Saturday, June 9, 2012

TAHRIR: LIBERATION SQUARE--You are there in Stefano Savona's antidote to the typical media coverage of Eqyptian Spring

No more sounds bites extolling Facebook's role in cre-ating Egyptian independence or some such rot. Oh, the big FB is mentioned, all right, in this documentary from last year, in which film-maker Stefano Savona traveled to Egypt to stay on the ground and get up-close and personal with as many of the protesters as possible. And one of them does indeed mention using Facebook to connect with another organizers of one of the groups pushing for freedom. But what Savona's brave and generally interesting film makes clear is how important was the in-person, live-body massing of such a horde of people (several photos below) without which little could have happened.

Keeping his camera at ground level almost all of the film's 93 minutes, Savona, shown at left, uses no narration in TAHRIR: LIBERATION SQUARE but simply stays close enough to overhear conversations, arguments, and of course, the slogans and chants that are epidemic at all protests and that unfortunately -- unless you are among those doing the yelling -- are possibly the most boring way to spend one's time that has ever been invented. I am guessing that, for a filmmaker in the midst of all this, there must be something nearly hypnotic about the repetitive chanting because most filmmakers (from Buñuel during the Spanish Civil War right through to Savona) keep their camera on this occupation for far too long. I would estimate that a good fifteen or twenty minutes could be excised from Tahrir, with no negative ramifications. Sure, let's hear that slogan, once, twice -- OK, three times -- then, please: cut.

By far the most interesting parts of the film are the conversations and arguments among the protesters, one of whom we note wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap. During these sections of the film, Americans -- New Yorkers in particular -- will be reminded of the Occupy Movement, except that here In Egypt, there is indeed a unified goal that is clearly stated/demanded: Get rid of Mubarek. But then what? We see the President/Dictator speaking on TV; eventually the protesters drown him out. "I almost started to believe him again," one woman later notes, "but then his thugs attacked and killed eleven people. That's when I understood: They're all rotten."

Around the 17-minute point, there's a wonderful and rather lengthy political discussion that the camera takes in. It is then that the conversations/arguments grow more intense, fraught and fascintating. And what we hear unfortunately seems prescient of what is now happening. Just the other day The New York Times posited that the dictator may eventually get a new trial in which he's simply let off. And then what? Around the halfway mark, some one asks, "Has he resigned yet?" "No." "Then we keep going."

Though Mr. Savona has made almost yearly trips to Egypt for two decades, according to the press information, even he was surprised that the protests actually happened. Hearing these on-the-ground conversations makes clear the large divisions in Egypt between those who want a secular state and those who want it Muslim. Just how far can The Muslim Brotherhood be trusted? "They are our enemies!" says one. "No!" comes the reply. For me, the section involving a 62-year man speaking extemporaneously and personally proves more moving and important than all the sloganeering you could shout.

We get politics and intellect (young women arguing over what line of action fulfills the Constitution), spectacle (oh, those crowds -- above!), suspense (Are they going to clear the square by using tear gas or snipers from that tall building over there?), and a seemingly happy ending accompanied by poetry, as a young man reads a very meaningful and lovely poem.

While we don't see the attacks themselves we do witness the removal of some of the wounded. Finally it happens: Mubarek and Suleiman cede their power to the Army Council. "The future is going to be better,"someone cries. "Egypt: It's your time!" Thanks to Savona, we've seen some of the Egyptian 99 per cent. But the freedom that these people demonstrated and sometimes died for? Shit. You could weep.

Tahrir: Liberation Square begins its first New York theatrical showing with a one-week run this Monday, June 11 through Sunday, June 17 as part of the Documentary in Bloom series at the Maysles Cinema in the Bronx. Click here for tickets and/or directions.

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