We might be seeing more documentaries like ½ Revolution in the future. I certainly hope so, at least. In an age of omnipresent media, there’s no way there isn’t a vast wealth of footage available from the Arab Spring and beyond worth culling for multiple films. The potential for first-person storytelling is greater than ever, and I want to see that potential tapped into.
Directors Karim El Hakim and Omar Shargawi were living in Cairo when the Egyptian people rose up against Hosni Mubarak’s regime in January 2011. They were part of a tight-knit group of family and friends, mostly composed of people who had grown up abroad before moving to Egypt. As crowds march in the street and converge on Tahrir Square, Karim, Omar, and other members of their circle join them, cameras in hand. Through their eyes, we see the first eleven days of the revolution, until the filmmakers feared for their safety and left the country.
I’ve noticed that many people can’t seem to grasp the immense complexity of social movements like the Egyptian protests. The chaos that produces what looks like contradictory behavior within the same group of people is hard to comprehend for those who have never left a comfortable living situation. In this film, we see in real time the dizzying influx of divergent news sources, how different people react in different ways to this news, and how everything goes down so, so fast. While those who fear the collective power of the people may never be willing to sympathize with the crowds, this doc is a terrific bridge for those willing to grasp an experience they’ve previously only seen on the news.
And what an experience it is! ½ Revolution is relentlessly intense from the second it starts. With just a brief sequence to introduce the characters, it jumps right into the shit, which only gets messier as events progress. You are there as police attack protestors with clubs, tear gas, and worse. You are feet away from a man lying dead on the ground from a shot to the head. The filmmakers themselves get roughed up at times. This is a level of danger that found footage films could only hope to ever imitate.
Speaking of found footage films, this doc definitively demonstrates that the infamous “shaky-cam” aesthetic of that genre is hollow. Even though these guys were shooting under real and immediate peril, they (mostly) managed to keep their frames steady and coherent. And the imagery itself is quite striking. Even though you’ve doubtlessly seen similar photos on the web by now, an on-the-ground view of millions of people packed into Tahrir Square is spine-tingling.
“Spine-tingling,” in fact is the other dominant emotion this film evokes, alongside terror. People fed up with systemic abuse, pooling their voices into a single rebel yell, is a truly awesome sight to behold. Although it isn’t all sunny empowerment and rah-rah inspiration. We see opportunists looting as well as troublemakers using the confusion as an excuse to break things, and there’s an ugly strain of anti-Semitism running through some of the rhetoric. But there is nothing clean about social upheaval, and it would be foolish for the doc to ignore that fact.
Social upheaval is also never quick or easy. The title itself is a reminder that what this film portrays is only the beginning of a revolution, one that is still unfinished. But even if the Egyptian military turns out to install a regime somehow worse than Mubarak’s, ½ Revolution will still remain as a reminder of a bright shining moment of hope. Even if the actions of the Arab Spring may ultimately seem for naught, it was a time when human beings showed that they could only be pushed so far. And that proves that there’s always room for hope.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Check out Dan’s website: Day of Docs