A slickly packaged addition to the myriad documentaries made about the recent events in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, “1/2 Revolution” offers the privileged perspective of a group of filmmaker/activist friends (all with Arab roots and most with foreign passports) who lived near the action. Pic combines shaky-cam footage shot in and around the square with what seems like staged, self-dramatizing conversations inside the filmmakers’s apartments attesting to their bravery and stoicism. End result frequently resembles an indie action-thriller, with its creators as the embattled heroes. Fests, broadcast and educational ancillary rep its best prospects for exposure.
Co-helmers Karim El Hakim (an Egyptian-American) and Omar Shargawi (a Dane) admit that the docu came about accidentally because the project they were working on fell through. Although the protestors and activists took to the streets against the Mubarak regime on Jan. 25, the filmmakers didn’t start their 11 days of documentation until Jan. 28, a day after Shargawi returned to Cairo; they ended up leaving the country in early February, eight days before Mubarak announced his resignation.
Their outdoor footage, edited into rapid montages from more than 100 hours of material, shows the running and chanting, wounded and tear-gassed (mostly male) hordes; bodies shot with real bullets; bodies claimed to have been mowed down by military vehicles; army jets streaking loudly above; fires blazing out of control; and women handing out vinegar soaked cloths to counteract the tear gas.
Meanwhile, the pic gives equal time to footage from inside El Hakim’s home, shared with his Palestinian wife, Samaher El Kady, and baby son, Zein. Their friends, including Franco-Lebanese associate producer Philippe Dib, are shown watching the news, discussing what’s happening and debating the army’s role as enforcer or protector (“It will either be a massacre or it will change everything.”)
Scenes of various telephone calls (El Kady with her worried family on the West Bank, Shargawi with his nervous fiancee and father in Denmark, El Hakim with various friends) serve as narrative exposition and further position the group of friends, rather than the protests, as the film’s emotional center. This feeling is reinforced by the camera angles, the way the subjects speak to one another (incidentally, almost entirely in English) and the dramatic score.
As the days pass, the situation for foreigners in Cairo becomes more dangerous. Thugs supporting Mubarak detain and beat the filmmakers and prowl their neighborhood armed with big knives. The subjects are arrested by the secret police, and their initial euphoria gives way to depression. “It’s going to be unlivable here for years,” El Hakim declares.
The film was shot on a variety of handheld devices, including cell phones, under low light conditions, and its picture and sound quality is variable. Jittery style of the footage, camera angles and pacing seem designed to appeal to a youth audience accustomed to getting their information through the Web.
Pic’s title carries multiple meanings, including the fact that the revolution was only half successful, that the filmmakers only documented half of it, and that both directors are half Arab.