Thursday, February 23, 2012

1/2 Revolution ~ and ~ Payback -- 2 Reviews by Vinny Townsend

½ Revolution

Filmed and Directed by Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim

This documentary is dramatic footage of the revolution at Tahrir Square in Cairo last year, which led to the fall of President Mubarak from power two weeks later. The footage shows the truth about the violent and oppressive tactics that the Egyptian government conducted against its own people. The lower and middle classes were fed up with high unemployment and repressive policies, leading to furious protests that exceeded one million participants in Tahrir Square alone. Although protestors were justifiably angry, they did their best to maintain non-violence, even with government forces and hired mobs attacking them.

One of the most important scenes in this film was when the army entered Tahrir Square, but did not attack the people. Although Mubarak most likely ordered the army to attack, the military itself restrained from following orders that would have resulted in uncontrolled bloodshed and civil war. The directors of this film lived in downtown Cairo and recorded a first hand look at the terror that occurred in Cairo at this time. Things got so dangerous that they eventually left (although Mubarak was toppled less than a week later). Although the filmmakers have returned to Cairo, the overall consensus of the people is that they are unhappy with how slowly the military government is transitioning to a democracy. Today was the world premiere of this film, which also marks the one-year anniversary of the protests beginning. It felt incredibly powerful, empowering, and depressing all at once to see this recent footage. It made me realize the utter desperation of the Egyptians, and made the consequences of challenging a government seem much more real. It is also very emotional because protestors in countries like Syria have met much stronger resistance than the Egyptians, and one can only imagine the pain that is being inflicted on the citizens there.

This film is very indie for many reasons. For one, it is raw footage taken by the directors who actually were part of this experience. The footage and sound is of average quality, but would have been nearly impossible to improve given the circumstances. In fact, the filmmakers were not even intending to make this a film when they first began recording. However, the filmmakers eventually decided to create a film because they knew it would inform the world of what had been occurring in Egypt. It intends to raise awareness of the injustices inflicted upon the Egyptian people for decades. The entire film makes you feel like you, the viewer, are experiencing the shifting emotions of excitement, adrenaline, and fear.

I was impressed by the amount of footage this film contained from only 11 days of filming. On the audience award sheet, I rated this with 3 stars rather than 4 stars however. As much as I enjoyed this film, it was more of the excitement of the protestors, not the quality of the film that impressed me. I was not convinced that this film was the best it could possibly be, but I was definitely moved by its content. This was a wonderful indie flavored view of our world’s current events and I feel like I gained valuable knowledge by experiencing it.


Directed by Jennifer Baichwal

This film is a cinematic version of Margaret Atwood’s novel, Payback, which is a story about systems of wealth, justice, and reparation. It is actually hard to encapsulate the theme of the documentary because it jumps between stories of the injustices against tomato farmers in the U.S., blood feuds in Albania, the BP oil spill in the gulf, and American criminals. The central theme of this film is the idea of debt. This idea of debt includes what we, as humans owe each other, what we owe the environment, and how we do and/or should interact with all aspects of nature.

This film does a good job of being neutral about the idea of blood feuds between humans. It uses a blood feud between two Albanian families to depict hate, revenge, and debt between humans. The film does a good job of not taking sides in this feud, although the viewer becomes frustrated with the stubbornness that humans can have when interacting with each other.

Also, I liked how the film covered the tragedy of criminals in society. The film presented remorseful criminals who suffer the consequences of their mistakes for the rest of their lives. This film was subtly critical of society’s reluctance to give second chances to criminals.

Overall, I found this documentary to be somewhat random in the stories it chose. It was difficult to determine the relationship between the different stories covered. I got the feeling that the book probably did a better job of tying ideas together than this film did.

Regarding the BP oil spill in the gulf, this film depicts the sad and unnatural consequences to the environment that occur as a result of the oil industry. The film was critical of the United States usage of chemical dispersants to break up the oil spill, which would make small pellet sized oil balls that are the perfect size for animals to ingest. The film says that using dispersants was probably the worst of three options, but that it was used because it would “appear” the best, and be good for public relations. In the Q and A, some of the viewers questioned the validity of the claims that these filmmakers made. Due to this controversy, I question the neutrality of the film’s depiction of the cleanup of the BP oil spill. Furthermore, there was only one source in the film claiming that the dispersants were the worst choice for the cleanup, and this person was not even introduced with any credentials that would make justify her knowledge of this subject.

In terms of mythic dimensions, this film challenges the free market capitalist system. It challenges the idea that humans should exploit the world’s resources. The film made me think about the idea that humanity is the only species that constantly grows in size and usage of the world’s resources. It is scary to think that our demise will probably be our own greed unless we change our communities’ values towards accommodating sustainment policies that allow ourselves and other communities to prosper.

This film has indie characteristics for many reasons. It challenges the norms of our international communities. Is shows how allowing the norms to continue preserve destructive practices, both against fellow humans and nature. Rather than sticking to one main theme, this film takes a risk by diving into very different kinds of stories that barely relate with each other. This film is unique because it explores humanity and nature from new perspectives.

In the Q and A session I learned a lot about Conrad Black, a Canadian newspaper tycoon who is under house arrest for his questionable capitalistic methods of conducting business. He was included in the film, but I did not learn of his background until the Q and A session. Another interesting thing was hearing more from the author, Margaret Atwood. Although she is a slow and monotone speaker, she has a brilliant mind. I am inspired to read her literature and am quite convinced that her novels do a better job of addressing social issues than the film did. As I stated earlier, the Q and A session also highlighted the fact that not many sources were used when addressing issues like the BP oil spill. I suppose in indie documentary should be allowed to express the ideas of the filmmaker, but I thought they could have used more experts on the matter before presenting such strong opinions.

The scenes of the Albanian blood feud were quite amazing in this film. The idea that one man and his family was placed on permanent house arrest seemed like such a weird form of reconciliation. These scenes truly depicted the illogical rationale that humanity will make decisions from. If these two feuding Albanian families were to make peace, they could all go on living a less hateful life. This scene served as a micro representation of humanity as a whole and forced me to think about how important forgiveness becomes if we are to progress as a species.

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