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

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,, 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.

McNally: What the network Current aimed to be, right?

Noujaim: Very much like that actually.

At a certain point I got really tired of looking at shaky camera work and decided I wanted to do my own stuff -- not that my camera work was any less shaky at the time.

McNally: Or that there isn’t a lot of shaky camera work in The Square --

Noujaim: True…a lot of running around.

After MTV, I began filming my roommate who was starting an internet company. He was living out of this messy room with no product whatsoever, yet there were checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars coming into his mailbox. I was very intrigued and decided to start following him. I didn’t know it would be a film. At the beginning I thought it might be a business school case study.

But then I met Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker. I asked them how you raise funding for this kind of thing, and it turned out they wanted to make a film about the internet. So we decided to partner - which was amazing because they were mentors, people that I would study. I made with them.

It was released theatrically in the UK, the US and Australia, and people in theaters were very curious about the characters and their stories and their lives. As an Egyptian-American, I thought, our culture and our part of the world is so deeply misunderstood. If I were able to make a film that really brings out my peoples’ passions and beliefs, that would be exciting.

The next film I made was Control Room. The Iraq War was on, and I asked myself how are people supposed to communicate with each other when the news from the West and the news from the Arab world is so completely different? I wanted to be in the center of that. So I made a film where I was traveling between Al Jazeera and US Central Command.

After Control Room was released, I won the TED Prize and I took on this crazy worldwide production in 1800 locations in over 100 countries. We asked people, “If you had five minutes of the world’s attention, what story would you tell?” We got short films, thousands and thousands of them.  All this coming from a wish, “What would you most want to do in your life?” As I watched thousands of short films from all over the world, I would say to myself, “I can’t believe that this is my wish.”

For a disorganized person to put together a worldwide event in all those locations was a major feat. With a lot of wonderful help from people, we produced four hours of amazing programming. And I decided I never again wanted to put together a film festival.

McNally: …careful what you wish for.

Noujaim: Exactly.

Then I made a film called Egypt, We are Watching about three women fighting political corruption in Egypt. This film was released on BBC and around the world as part of something called The Why Democracy Project, ten versions of democracy in ten different countries of the world. In 2012 I co-directed a film with a very close friend of mine, my initial boss at MTV, Mona Diaph. Rafea: Solar Mama tells the story of a Jordanian woman who travels to India with the dream of becoming a solar engineer.

I was back in Egypt working on Rafea when the women that I’d made the previous film about told me January 25th was going to be big. Right before the 25th, I went to Davos. I knew that there’d be lots of cameras on the streets, and I thought I wanted to be with Egypt’s leadership. Well, none of the leadership showed up in Davos, so I headed back to Cairo. I made my way to the Square and starting shooting. There I met an incredible cast of characters who would lead me through the story, and I met my entire team.

McNally: Same question, producer Karim Amer?

Karim Amer: Who am I before I show up at the Square? I was born in Egypt and my family moved to the US when I was about five years old. I grew up between the US and Cairo, starting off in Los Angeles for a brief spin and ending up in Miami, Florida, where I spent the bulk of my American life. I grew up between two narratives, between my Egyptian identity and my American identity.

McNally: How often did you go back and forth?

Amer: Literally the day school was out, my mother would say, “Now you guys have to go back.” She was worried that we’d lose our identity, and so made a conscious effort to keep us in touch with Egypt. Even though my house in Miami was an extension of Egypt. Walk in and you would feel like you were in the Middle East.

In college I was very interested in getting involved in entertainment. My traditional family was not pleased, “What are you talking about, entertainment?” I was able to slip it in as a minor. I knew it was my passion, but realized there were other things I needed to do before I could pursue something like that. I lived a serious life according to the book for a number of years.

I started a few successful entrepreneurial endeavors – it’s a long, crazy story. For three years before the revolution I’d been living between Egypt and Shanghai, of all places. So I get back from Shanghai and it’s just past New Year’s when the rumblings start happening.

