Let me be honest from the start. I am geopolitically ignorant. I avoid the news as much as possible because it provokes within me overwhelming bouts of anxiety, depression, and helplessness. When I do connect to mainstream journalism, it’s through the BBC News app on my iPad, and even then I usually focus on the Science and Environment sections. A week ago if you’d asked me about someone named Mubarak, I would have said, “I have no idea who that is.” Maybe that makes me the worst person to review a documentary about the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Maybe it makes me the ideal audience.
Having watched The Square, I’m still no expert on Egypt, revolutions, or humanity, but I suppose the only thing to do is keep learning. I can only offer my tiny, individual observations in this moment, knowing everyone else has their own as well. I think it would behoove anyone to see this documentary. Chronicling the uprising against the Mubarak regime that began in January of 2011, the film subsequently follows a diverse group of Egyptian revolutionaries over the course of several years’ turmoil. The interviews are intensely personal and heartfelt, and the footage is raw and realtime. This isn’t a sixty second soundbite on CNN or FoxNews. It felt like history recorded by those living it, not propaganda, not history written by the victors. Watching The Square – almost two hours in length – merits time and attention.
I first read about this film while doing a general Google search for documentaries to watch and review for my blog. I found this listicle and lo, The Square is actually available on Netflix – in fact, it’s a Netflix production and a 2013 Academy Award nominee.
The Square was directed by a woman – Egyptian-American Jehane Noujaim – which pretty much locked me into choosing it as my May documentary watch project. I appreciated the film’s inclusion of female activists (Ragia Omran, Aida El Kashef) in a largely male-dominated political arena. I also checked out Noujaim’s TED talk, and you can see that here – an emotional plea for peace through art. I’ve often heard people complain that musicians and artists shouldn’t make political statements – that they have no place doing that and should only “entertain.” I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t want to live in that world. I need music, art – and that includes street art – literature, dance – and films like this – to inform me, to inspire me. So I can keep striving to cultivate peace myself.
Tahrir Square February 10, 2011 By Jonathan Rashad (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons