Tahrir 2011, the good, the bad and the politician Egyptian stories in big film festival
Venice and Toronto Film Festival 2011
The biggest film festivals of the world are programming films from Tunisia and Egypt. It is nice. Never before was it possible to have this chance. But only films about the revolution are programmed. After Cannes, Venice and Toronto joined the club of festivals giving an honor to the so-called the Arab Spring through the cinema of the region. The two festivals selected the same film, Tahrir 2011, the good, the bad and the politician, at the same time. The documentary is made by three filmmakers: Tamer Izzat, Ayten Amine and Amr Salema. The three of them were running from a continent to another to meet the public. We called them when they were in Toronto and have the following a chat with two of them.
To the question about the reason of this sudden enthusiasm of festivals for Tunisia and Egyptian films Tamer Izzat thinks that it is more than a mood for the revolution. He admits that the fact that the film is talking about the revolution is an important argument for its selection.
"But the reaction of the public is in general positive. (He adds) If I see the reviews and the reaction of the public in Venice and here in Toronto, the film is very positively welcomed. What is nice also is that people feel that we are not exploiting the revolution or using it as pretext but we are trying to make a real film."
This was in Toronto. In Venice also the reaction was very positive according to Ayten who told us about a big ovation before she explains: "I think people could see how things where really going in the revolution. They can see in the film the feelings of the people and what really happened in the streets. This is logic in fact because the three of us participated to the events so we tell story from inside."
For Ayten, the revolution gave Egyptian films a wonderful chance to be seen. "Egypt, she explains, is not very often present in big film festival. And this is nice for art house films that we are making. This is a documentary film and the producer wants to release it commercially so this is going to be a new experience in Egypt."
Even though for her, the problem is not only to show films from Egypt and Tunisia, but to make nice films : "It is not enough, she thinks, that the world sees us but it is also the idea that you have the possibility to make the kind of films you want to make. A lot of films are made about the revolution, but the most important thing is which films deserve to be seen."
Films of cinema, indeed, should give an image which is closer to the reality than the one showed by media and TV's. And Tamer Izzat experienced this in the recent years of his own life.
"Ten years ago I was in New York in 9/11 and made a film about the Arabs in USA. There is a prejudice that we see in the world media giving an image of propaganda of the Arabs showing them as violent people."
According to him, films can help looking differently to the Arabs. If films while they are going around can help change this stigmatizing idea even for a little bit, it will be enough and will be already a success.
But things are still not so easy, he likes to comment. "Festivals are special areas and they are not like media. But the revolution in Tunisia and in Egypt and the big interest that this brought to the two countries helped films to be selected and to show something different."
In his film, Tamer Izzat deals with characters that are not presented by medias as heroes. They are kind of normal people not heroes. He focuses more on spontaneous individuals who participated to uprising.
He follows in this, the idea that the revolution is an event made by everybody. He himself was personally in the Tahrir square and saw that it was not the work of some political activists.
For him it was "the revolution of the people who suddenly felt able to make the change following what happened in Tunisia. I even, he added, chose not to give names to my characters. I wanted to show them with the same spontaneous feeling of the street at that moment. I wish I could have more time and put more characters and give the possibility to everyone to tell his/her own story from the position where s/he was standing in the square or the streets leading to the square."
To the question about the shooting, because some images seem to be taken during the event and others shot after, Tamer and Ayten were in the same situation they told us that during the revolution it was not possible for him to shoot because he was participating to the sit-in like everybody.
In fact images of the event was collected by another filmmaker called Ahmad Abdallah who created a kind of media centre in the square to collect video clips from people who spontaneously made some shooting with cameras, mobiles etc.
Tamer Izzat likes even this experience and considers it a: "very special experience because (he says) I was not in control of the shooting since the beginning. My role was to put together all these images and try to show as authentic as possible the drama that we were facing at that moment."
The question then is how was the coordination with the two other parts of the film? This was the role of the producer Mohammed Hefdhy who came with the idea of the production already during the sit-in and suggested the concept of the three parts film following the famous western film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Ayten was asked to do the part about the police which seems to be especially interesting for her but at the same time a strange experience. "Police officers in Egypt, she explains, communicate neither in the television, nor in newspapers. This makes things worse because I think that if they could talk, even if we would not agree with them, it would be much better. We could at least have a dialogue but the fact that they are forbidden to talk is very frustrating. That's why we don't know anything about them. This was for me the first time I talk to police officers and therefore it was a very strange experience to enter a complete unknown world."
Indeed the idea of her film is the security forces which are the touch stone of any dictatorial regime. But she didn't want show them from only one side and give them a human face even though she doesn't agree definitely with them about a lot of things.
She shows how their situation is complex during the interviews: One of the officers she reports, told me at a certain moment that he also was dreaming of the fall of the regime."
Then she explained how these people are educated in a way to make them not equilibrated psychologically. They are also frustrated because they are used all the time by others. During the interviews she noticed that sometimes they look very nervous.
She concluded that "They where only educated to look at people who are demonstrating in the street as a danger and a source of trouble in terms of security and they have to do whatever to disperse them even with violence. That's what they learned at school. So when you are in front of hundreds of thousands of people, you see and know that they are demonstrating peacefully and you have orders to disperse them or even to shoot them, I think that this is a very difficult situation that nobody can judge easily."
The revolution gave a lot of filmmaker the opportunity to make films and to be selected in big festivals. The question stays if this will be more than a mood or a way to look for sensational images profiting from the actuality.
These filmmakers worked in a very independent way. Will they end up by entering the main stream and commercial cinema? Nothing is sure according to the two filmmakers.
"Commercial cinema in Egypt has a strange construction, says Ayten who prefers to be optimist. I think we are a bit out of it. And still we don't know how it is going to be in the future. Let's hope that the revolution will bring a nice change and give more opportunity to everybody."
Is this going to happen? Nobody really knows.
The documentary is selected too at Films From the South (Film fra SÃ¸r) Film Festival 2011 (Oslo, Norway)
by Hassouna Mansouri
Tamer Ezzat studied at the American University in Cairo. He directed the documentaries MakanEsmo el Watan (2006), The Place I Call Home (2008) and the feature The Ring Road (2010). Tahrir 2011 (segment, 2011) is his latest film.
Ayten Amin was a second assistant director on the films Zay el naharda (2008) and Basra (2008). She directed the short film Spring 89 (2009). Tahrir 2011 (segment, 2011) is her latest film.
Amr Salama was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He is a writer, director, editor and actor. He directed the films Zay El Naharda (2008) and Tahrir 2011 (segment, 2011).