I was actually not a believer that political change could happen. Living in America, I felt I had appreciated political change and democratic values. But my experience of the pursuit of those values was something that was very distant. Change was something that had been fought for before and had been accomplished. I didn’t value my own efficacy to change the political process. As a young person living in America, I felt any attempts to pursue change, whether marching against the war in Iraq or signing petitions or things of that sort, had never accomplished anything. I went down to Tahrir Square as a skeptic.

McNally: What sort of companies did you start?

Amer: My partner and I have a company that does design-and-build for commercial real estate projects. We take the designs of architects and interior designers and manage that process into the actual construction. Project management. It’s taking the creative process and trying to make it come to terms with reality. Which is essentially what I found film production to be.

Noujaim: You’re in the middle of redesigning the biggest hospital in Egypt.

Amer: We were doing the renovation of the largest hospital in Cairo at the time.

Noujaim: While the hospital was still running - so if you cut the wrong wire you could cut off somebody’s life.

Amer: I’m used to high stress environments.

McNally: Project management with life or death consequences. Film only believes that to be the case…

Khalid, your story?

Khalid Abdalla: How far back do you want me to go?

McNally: The moments that matter.

Abdalla: There were so many. The moments that matter, as I’ve discovered, precede me. They start really before I’m born. The moment I first go down to the Square, I feel my father is holding me by one hand and my grandfather is holding me by the other.

In the midst of revolution, in a strange way, something of time collapses. Your stories, your life, your narratives, what you’re fighting for, is far beyond your moment as an individual. And that’s an extraordinary thing to learn. Also to learn to live by and to live for something bigger than you. For me, in my family, that story really starts with my grandfather, who was physically active on the Left in Egypt fighting for social reform from the 40’s onwards, and in prison several times in his life. My father was a leading figure in Egypt’s student movement in the 70’s. He was imprisoned many times, fighting for what he believed in.

That’s why I end up being born abroad in Glasgow, and brought up in the UK. When I was four, my family moved down to London, which is where I spent most of my life. I never expected to enter the world of film or acting or theater, but one day a teacher comes up to me in school and says I’m doing this play and I think you’ll be really good in it. I’m thinking he’s completely mad. I haven’t acted in anything since I did a Nativity Play - as we all did.

I go and audition, and I get the part. I remember the very first rehearsal that we did in a classroom. I remember the square we made within the classroom, everything pushed aside, and the rules within that square were completely different to everything else. And I remember knowing the moment I entered that place that something in me was never turning back.

McNally: How old were you then?

Abdalla: I was 15, 16. I was very lucky, I had some great teachers at school who used to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. One extraordinary teacher, Philip Swan, had an amazing theater company at the Fringe that won four consecutive five star reviews and had a West End transfer – West End being like Broadway. With a bunch of school kids. Which was unheard of. One of which I directed, making me the youngest director to get five stars on the Fringe.

I continued thinking theater was going to be my life, but there is also a thread of politics. Understanding that politics is shaping me and shaping the questions that people ask about me. The very first demonstration I remember going on was a pro-Palestinian demonstration; I was on my father’s shoulders. Political discussions were going through my household all the time. When we would enter Egypt my father would spend longer than everyone else getting through immigration. All of these stories, these are my life.

My life professionally as an actor starts in the wake of 9/11. I entered university in 2000, 9/11 happened in 2001. By the time I left the university, the US, the UK and others were bombing Iraq. I never expected to enter the world of film. I thought my world was theater. I’ve been aware of my identity though, aware that in some way I am a translator between cultures,

Cutting a long story short, one day as I’m beginning to put together a production of Hamlet which I was going to direct, I get a call asking me to audition for a film called United 93.

