Last night I had the pleasure of talking to independent filmmaker Omar Hamilton and actor Khalid Abdalla two British-Egyptians who have lived through the sit-ins and the protests here in Egypt. The two, with a group of friends and volunteers are now using film-activism in their contribution to life in Tahrir Square.
Using film-activism to help with the release of friends who were being tortured in the Egyptian Museum in March, a group of filmmakers decided to turn one of their spaces into an alternative media centre called Mosireen. Mosireen is a play on the words meaning Egyptians and determinism. After getting basic equipment together in May, Mosireen began collating the multiple sources of material filmed throughout the revolution into an online archive.
Omar explained from a filmmaker’s perspective that the rawness of material they’re collating couldn’t be more cinematic or pre-meditative right now or else it would appear disingenuous. “We’re still in the middle of it so all we have is the now and the raw. You film things and cut your stuff together but you also want to contribute to life in the square. We wanted to remind people of what they’ve already achieved. The appetite is clearly for things that are immediate and directly from the revolution”
“The majority of the footage is amateur, but a lot of it is filmed by us or by our friends” Khalid told me. “It’s part of the culture of creative commons, an open sourcing for film that allows us to share our stories. We did an open call for people to make films which we were planning to have screened on TV but then the sit-in started again and three days ago we decided to start screening in the square.”
During the June 28th protest I somewhat naively encountered my first Tahrir experience. The violence and struggle of the Egyptian people that day will stay with me for a lifetime and I was only there for a few hours. Khalid told me that “a minority carries every revolution and most people haven’t seen all things that we’re showing here. I was here the whole time but the amount of things in the archive that I haven’t seen is remarkable.”
Re-experiencing some footage last night at the Tahrir Cinema that someone had filmed from the June 28th protest made me understand on some small level the importance of seeing the footage again. Seeing a new perspective allows a sense of achievement for people to re-experience their own story.
For Omar the relationship between the audience and the footage is a personal journey “If we can show this to people and people respond to it and like what they’re seeing then maybe for the first time in their lives people can see how cinematic experience is actually personally relevant to them and personal relevance is the first step towards fixing the country. People want to see what they did and they want to remember they want to see themselves on the big screen. We’ll run the screening until the sit in finishes but that will just be the end of this particular project.”
Khalid reflected upon what the Tahrir Cinema and the power of using film can evoke within a person. “The meaning of seeing the footage is not just a matter of seeing stuff that’s powerful it’s about seeing yourself in it. It’s about seeing what’s changed in your country and what has changed in your identity, that relationship is immensely strong. It’s about encouraging a continued fight and bringing hope from how far we’ve come. The other part of the importance is people wanting their story to be told.”
There are no limits to what they’re looking for in terms of footage because it’s self-expression that they’re simply platforming. For Omar, Khalid and their dedicated team, the importance of open sourcing and film documentation “is that the archive we’ve built is not ours, it’s the Egyptian peoples; it was filmed by the Egyptian people, it’s their story and it’s our story but a lot of people haven’t seen it. This country is going to be unpacking what happened here for generations and you never know what’s important and what isn’t. There are two things happening- there’s a duty to the present and a duty to the future and we’re trying to fulfil both.”Photography by rowan el Shimi This is a follow-up interview from earlier post Cinerevolution