the revolution for their own gain, and it’s interesting to see how democratic loop-holes are exploited as a path to leadership.
Not only is the Egyptian revolution on show in The Square, but a digital revolution in citizen journalism as groups of protestors rally each other to record everything that happens so it can be uploaded to YouTube and social media. Biased local television networks spew out government propaganda, and it’s a shame to see the lack of coverage given to the events by international news agencies. The power of new media is harnessed and unleashed with all the might of the movement.Noujaim makes time to get the perspective of the other side from the men in suits and army uniforms tasked with neutering the cry for a change in leadership. The time is limited in their company, but only because Noujaim is operating behind enemy lines. The minute you see live ammunition being used by the army on nonviolent crowds, the intention of the government is clear, nd everything the administration goons say is just spin.
The politics of the 2011 uprising in Egypt is complex, it spans hundreds of years in the past, and continues to evolve in 2014. Noujaim manages to outline the big issues with great clarity without losing any impact. The actions of the revolutionaries and their experiences speak volumes about the cause. Noujaim orchestrates The Square with the aptitude of a master documentarian.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies