Nadia Elkharadly: From here to Tahrir

Ever since I started working with Bob on the Wackers Reunion documentary project (along with the lovely and talented Ms. Emer Schlosser), I’ve started paying much more attention to movies.  Camera angles, different shooting styles, lighting, music, sound, these are things that I’ve never noticed before, but have come into focus much more as of late.  And it stands to reason that when one starts to work on a film, a documentary in fact, documentaries as a genre will become a point of interest as well.  Lately I’ll find myself landing on a doc while flipping channels on television, and I’ll stop.

Docs on topics that interest me will obviously draw my attention, and docs on things I love will hold it.  Music is usually number one in that regard (see my column last week on PJ20), but on Saturday night another love of mine was featured in a short doc on HBO:  it was a film about Egypt.

It was kind of a shock to me to see HBO airing a documentary about the troubles in Egypt on the air.  To me, HBO is the home of some of the edgiest (and sometimes raunchiest) shows on television.  It’s not always the most politically relevant fare, but it’s certainly entertaining.  But in fact HBO has financed and produced some very powerful documentary films, including  When the Levee Breaks, made by Spike Lee about Hurricane Katrina, and Baghdad High, about a group of boys going to school in Iraq, who filmed everything themselves using cameras the network provided them.

The film that caught my eye this weekend was called In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution.  It “starred” journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous, a correspondent for news website Democracy Now!  I have “starred” in quotation marks because I always find it odd that a documentary has a star in the traditional sense.  To me, the story, the subject matter, that’s the true focus, therefore the star of the film itself.   But I digress.  The film follows Kouddous through Cairo just over a year ago, as he explores what the revolution means to his uncle Mohamed Abdel Kouddous, a long time protestor of the regime.  The film is only about forty minutes long, but the filmmakers (Jon Alpert and Matthew O’Neill of Downtown Community Television; and independent filmmaker Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films) managed to pack an incredible amount of content in such a short amount of time.

Kouddous, being Egyptian, and born and raised in Cairo was the perfect person to follow along through the streets of the distressed city, and into the thick of the protests in Tahrir.  His uncle’s personal experience with the brutality of the Mubarak government (suffering persecution and multiple arrests) is a driving factor for his involvement, but Kouddous himself is representative of this revolution.  This revolution is driven by young, intelligent and educated people, whose love of their country, the country of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents has driven them to action.  They used the tools at their disposal: technology (cell phones, computers) and social media (Twitter, Facebook) to out move and outwit their adversaries.  They refused to believe that they were incapable of bringing about change, no matter how many obstacles were in their path.  It was that motivation, that drive, that single minded determination not only sustained them through nearly three weeks of nonstop protest, but inspired the older generations as well.  This is what this film is about, every Egyptian, from the very old to the very very young, coming together with one purpose: to bring democracy to Egypt.

What I loved about this film was that it took the viewer right into the heart of the revolution.  No soundbytes, no reporters, no Anderson Cooper bumbling his way through, just making matters worse.  Kouddous was brought into the fold by the people of Egypt because he is one of them.  He gives the viewer a real insider look into not only the revolution, but the people holding it all together.  Children wave him into their tents in the Square, asking him to pass messages to President Obama in America.  Old men talk to him about their hopes for their country, and the pride they have in the young people that finally gave them the strength to fight back, something they thought they could never do.

The film captures the lowest moment of the protests, when Mubarak made his now infamous speech, effectively spitting on the demands of the people.  The hush that fell over the crowd, the moments of silence where the weight of what was said sinks in, the calm before the storm.  I remember watching that speech myself and the sinking feeling that turned into dread and despair of what would come next.  I pictured the calamity that would ensue in Cairo, and the fear for my family that lived there.  The people had come too far, and invested too much to let that travesty of a speech stand.  To see the reaction there, in front of my eyes brought that feeling back a thousand fold.  Then, when the Vice President came on television to announce that Mubarak would step down, the same hush fell over the crowd, but instead of anger and anxiety came excitement and elation.  To see the happiness that I felt in that moment magnified so intensely, to see everyone in the square celebrating with that same single-mindedness, basking in the glow of their incredible victory…it was, in a word, beautiful.

The poignancy, the stark reality and the honesty of the film was astounding to me.  It brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion, and I’m not shy to admit that it does even thinking back on it now, while writing this piece.  If you can get a chance to watch it, please do.  I wrote a column about my views as an Egyptian living abroad in this time of change, but this film will show you what the people there went through, the real story, and not just the bits and pieces CNN chooses to show.  While the film appears to end on a high note, the credits are shown intercutting with footage of the Egyptian Army coming in.  A year ago, their arrival meant promise and support, but watching the film now, knowing what we know, the trepidation returns.   But one man reminds us, that in this revolution, the people have won.  That is something they will never forget.  They will always be ready to return, to fight, and to make sure that democracy comes to Egypt

The secret to a great documentary, I now believe, is to find a topic that you are passionate about, and that you know others will be passionate about as well.  Once you find that topic, you, and treat it with reverence, in a cohesive and engaging manner, and you (and really here I mean me, and Bob, and Emer J) will be able to reach people, just like how this film reached out to me.

Until next time,



Nadia’s column appears every Tuesday

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Nadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

2 Responses to “Nadia Elkharadly: From here to Tahrir”

  1. Another great post. Just one thing, you may have some Led Zeppelin on the brain, the Spike Lee doc is “When the Levees Broke”.

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