Documentary Films for Teaching About the Egyptian Revolution
A colleague of mine e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago asking me about films on the Egyptian revolution that she might use in her class. She had tried “The Noise of Cairo” but had been unimpressed, and asked me if I had any recommendations. That led me to consider pulling together the number of films about the revolution I’ve seen, or seen parts of, that might be useful for teaching. Here they are:
There’s “Goodbye Mubarak” a film by Katia Janjoura. This film focuses not so much on the 18 days in Tahrir Square, but on the tensions and events that led up to the revolt, beginning with the elections of 2005 and continuing into the weeks and months preceding the mass outpouring of opposition. What the filmmakers discover in Egypt during the fall of 2010, in the run-up to legislative elections, is a revolution-in-waiting, simmering under the surface of Egyptian society. It is a straightforward, narrated documentary examining the tensions building in Egypt that led to the 20111 revolution. While there is little new information, the film does an excellent job of putting the social media aspects of the revolution in context, and of capturing the paradox that many Egyptians knew their country was on the edge of a revolution, yet no one actually saw it coming until they found themselves in the middle of it.
The Arab Awakening
Al-Jazeera has put together a whole series of documentaries, collectively called The Arab Awakening. There are nine in all, totaling more than 5 hours, edited together out of the news network’s extensive footage of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Unfortunately, while the images are fabulous, and there are some great interviews and clips, most of the video narratives are mediocre and repetitious. The narratives are heavy-handed and repeat the same themes—“unthinkable revolution”, “death of fear,” “power of the people” etc.—again and again, not only between videos but within the same ones. Still, individually and collectively, they are among the best documentaries available—and they are free!
- Death of Fear. A general overview that takes us from “the death of a penniless fruit seller in Tunisia” to the fall of the Tunisian dictatorship and the inspiration it brought to Egypt and beyond. (48 mins)
- End of a Dictator. A general account of the Egyptian uprising, with lots of interviews (48 mins).
- The Fall of Mubarak. A more focused, day-by-day account of the 18 days in Tahrir Square (24 mins).
- The Evolution of Revolution. Marwan Bishara, a senior news analyst at Al Jazeera, hosts a debate on the triggers and traumas of revolt in the Middle East after decades of repression. Rebab El Mahdi, Patrick Seale and Christopher Dickey are the expert panel he talks with (48 mins).
- Seeds of the Revolution. Focuses on the April Sixth movement’s activities throughout the Egyptian revolution (48 mins).
- Libya Through the Fire. Looks at the violent struggle in Libya, through the eyes of Mohammed Nabbous, a Libyan filmmaker in Benghazi. Won a documentary feature award (48 mins).
- Absolute Power. This film explores the structures of oppression against which the revolutions struggled (47 mins).
- The People Want… “The people want the fall of the regime” was a shared slogan across the Arab uprisings. In this video an array of characters from across the region explain what they wanted and what they expect for the future (47 mins).
- Tweets From Tahrir. Inspired by the book of the same name, this video tells the story of five highly articulate young Egyptian “tweeps” who were involved in the revolution in various ways since its inception. It mixes interviews, news footage and the tweets they were sending at the time to create a very interesting account of the uprising, especially its early days. Fortunately, Twitter is treated here not as an engine of change but as sets of documentary texts, supplementing and supporting other kinds of texts such as news stories and personal narratives. And unlike the book, the documentary takes us well beyond the 18 days to discuss the Maspero massacre of the Copts and the elections, covering the entire first year of the revolution. This is my personal favorite among the Al-Jazeera videos, and not just because I know some of these people (Hossam al-Hamalawy looks and sounds the same as he did as my student in 1997, except for a few more pounds and a little gray in the hair) (48 mins).
You can find them all here:
Tahrir-Liberation Square is a 90 minute documentary by Stefano Savona available in Arabic, English, French and Italian versions. It follows Noha, Ahmed and Elsayed as street protest becomes revolution. “Day after day, sleepless night after sleepless night, until the capitulation of the defeated pharaoh, the film follows these young and unexpected heroes along their shattering fight to conquer their freedom,” according to the movie’s publicity materials. Its unapologetically dramatized and romanticized narrative is made up for by stunning cinematography. You can see a trailer and get information on distribution at http://www.tahrir-liberationsquare.com.
