Protesters, filmmaker traverse Egypt's transition in 'The Square'

Wed Jan 8, 2014 9:15am EST
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three years after Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim waded into Cairo's Tahrir Square to document the early rumblings of revolution, the army governs Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is back underground and protesters are on trial.

But as her award-winning film "The Square" makes its debut to a wide audience next week via streaming company Netflix's 40 million subscribers, Noujaim believes Egypt is definitely not back at square one, although it is a dark time in the country.

"Everyone feels like this was an incredibly important process that needed to happen and we will never go back to where we were three years ago," Noujaim told Reuters.

"The whole country," she added, "has gotten a political education."

For the viewer, "The Square" may be like a crash course in understanding Egypt today, taught by protesters who first started gathering in Tahrir Square in January 2011 to call for the end of President Hosni Mubarak's three decades of rule.

For Noujaim, a 39-year-old who made the acclaimed 2004 documentary "Control Room" about broadcaster Al Jazeera, it was a lesson in patience and figuring out when to wrap the film. When she was at the Sundance Film Festival collecting the audience award for "The Square" a year ago, she already decided she had to go back to Egypt to keep filming.

The "work in progress" screened at Sundance covered the fall of Mubarak and ended with the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mursi as president in mid-2012. But then, activists returned to the streets at the beginning of 2013 and the military deposed Mursi in July.

"Mursi was using the tools of democracy to basically create another dictatorship, this time a dictatorship that relied on manipulating people through religion," said Noujaim.   Continued...

Egyptian director Jehane Noujaim poses for a portrait in Los Angeles, California December 17, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni