That would be Tahrir Square. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: that large public space in Cairo where a mass of angry Egyptians staged a protest that toppled an oppressive regime? Documentarian Jehane Noujaim (Control Room) was lucky enough to be present in early 2011 as up to a million people flooded the downtown roundabout, and the country’s military forced President Hosni Mubarak to give up power. This highlight of the Arab Spring is framed primarily through the perspectives of three participants: Ahmed, an idealistic young man enlivened by the possibility of revolution; Magdy, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood; and Khalid, an actor (The Kite Runner) who’s long supported the pro-democracy cause.
Many filmmakers would follow the emotional roller coaster these three go through leading up to that first sit-in victory and stop there. But Noujaim keeps returning to the square as it becomes the site of further protests, horrific violence and, eventually, the spot of another celebration when Mubarak’s fundamentalist replacement, Dr. Mohamed Morsi, is himself ousted. (She actually went back after the film’s premiere at Sundance in January and added footage of this summer’s game-changing events.) No one would questione the importance of this geographical meeting place, but the way Noujaim uses it as an anchor to examine the hopes, fears, highs and lows of those at the eye of the storm lifts this doc a step above your average fly-on-the-wall journalism. The Square offers more than just pictures of a revolution; it lets you into the mind-set of those fighting for their future, and that makes all the difference.
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