Update: Just got a catalog from Icarus Films, which is handling distribution. You can get this film at http://icarusfilms.com/new2012/tah.html
How Facebook Changed the Arab World
The BBC has a two-part video series “How Facebook Changed the Arab World.” It originally aired on BBC2 in September 2011. Part Once focuses one the beginnings of the Arab revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. As the title suggests, it focuses on the internet and social media using youth to a degree that masks many of the structural problems that allowed this particular set of protests to succeed. Part Two is a little better, but focuses onthe spread the revolt to Libya, Bahrain, and Syria, which is less relevant to me. I cannot find any way to access these, although you can read about them on BBC’s web site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b014l2ck/episodes/guide
The Arab Spring: The Documentary
A disjointed documentary from the Russia Today news program, The Arab Spring: The Documentary is a 25-minute video that tacks back and forth through time and space, focusing on people’s feelings about the revolution 18 months after the Tunisian revolution began, cutting between Tunis, Egypt and Syria. You can watch it on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iqLaPS4Zv8
Bulaq: Among the Ruins of an Unfinished Revolution
Then there’s this shorter film called “Bulaq: Among the Ruins of an Unfinished Revolution” directed by Davide Morandini and Fabio Lucchini. It’s 25 minutes long and focuses on the urban poor and their hopes and disappointments after the revolution. It’s reviewed on Jadaliyya: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/4401/struggles-that-fueled-a-revolution
You can rent it to watch online for $3.99 at http://www.screenzone.tv/products/bulaq
The Revolution Business
In the interest of completeness, I will also include the conspiracy fantasy The Revolution Business, which argues that the U.S. masterminds and orchestrates all these revolutions through Otpor, the Serbian revolutionary think-tank and school for would-be revolutionaries. Not recommended for classroom use!
Tahrir 2011: The Good, The Bad and The Politician
Tahrir 2011: The Good, The Bad and The Politician is an Egyptian-made Arabic documentary offering multiple views of the Egyptian Revolution from 25th of January to 11th of February. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival and has a rushed, excited, uneven feel to it. The 90-minute film mixes interviews and real footage from the demonstrations. It is divided in three parts. Part One (“The Good”), directed by Tamer Ezzat, covers the protesters; Part Two (“The Bad”), directed by Ahmad Abdalla and Ayten Amin, focuses on the police forces and Part Three (“The Politician”) offers a profile of Hosni Mubarak that portrays him in multiple ways, from frightening to absurd. Read a review here http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/tahrir-2011-good-bad-politician-234693.
18 Days (Tamantasher Yom)
Tamantasher Yom (18 Days) is a fill length (125 mins) film in which ten directors offer ten short films inspired by the events of Jan. 25-Feb. 11. The video was feted at Canne (here) and reviewed in Variety and by AFP.
Four Days of Death in December
This is a widely-distributed, deeply disturbing web-distributed Arabic film intended to highlight the disproportionately violent response of the SCAF regime against protesters in post-Mubarak Egypt. Four Days of Death in December consists of twelve minutes of raw testimony and graphic images of violence against protesters. http://www.youtube.com/verify_controversy?next_url=/watch%3Fv%3DGkz7Mv8DF_8
“1/2 Revolution,” filmmakers Omar Shargawi and Karim El-Hakim record their experiences of the revolt while staying in a flat in central Cairo. A raw personal account, it captures the violence of the security forces and thugs who controlled much of downtown Cairo outside Tahrir Square. The web site is here, but I can’t find information on how to order copies for sale or screening.
Born on the 25th of January
A very personal film by Ahmed Rashwan, Born of January 25th explores the revolution from January 25 to May 27, 2011, as the director watches events unfold, and talks with friends, family and those he meets along the way. The message of this 80-minute film is: the revolution continues! The official web site is here, but again I can find no information on obtaining a copy for classroom screening. However, you can see the entire film in Arabic here:
ENTIRE FILM (no subtitles) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spU6j62E1h8&feature=related
OTHER WEB MEDIA
If you are open to alternatives to the “turn on the video and leave” media experience, there are a number of other interesting multimedia pieces on the Egyptian revolution and related events.
One option might be a web documentary called “Egypt: The Music of Tahrir Square – Music that Toppled a Regime.” Each page of the web site has a piece of the documentary, and you navigate through it in places creating your own documentary by watching the clips in different order. Each ten minute segment reflects both a different aspect of the role of music in the revolution, and a different space. It seems to have been created by French radio and television, but is subtitled in English. The problem with classroom viewings is that someone has to keep navigating it.
There’s also a really cool site called Arabi Hor in which documentarians from multiple Arab countries upload short (2-3) minute videos dealing with the ongoing revolutions. There are family discussions about elections, falafel dealers talking about their hopes and fears, all kinds of things (if you select English at the top of the web site, they are subtitled in English). If you take the time, you can assemble a series of clips of your own—a sort of “make your own documentary.” It’s often eye-opening for students to see everyday people talking so thoughtfully and animatedly about politics. http://arabihor.com
And speaking of web-based material, I have a lecture on “Music and the Egyptian Revolution” posted here: http://prezi.com/0aitmedfdphg/music-and-the-egyptian-revolution/?auth_key=246d83119463a7551821afd8c6d4322227d4ecdb It is in prezi format, features embedded videos, and seeks to put the music of the revolution in historical context. Again, though, you can’t just turn it on and show it.
If you are interested in music per se, and you don’t need visuals to keep your class awake, the 5-part Hip Deep series on Egypt from the acclaimed public broadcasting radio series Afropop Worldwide is also available on the web. These are the right lengh for a class but they are podcasts–no visuals. What’s more, the Afropop.org site, while amazing, is not well organized; it’s like browsing through a really cool old record store. In the interests of efficiency, I’ve organized the five-part series on Egyptian music—which culminates in an episode on music of the revolution and beyond–on my blog http://connectedincairo.com/2012/05/01/hip-deep-in-egyptian-music-an-afropop-series/