Film Spotlight: The Square

The images of political revolution at Cairo's Tahrir Square have been well documented since the events leading up to President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in early 2011. In The Square, which screens at 9:25 p.m. on Friday and at 7:40 p.m. on Saturday at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque, documentary Director Jehane Noujaim, who grew up only 10 minutes from Tahrir, chronicles the revolutions, counter-revolutions and infighting which have rocked Egypt and its government from 2011 to 2013 and latches on to key personalities within the revolution to show its tensions and complexities.

The film is a dramatic, close-up look at these events, assembled chronologically a la news retrospective and intense conversations among the revolutionaries about strategy and identity (which don't feel dramatized, even though some of them were likely choreographed for documentation).

The film also includes interviews with not only the protesters but also with military and religious players to reveal the full scope of the nation's upheaval. In short, the revolutions never really seem to end: After the stunning images of Mubarak's step-down — Noujaim has shots of Tahrir Square from above, with fireworks and hundreds of thousands of people screaming for joy — the film follows the grim realities of military takeover, i.e. no improvement, and the subsequent negotiations between military leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood.

When Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood's candidate, is elected in 2013, the situation does not improve. It's only after further protests that Morsi's presidency comes to an abrupt end in July of 2013.

The film is thus incredibly recent, and at times feels like a magazine-style story you'd see on 60 Minutes. Noujaim added new footage to the current cut to document the Morsi protests. The additional coverage contributes to the sense of citizenship as eternal battle with those in power — whomever or whatever they may be.

Among other things, Noujaim captures how young people leveraged film and social media to their advantage, and shows, above all, the power of Tahrir Square as a political symbol.

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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