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Inside 'The Square': The Oscar-Nominated Documentary Egypt Doesn't Want You To See

Three of the film's key contributors share their experiences of filming in the middle of a revolution.
 
 
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The documentary The Square, puts you in Tahrir Square as revolution swirls around you. From the overthrow of a 30-year dictator, through military rule, and culminating with the forced military removal of the Muslim Brotherhood president in the summer of 2013 the film follows a handful
of Egyptian activists as they battle leaders and regimes to build a new society of conscience. 

The Square was chosen Best Documentary Feature of 2013 by the International Documentary Associations and has been nominated for the Academy Award. (You can watch The Square online in full at Netflix). The film has yet to be shown publicly in Egypt. According to the LA Times, t"he documentary was to have had its Egypt premiere at an international film festival in Cairo in December, but the filmmakers said they had received Egyptian authorities’ censorship approval for a previous cut, not the current one, so they decided not to screen it."

Before graduating from Harvard, Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim was awarded the Gardiner Fellowship for Mokattam, an Arabic film she directed about a garbage-collecting village near Cairo. Jehane produced and directed the award-winning feature documentary, StartUp.com, and her 2004 documentary Control Room won her the TED Prize in 2006. Jehane’s TED wish became Pangea Day; a live video-‐conference featuring music, film, and speakers that took place in over 100 countries. The Square is her 5th feature-documentary.

Entrepreneur Karim Amer was raised between Miami, Florida and Cairo, Egypt, and graduated from NYU in 2005 with dual majors in Economics and Political Science and a minor in Entertainment Media and Technology. On January 28, 2011, Karim joined fellow Egyptians in Tahrir Square. The Square is his first film as producer.

British-Egyptian actor and filmmaker, Khalid Abdalla ( The Kite Runner, United 93 and Green Zone) left his life in London to join the revolution.

Terrence McNally: Can each of you tell me a bit about your personal path prior to your choice to go to Tahrir Square… Jehane?

Jehane Noujaim: Who I am in three minutes or less! I was born in the States to an American mother and an Egyptian father, and moved as a baby to Kuwait, then to Egypt in 1980 at the age of eight years old. I lived in Egypt for ten years then moved to the States for boarding school and college. Went there to be a doctor, as a good Egyptian daughter should do when she gets into a good school. I took organic chemistry, failed miserably and decided that there were other people that probably should be doing that kind of work

I took refuge in the darkroom and started doing a lot of photography. I had my first exhibit in Egypt at a conference on population and development. Organizers of the conference were so upset by the photographs that they had them removed. I was told, “How can you call yourself an Egyptian? Why are you showing these dirty, horrible parts of the country? Why aren’t you showing the pyramids?”

I walked away feeling pretty bad, but at the same time kind of intrigued by the fact that I was a kid who hadn’t even opened my mouth, yet these images had provoked such conflict and debate among people. It made me really want to pursue visual arts, and I ended up graduating in visual arts and philosophy. I made a short film about Mokattam, a garbage collecting village in Egypt. Then I came back to New York and got a job working for MTV Unfiltered. We’d send out kids with cameras to film their stories and we would edit them. It was basically a pre-YouTube YouTube show - but properly edited.

 
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