And at first I think to myself, I want nothing to do with this. Then I find out that the director is Paul Greengrass. He made a film called Bloody Sunday, which I think is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, in the tradition of some of the greatest films I know, like The Battle of Algiers. I think to myself, okay, maybe this man is going to do something different. I audition and get recalled, and when I meet him, I say to him, “If you’re making the film that I’m worried you could be making, I have no interest in doing it, and I think anyone that’s making it is a bastard.”

He and the producers are sitting there, and we have a conversation. He asks me a question that I think I’ve been trying to answer, and will continue to try and answer, for the rest of my life. He says, “Do you think it’s possible to make this film correctly?” This is four years after 9/11, at the height of war. We talk about many things, and he tells me the way in which he’s hoping to make this film. And I leave the audition thinking, “Wow, if they offer me the part I’m going to do it.”

But I have to, just for a second, ask myself, do I feel up to the responsibilities of the role, in terms of the culture of the world, and the stories that it tells itself about itself? And I feel that I’m going to try.

We can go into long stories about United 93 and The Kiterunner and about Green Zone, but, if you like, there’s this fault line in the world that I’m traveling through – 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the identity politics of these issues; the way in which we humanize and dehumanize parts of the world that we go to war in. I make a lot of - as far as I’m concerned - difficult decisions as to how to follow those lines.

Then one day, just as The Kiterunner is about to open and just as Green Zone is about to start filming, I get a script from an Egyptian filmmaker who wants to do an independent film in Egypt. I’m a little bit skeptical because most Egyptian films really aren’t very good. They keep asking me to read it. I do, and it’s clearly trying to do something very different. I end up doing the film.

I go to Cairo. I meet a community of filmmakers who are the beginning of the new wave of alternative cinema in Egypt, and they have something in them which knows more about me than I know about myself. I sign up, and we spend the next two years of our lives making a film that we thought was going to take three months to shoot. Called In The Last Days of the City, I play a documentary filmmaker who is making a film about his city and is joined by friends from Iraq and Lebanon.

I film in pretty much every demonstration that happened in Egypt, and we finish shooting six weeks before the revolution starts. I go home in early December, thinking now it’s time to be back in the UK and concentrate on the other part of me. I have designs on directing my own projects and that kind of thing. I spend two weeks completely ill from this two-year marathon I’ve been through, and then the 25th January happens. I find myself completely and utterly split. All the people who I’ve been working with are on the street. I can’t get through to them, the telephone lines have been cut. I don’t know what to do. I finally talk to them at four in the morning; their voices are hoarse; they’ve been shouting and some people I know have been arrested. You have to know that with the 25th January, something happened that nobody expected.

Up until that point, at the end of a demonstration everyone went home. The most important day for me wasn’t the 25th, it was the 26th. On the 26th January, a very small number of people continued. It was at that point that we knew that what was about to come was completely and utterly different to everything that we’d had before. The 25th January was a Tuesday, the 26th was a Wednesday. We knew that Friday was going to be huge because Friday is the big day of protest. So everyone’s going to relax on Thursday and get ready for Friday.

I spent the 26th January thinking, “What the hell am I going to do? Am I going to go, am I not going to go?” I booked my plane on the 26th. I arrive just after midnight on the 27th. I have a stamp in my passport which says 28th January, which ended up being as we call it, the Day of Rage. And the following day I’m on the street.

McNally: You put your career on pause.

Abdalla: This is the thing: I don’t say that I put my career on pause. I don’t say that because this is what I’m fighting for. My career and what I want to do is about what I believe in. It’s not about whether I appear in front of a camera or whether I’m behind a camera, or whether I’m on this radio station or whatever. There is something so much bigger than all of this that I’m trying to participate in and fighting for.

That is what I want to make my career. Sometimes you could say, it’s the activist in me that is making films about changing people’s perceptions about the region that I’m from; and you could say it is the actor in me that picks up a camera to go out on to the streets to document the abuses of State and authority.

