Today marks five years since the Egyptian people launched the mass movement, galvanized around the occupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, that would topple president Hosni Mubarak in eighteen days and solidify a period of revolutionary energy and action across the country. Since 2011, Egypt, as well as those reached by its ripples, has seen revolutionary euphoria give way to counterrevolutionary woe and an ongoing wave of repression. As the narrative continues to unfold, the struggle over Egypt’s political future reflects onto the arena of representation—in itself a site of memory and struggle.
Filmmaker and film scholar Alisa Lebow’s interactive meta-documentary explores these debates, mapping the endeavors of Egyptian filmmakers to document, or resist documenting, the revolution. Filming Revolution, launched in October 2015, diagrams the work of thirty Egyptian documentary and independent filmmakers made before, during, and after the January 25th Revolution. This database documentary links people, themes, and projects related to the revolution in a digital constellation supplemented by reviews, articles, and video interviews conducted by Lebow in 2013 and 2014.
In the discourse of film and revolution, the term ‘battle’ can refer to both reality and representation. As the protesters used presence and space to make history, witnesses use record—image and sound—to stake their claim on its meaning towards their vision of its future. Some deploy film as evidence of what has happened and what can happen. Yet others insist on the necessity of restraint, on the impropriety of chronicling or condensing an unfinished process into something consumable. Statements made and judgments withheld are equally telling.
Filming Revolution not only presents a valuable archive of the independent documentary films coming out of the revolutionary era in Egypt, but also captures a moment of filmmaking history at a crucial turning point in the region. Its meta quality is prescient—in an era characterized by instantaneous communication and self-narration, the project picks up on the trends of more intentional documentarians as they already begin to process and decode the visual material that will inform Egypt’s next steps, as well as its reflection on the recent past.
Lebow’s project curates an ongoing movement in filmmaking; many of the films included are works in progress, as is the revolution. She makes comprehensible a varied field of Egyptian film while situating it within the broader historical context of film in revolution. The platform is unique and interactive, allowing the viewer to explore fluid connections between media-makers, activists, and archivists of the revolution. She describes a “conceptual symmetry to a non-linear project that could in some ways approximate the non-hierarchical, rhizomatic, almost structureless structure that characterized these uprisings.”
The clips below offer a glimpse into the varied discussions and perspectives encapsulated in Filming Revolution: our recommended starting points in exploring this incredible compilation.
Tahani Rached (filmmaker): No time for critical distance
Lara Baladi (visual artist): It was as if a dam broke
Tamer el Said (filmmaker): The choice to experience and not to record
Marouan Omara (filmmaker): The problem with films about the revolution
Alia Ayman (filmmaker, film curator): Films about the revolution will be important in the future
Sherief Gaber (archivist, activist, lawyer): Archive as Arsenal
Feature image from Tahrir Square cut skin, from Remarks on Medan (Jasmina Metwaly, 2011).
Alisa Lebow is a documentaty filmmaker, scholar, and writer. She holds a doctorate in Cinema Studies from New York University and teaches at the University of Sussex. She conducts research that explores the intersection of the aesthetic and the political in documentary film and related media.