We’re not likely to get a docu on the 2011 Egyptian revolution with greater scope than “Tahrir 2011,” at least not in the immediate aftermath of those momentous events. Cleverly divided into three parts, each helmed by a rising director of what’s sure to become known as the bridge generation between pre- and post-revolution, the docu covers the demonstrators in Tahrir Square (directed by Tamer Ezzat), explores the psyche of the police who violently intervened (Ayten Amin), and investigates Hosni Mubarak’s psyche (Amr Salama). Egyptian and international markets will enthusiastically applaud, the latter mostly via fests and TV.
Ezzat’s section, “The Good,” captures the revolution’s development over those historic days in late January and February through a limited but judiciously selected group of participants whose diverse backgrounds attest to the broad range of class and affiliation behind the groundswell. Filming in the Square as events unfolded, Ezzat conveys the extraordinarily rapid way the protests morphed from a roughly organized assemblage of brave protesters to a mass movement that swept away 30 years of dictatorship.
Thanks to a young middle-class woman, a Muslim Brotherhood activist, a veiled female doctor and a photojournalist, the heady atmosphere is brought to life, when “Tahrir State” became the only “free” place in the country — notwithstanding sniper attacks, camel charges and the constant fear of what security and army forces might do. Footage is first-rate and distinctive, as is the testimony, which will increase auds’ admiration, on emotional and intellectual levels, for the participants.
Amin’s short “The Bad” is the piece of the puzzle few others were willing to look for: She went in search of members of the much-loathed police and security services to ask them in a non-confrontational way why they participated in the violent suppression of their own people. Some of the men she speaks with insisted on being interviewed in the shadows (an unintentionally appropriate choice), while others are more open, expressing disdain for the protesters or hiding behind the familiar defense of doing one’s job. Amin narrates, admitting her difficulty in speaking with her subjects, but the importance of her film, made so soon after the events, can’t be overestimated.
The final section is Salama’s “The Politician,” a clever mix of talking heads and wry analysis of Mubarak’s hold on power and his delusional attempt to remain in office. Through interviews with people in the know, from Hossam Badrawi, former secretary general of Mubarak’s party, to Youssef Tamour, one of Mubarak’s official photographers, Salama touches on the ruler’s psychological makeup and the mind-set that enabled him to conflate his regime with the country’s stability. A playful list, “How to Become a Dictator in 10 Lessons,” begins with hair dye and encompasses cowing the media, raising the specter of a phantom enemy, perpetuating a dynasty … in short, a step-by-step guide remarkable for being tailor-made to nearly every tyrant.
The coming years, if not decades, will see no shortage of docus and features covering the same events (Stefano Savona’s “Tahrir, Liberation Square” was perhaps the first made for theatrical release). Hindsight and eventual revelations from state archives will undoubtedly refine analyses (especially of Mubarak’s hold on power) and bring new information to the table, but such future efforts can’t diminish the importance of “Tahrir 2011,” with its emotional immediacy and intelligence. Visuals will work equally well on big- and smallscreens.