Unless we take charge of our stories, then forget it, we’re basically handing ourselves over to people who do not represent us. In all cases it’s about representation, whether it’s about representation in front of the camera or whether it’s about representation in government or on the street. We come from an identity which is voiceless in many parts of the world. Or if not voiceless, voiced by someone else.

McNally: The line that you declined to agree with – about putting your career on hold - that’s a narrative that one puts together for a PR package, and your counter is, that’s not my narrative any more.

Abdalla: If you welcome our Arabic film or a film that has any relationship with Arabic identity, the idea that you can just sit at home and wait for a script to turn up - for someone with my background, it’s ludicrous. You have to participate in making the stories or in solving the many infrastructural problems that exist about why that script doesn’t just turn up on your door. That’s something I learned thankfully very early on. I guess some of the instincts were in place. I’m a restless creature.

McNally: Can we say, Khalid is playing the role of his life at this point?

Abdalla: I get activist, I get cultural producer. We all carry these multiple identities and it’s like, whichever one is most useful right now.

Amer: When you live between two parts of the world and you’re able to be local in both parts, it makes you break the narrative to find a way that you can mutually coexist. I think that all of us who have that mixed background can’t fit into the box of “this is who you are.”

McNally: You also contend with the fact that people meet you with the narrative they’ve brought.

Amer: Absolutely. My first week of university was 9/11 so I lived it.

Noujaim: Welcome to NYU. I hear you.

Amer: It was a rude awakening, so to speak, to who I was.

McNally: Not just college - but college in New York City.

Amer: Exactly. I was appalled at what had happened, of course, but was being attacked for being appalled because I was somehow part of this. I was accused because of the way I looked and my name and my religion. I think all three of us have been defined by these events and this duality that exists.

Noujaim: You always have a foot inside and outside I think, which relates to being a filmmaker and observer.

Amer: Can we say something about the theme of your interviews - “A World that Just Might Work”? I think if we’re talking about Tahrir Square and the film, The Square, the irony is pretty incredible, because that’s what they’re about. In the beginning of Tahrir there was that feeling and you see it in the film.

Noujaim: As Achmed says, we all dreamed that maybe, maybe, one day all of Egypt could be just like Tahrir Square.

McNally: “A world that just might work” is not a promise. It’s an invitation and a challenge, and that’s what all of this is. I guess we see it from a distance in the headlines and the news, but what you see so clearly in the film is that it never really stops and it’s always about to break or about to move forward or about to be shattered or about to be overrun. Achmed personifies so well the reality that time after time you go to the Square.

I predate all of you and went to college in the late 60’s and -- at a completely different level compared to what Egypt has been through -- I remember, the call would go out, and it was time to head down to Harvard Square or Washington or New York, let’s go.

Noujaim: My mother marched on Washington, and so I think when these events were happening she was very emotionally involved. She is American, but as somebody who had lived in Egypt for over 30 years, she was harking back to what she had felt during the 60’s.

McNally: How did you meet the folks who became the principal characters you follow? How did you choose them?

Noujaim: Well we were all sleeping next to each other in the square.

McNally: You mean literally?

Noujaim: Yes I do. How do you look for a character that you want to spend the next, you don’t know how long, maybe a year, two years, three years? Well you better feel like you’re learning something from them. You have to like them and sort of fall in love with them. They have to be somebody that surprises you, that challenges you. Because if they’re not doing that, then you’re not going to be challenging an audience. And they have to be people that you root for because that’s the way that you want an audience to connect to them. A friend of mine was making a news piece about Achmed, so I met him and I fell in love with him. He’s just a magical personality.

McNally: Achmed Hassan. How old is he during the course of this film? I couldn’t tell.

Noujaim: When I met him he was 22 and the film lasts three years, so he grows up in the film.

