Saturday, September 24, 2011

NY Film Festival: Tahrir: Liberation Square

At the press screening of Tahrir: Liberation Square the new documentary that chronicles the Egyptian revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak's regime, NY Film Festival's program director Richard Peña assured director Stefano Savona, via a Skype press conference, (see picture above) that his film was chosen over some of the other Tahrir Square films that were submitted to the festival due in large part to the uncanny film's ability to put the audience right in the middle of the events that happened there beginning on January of this year. Peña went on to declare that all the other films he saw about the event tried to explain the popular uprising. Savona's film, on the other hand, with it's cinema vérité style, marches right into the heart of the action and succeeds in capturing the days and nights of the struggle for freedom, and putting you right in the center of it all.

I couldn't agree more: it's not so much that Savona's camera invades the space, the feeling one gets is that the revolution somehow manages to come to him. His camera is both a curious observer and an active participant. But it is not a foreign hungry lens capturing earth shattering events of a foreign nation, but rather a homegrown magnet where the various episodes just seem to naturally gravitate towards him in wave after wave of memorable images that become indelible in our minds.

The documentary has neither narration nor music. Only the natural sounds of people speaking, arguing, and dreaming of a new day in Egypt. The staccato rhythms of the people chanting political slogans reveal a soundtrack more powerful than any music background could provide. It is guerrilla filmmaking at it's best. Just a lone wolf armed with a Cannon digital camera, while the rocks fly around him and us, and the unforgettable images of the walking wounded and the dead remind us that these events cost many lives during those tumultuous days back at the start of the year.

An unforgettable scene features an older man passionately talking straight into Savona's camera explaining that this revolution was started by young people, and that even though he is in his sixties he wants everyone to know that he feels like a young man who is ready to die for his country. Savona at times allows his images to go momentarily out of focus, thus giving the documentary a news report immediacy that creates the illusion of putting us right inside the front ranks of the revolutionaries. At the same time, we also know that this is a carefully crafted film, its 91 minutes having being boiled down from more than thirty hours of raw footage.

Egypt is currently a work in progress, and Savona's documentary feels unfinished in a good way. He didn't start filming at the beginning of the revolution simply because he was not in the country to capture the opening salvos. His "in medias res" results reminds us that the politics of Egypt currently are in a state of transition. This he captures beautifully in the last shots of the film where a woman rants and raves to a crowd of onlookers yelling at them that once the revolutionaries leave Tahrir Square the old regime could come back. It is a chilling reminder of the uncertainty of the political tides after a revolution, and it addresses the current problems that the country is going through today.

If you want to know the details of the Tahrir Square Revolution and its aftermath keep following the world's newspapers or buy any of the books that have recently been appearing about the events. If you want to be there, watch Stefano Savona's unforgettable documentary.

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