1/2 Revolution: Sundance Film Review

1/2 Revolution

World Documentary Competition

Egypt’s Arab Spring protests come alive in this courageous and compelling doc.

PARK CITY — The international media primarily showcased last year’s Egyptian popular revolt that toppled long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak with footage of demonstrations and security crackdowns in now-famous Tahrir Square. At the same time, another revolution was taking place in the sidestreets and living rooms of Cairo, among ordinary Egyptians and expats alike.

½ Revolution, Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim's visceral, verite personal documentary focusing on 11 days of the 18-day revolution, captures the ground-level events with a gut-churning immediacy and veracity often missing from news reports, as well as amateur footage posted to the Internet. Well-suited to a multi-platform theatrical/VOD release, the film is poised to go viral in a manner that could potentially help shape future political developments in Egypt and throughout the Arab world.

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An award-winning Egyptian-Danish filmmaker, Shargawi coincidentally arrived in Cairo on the day before the revolt began January 25. As people filled the streets to demonstrate against the Mubarak regime, Shargawi and Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Karim El Hakim set out to film as much of the uprising as they could from their neighborhood near Tahrir Square.

Much of their street-level footage, captured on handheld DV and hi-def cameras, as well as by their mobile phones, is literally shot run-and-gun as they venture out into the city on a daily basis. The protests that initially begin peacefully become increasingly violent as security forces respond with batons, tear gas and live ammunition. Scenes of passionate protestors denouncing Mubarak alternate with adrenaline-pumping riots that leave numerous protestors dead or wounded, as some demonstrators begin to retaliate against security forces.

The filmmakers and their cohorts find some respite in the apartment shared by Karim, his wife and their toddler son. Passionate discussions about the implications of the demonstrations and escalating violence provide background on the origins of the uprising. Their multilingual conversations, DV cameras, computers and frequent international phone calls indicate that they’re an isolated elite within Egyptian society, but as expats they’re also marked for retaliation by Mubarak supporters who consider them foreigners.

Shargawi and El Hakim get beaten by government thugs during the protests and barely escape arrest by Mubarak’s secret police, fully aware that their incarceration could mean death. As the protests approach a critical juncture, with both demonstrators and the regime maneuvering for political and strategic advantage, the filmmakers face a critical decision about their continued involvement in the revolution.

Well-lensed hi-def scenes of police and soldiers attacking demonstrators and deploying assault weapons, as well as frequent, pitched street battles, are queasily riveting. The limitations of the handheld technology available to the filmmakers also mean that some shots are under-lit or unfocused, while others are chaotically shaky as they scramble through the streets. The tradeoff is well worthwhile, since they’re able to capture footage that professional camera crews would have been too obtrusive to pull off.

An effective editorial package impressively pulls together dozens of hours of footage -- smuggled out of Egypt in the baby carriage used for El Hakim’s son -- into a concise 72-minute running time (appropriate for the intensity of the material), often using rapid-fire cutting.

½ Revolution, whose title is a reference to the filmmakers’ view that the 2011 uprising is an unfinished revolution, is gripping, courageous filmmaking (sometimes reminiscent of 2010’s Burma VJ, profiling the underground democracy movement in the Southeast Asian nation) that will reward audiences worldwide with a compelling perspective on the ongoing Egyptian chapter of the regional Arab Spring movement.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Documentary Competition
Production company: Globus ApS
Directors: Omar Shargawi, Karim El Hakim
Producer: Carsten Holst
Directors of photography: Omar Shargawi, Karim El Hakim
Music: Anders Christensen
Editors: Per Sandholt, Jeppe Bødskov, Thomas Papapetros
Sales: LevelK

No rating, 72 minutes