Magdi I met in the square. He was right next to the tent that we were hanging out in. He was fascinating. He would go up to Pierre’s apartment. Pierre is somebody that I had known for a long time who has an apartment that overlooks Tahrir Square. He’s one of the unsung heroes of the revolution because he allowed a number of the revolutionaries to crash at his place. He also allowed the media to use his balcony to film what was going on in the square. He felt that having international news cameras on the square at all times offers a kind of protection for everybody in the square.

Magdi first went up to hang a flag from the side of Pierre’s balcony. Pierre is Coptic Christian and Magdi is Muslim Brotherhood, and they would get into intense discussions. Here’s a country that I’ve grown up in where people did not speak politically in the open. We had lived under emergency law for 30 years. I had never really sat with somebody from the Muslim Brotherhood before, so meeting someone so open minded and excited to connect to different people, I wanted to follow Magdi.

I met Khalid through his wife, Cressida, who was his girlfriend at the time.

Amer: They’ve been together ten years, so it’s not like the film was the cause of the romance. It would make a good story.

Noujaim: I started talking with Cressida about what was going on, and she said you really should speak with Khalid. He was deeply involved and passionate about what was happening, and also very articulate during what was to me a very confusing time, so I asked him if I could follow him.

Cressida wanted to start working in film, and was deciding whether she was going to stay in Cairo or go back to the UK. I said, “Maybe you want to follow Khalid,” and she said, “Yeah, I could do that.” I don’t know whether Khalid ever agreed to waking up with the camera facing his bed every morning.

Abdalla: I’ve discovered that it’s much harder to be yourself in a documentary than it is to play a character in a fiction film. As an actor, part of your craft is to be very sensitive to moments that feel false, and one thing I find very hard about being filmed in a documentary is the moment where you feel that a camera is asking you to perform for it. I would always run away whenever I felt that to be the case. As a result, the film captures moments that are honest, what I would have been doing regardless of whether the camera was there or not. The fact that it was Cressida helped.

Actually Jehane filmed me too, and there’s one moment in the film I remember very clearly. We were uploading some of the key footage from what had been happening in the square - the killing and the various abuses that had taken place. I was deeply focused on the work I was doing and it was hard for me to watch. Jehane was filming, and she asks me a question and I respond in one line. That’s it. And that line’s in the film.

Amer: We were driven by our sense of purpose and also a lot of luck. Every time someone was needed, someone would appear. We met our DP, Hamdi, in the square. He taught us how to use the DSLR cameras. It was the first time that people were using these cameras. We were allowed to use them because the army thought they were photography cameras. We met our editor in the square. We met people like Zag and Achmed, young college students who were protesting and camping out, and they learned how to do sound.

Noujaim: The whole crew came together in the square. I started following Karim because he and his cousin were trying to do an online crowd-sourced constitution.

Amer: We had a lot of crazy ideas. The whole country had crazy ideas at the time.

Noujaim: He also set up a stage in the square. There was a Brotherhood stage and a sort of a lefty stage. I was following him, and after about a week he said, “I don’t think I want to be a character in the film but I want to be a producer, and I think you guys desperately need a producer.”

Amer: I didn’t know what that meant at the time, that it was going to take two and a half years and my entire savings. But it’s been an amazing ride. At a certain point it became more than just a film, and I think that was how we were able to get so many incredible people to devote their lives to it. We have 1600 hours of material now because we felt that we were documenting a moment in history.

McNally: I have the sense that some of it becomes this film, but the future may change the present and the past in a way that stuff that wasn’t in this cut becomes important in something else. When did you want the film to end? Did events overtake you?

Noujaim: We were constantly trying to figure out what the ending would be. The first time that we allowed it to end was when Morsi came to power – from the bringing down of a dictator to the election of a president. And then…

Amer: It was an unsatisfying ending.

McNally: As it was an unsatisfying reality.

Noujaim: Exactly. Because he used the tools of democracy to establish another dictatorship. All of the people that we were following were back in the streets again, and it became a much deeper, more interesting story. It became about holding power accountable and fighting against fascism, whether the face of that fascism is Mubarak or the military or the Muslim Brotherhood. It became very important to include that final chapter.

