‘The Square’ filmmakers capture a revolution — and then an Oscar nomination

January 17, 2014

 

On a recent afternoon, Jehane Noujaim apologized for checking her cellphone in the middle of an interview. The director of “The Square,” an immersion into the Egyptian revolution, wanted to make sure her producer, Karim Amer, was going to be able to get back into the country — his country — to see an ailing relative. Such apprehension was nothing new for Noujaim.

“The Square,” nominated Thursday for an Academy Award for best documentary, opened Friday in theaters and via Netflix, but has yet to be screened in Egypt, whose tumultuous recent history is its subject. “The film is in censorship,” she said. “They won’t issue a letter to show it publicly. There’s an attempt to whitewash the last three years. That period is given intimate perspective in the film, which tracks the downfall of dictatorial Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 after 18 days of mass protests and military intimidation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

The story continues as Mubarak’s elected successor, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, also is toppled, amid rising violence and discord between religious and secular factions. The tilts and turns meant that, shortly after winning an audience award for “The Square” at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Noujaim went back to shooting and re-editing the film. “Most of these verite films, you make up a story that you think you’re following,” said Noujaim, whose films include “Control Room” and “Startup.com.”

“You make a plan and God laughs, right? And that’s the exciting thing about making these films. You don’t know which way a story is going to go. But this story, much more than anything I’ve ever worked on, I had no idea where it was going. We had to have people ready to film at any moment.” The Harvard-educated filmmaker, 39, was born in Washington but raised in Cairo between the ages of 7 and 17. She grew up a few minutes from Tahrir Square but never imagined that one day she’d be sleeping in it.

“There was no place else I wanted to be in the world when things started happening there,” Noujaim said. It was in the square that she met the film’s key figures, each a different piece of the populist puzzle that came together in the story. “You look for people who will take you into worlds that you will never ordinarily see.”

The Academy Award nomination is the first ever for an Egyptian film. Noujaim compared the moment to “getting accepted to the World Cup for the first time.” The timing is crucial, as the country voted last week on a new constitution — backed by the military government — with presidential and parliamentary elections expected soon. “What Ahmed said when we were short-listed was, this means that despite censorship that this film will be unstoppable and our story will never be able to be obliterated or silenced,” Noujaim said. “The government will be in a very uncomfortable place, which is exactly where they need to be put for censoring a film about a hugely important chapter of Egyptian history.”

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-square-filmmakers-capture-a-revolution–and-then-an-oscar-nomination/2014/01/17/9617eb6c-7ee1-11e3-93c1-0e888170b723_story.html

Allen West: Muslim Brotherhood ‘Infiltrated’ Obama Administration

Former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) claimed individuals tied to the Muslim Brotherhood have “infiltrated” President Barack Obama’s administration.

 

“[W]e do have Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups and individuals infiltrated into this current Obama administration,” West wrote on his Facebook page. “This is serious.”

West slammed Obama’s Middle East policies, criticizing his “very conciliatory speech”in Cairo in 2009 and his stance on former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in 2011.

“Many warned of the rise of the ‘granddaddy of Islamic terrorism,’ the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt as the only viable and organized political entity,” West wrote. “We were castigated as alarmists and Islamophobes. The Muslim Brotherhood even lied about running a candidate for President. We are now witnessing the result of our blindness.”

This isn’t the first time West has suggested the Muslim Brotherhood has influence in American government. In April 2012, West said “we should not allow the Muslim Brotherhood-associated groups to be influencing our national security strategy” in response to the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ decision to scrap nearly 900 pages of training materials that had been determined offensive, culturally insensitive and in some cases entirely misleading or incorrect.

 

West also called on Obama to “repudiate the Muslim Brotherhood” in June 2012, calling the Arab Spring “nothing more than a radical Islamic nightmare.”

Arab Film Festival shares the sorts of stories that became news

The social conditions depicted in some of these movies lend perspective to the events of Arab Spring, organizers say.

Eight months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt continues to grapple with the revolution’s aftermath as it prepares for parliamentary elections next month. But at this year’s Arab Film Festival, which opens Friday at the Writers Guild of America theater in Beverly Hills, it will be pre-revolutionary Egypt that appears on the screen.

In “The Birds of the Nile,” a man from a small village moves to Cairo in search of a better life but runs up against the disintegrating structures of Egyptian society. Another Egyptian film, “The Ring Road,” tells the story of a man trying to save his daughter’s life while struggling against the country’s endemic corruption.

“Egyptian Maidens,” about two unmarried women, sheds light on the daily struggles and mounting frustrations of many Egyptians.
Other festival offerings from Tunisia, Jordan and Iraq reflect similar undercurrents of anger that erupted into mass protests that spread across the Arab world this year.

CAIR Welcomes Mubarak’s Departure as Step Toward Freedom

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today welcomed the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a “first step toward freedom” and said there must now be a clean break with authoritarian rule and a swift transition to an open and transparent civilian government.

In a statement, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said:

“We welcome the departure of President Mubarak as a first step toward freedom in Egypt. We urge our own government and the international community to now support a swift transition to a civilian administration that operates in an open and transparent manner and is representative of all segments of Egypt’s diverse society…”

CAIR also welcomed President Obama’s statements in support of a “genuine transition” to democracy in Egypt.

Man charged over German court killing

Prosecutors on Tuesday filed murder charges against a man who fatally stabbed a pregnant Egyptian woman in a German court — a killing that caused outrage in her native country and beyond. The 28-year-old Russian-born German, identified only as Alex W., acted out of “hatred for non-Europeans and Muslims” in the July 1 killing, prosecutors in the eastern city of Dresden said in a statement.

Marwa al-Sherbini, a 31-year-old pharmacist, was stabbed at least 16 times in a Dresden courtroom where she was to testify against the suspect. She had filed a complaint against him in 2008 accusing him of insulting her with racial slurs. Her husband was stabbed and suffered serious injuries when he intervened to protect her. The couple’s 3-year-old son was in the courtroom and witnessed the attack.

In addition to murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, prosecutors charged the assailant with attempted murder and bodily harm for his attack on el-Sherbini’s husband, Elwy Okaz.

The charges were filed with the state court in Dresden, which will now allow the defendant to respond, and then will decide whether and when a trial should start. Prosecutors said they did not expect further information for
“a few weeks.” A psychiatric expert has found no evidence that the man is unfit to stand trial, they added. Egyptians expressed outrage at the attack and an initially low-key German response, which many viewed as a sign of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The week after the killing, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her condolences to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Iran also protested the slaying. Al-Sherbini had already testified once against the man in court in November 2008, after which he was fined for calling her a “terrorist” at a playground.

He had returned to court on July 1 to challenge the fine. Because the man was not considered a threat and had not been held in detention before the court session, there was no special security surrounding the hearing. Many
German courts, including the one where the killing took place, have no security checks at their entrance. Prosecutors said the defendant used a kitchen knife with a 7-inch (18-centimeter) blade that he had brought into
the courtroom in a backpack. Lars Rischke reports.