Amer: Mind you, we’re supposed to be taking the film to Sundance a week later.

Noujaim: And things are changing.

Amer: We had a very critical decision to make. Do we go into post-production and make a film for Sundance? Or do we go back and start filming again and make the film for history? Or do we just cancel Sundance? So we called our executive producer, Geralynn Dreyfus, who had won the Academy Award for Born Into Brothels, and she told us, “You cannot cancel Sundance.”

McNally: So reality says this film isn’t over but you go to Sundance with something that’s a bit rough?

Noujaim: We went to Sundance with a film that could stand on its own two feet. We were proud of it, but we felt like there was more to do. It won an audience award, which was crucial to our ability to continue. The team working on this film has been living on fumes, and we get a vote of support from people halfway across the world, who say the story matters. It really made a difference.

Amer: It made us know that we had captured something universal.

McNally: You were too in the middle of it yourselves to have a sense of whether an audience that hasn’t been there and hasn’t smelt it and felt it, is going to get it…

Abdalla: Watching the various cuts, I realized over time that there are real life consequences for beats that are missing. For example, presumably we were making a film about the revolution, but would we be able to start with the facts that everyone knows - it was 18 days and Mubarak left power and everyone was happy. You presume that would be your starting point.

But before you could move to the next step of the story, 800 people died, and the people who decided to take power while those people were being killed, are still in government. So two weeks later, people continue to go down to the streets. If you miss that second part, then when they go down into the streets, having celebrated and got rid of their president, it just seems that they’re greedy – oh, we want more, we want to get rid of this, we want to do that.

The narrative of the film, when you understand it, makes sense of real political decisions that people are making in the world. This is true in relation to the whole dichotomy that got very confusing for the rest of the world – “Hang on, but you have elections and you’ve got a president and then you go out and get rid of him? Shouldn’t you wait four years until the term is up? I mean, that’s what everyone else does, and it’s not like we always get presidents we like either.”

Without understanding the fundamental aspect of the fact that in Egypt, democracy in the US, for example, has checks and balances, not for all parts of its power structure but for some. There is an independent judiciary, there is the possibility of impeachment, there are all these various aspects.

When you don’t have that, and a president makes himself the sole legislative and executive authority in the country, in order to push through a constitution tailor-made around one group’s political and ideological interests, then the only place left for you is the street because that’s where you can hold power accountable. As things get worse and as the future gets darker, It simply becomes a matter of time.

McNally: The West fetishizes elections - as if democracy equals elections equals democracy - and you’re saying, in fact, that’s not democracy.

Abdalla: The most important aspect of democracy is participation. If you only participate once every four years by ticking a box, then you’re not participating.

McNally: We see Achmed say several times, we must bring down the regime, but the meaning changes, the regime is not Mubarak, it’s not Morsi, the regime is whatever dominates the people.

Amer: And the society of conscience that he’s talking about at the end has the people as the source. We see our characters go through this whole trajectory, and at the end, they realize that no one leader and no one political process is going to deliver the revolution.

McNally: And it’s not going to fit what they thought it would be, and it’s not going to fit what the West wants it to be, it’s not going to be what Al Jazeera wants it to be or CNN.

Amer: And the only way that the narrative is going to truly be broken is when Egyptians participate in the writing of that narrative on an active basis. I think the film is starting to generate so much energy because it’s tapping into a global zeitgeist, a moment where power is bubbling up in different pockets and different squares around the world, where people are trying to rewrite the social contract. And the sooner we understand that we’re a part of a global reconstruction, the sooner we’re going to start understanding what’s happening in places like Egypt.

McNally: …and the sooner some of that energy and action comes back here to the US.

Amer: We feel that as part of our obligation to share.

McNally: From the website of the film The Square: “We go to the square to discover that we love life outside it and we discover that our love for life is resistance.”=

Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for publication.


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