1/2 REVOLUTION: Inside the Arab Spring

Just a year after the Arab Spring began, film directors Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim unveil 1/2 REVOLUTION, a 1st person documentary film that journeys to the heart of the conflict.

Words: Priscilla Djirackor
Images: Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim

About a year ago, filmmakers Omar Shargawi (My Trip to Al Qaeda , 2010) and Karim El Hakim (Beit Min Lahm [House of Flesh], 2006) along with their friends managed to get on a plane and flee a chaotic Egypt on the brink of civil war. Just a month before Shargawi landed in Cairo, in December 2010, a Tunisian man set himself ablaze and died in protest at his treatment by the police. This was the beginning of the Arab Spring; a rising of the people in North Africa and the Middle East against authoritarian regimes such as that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, that have for too long ruled by violence and intimidation, in complete disregard for fundamental rights, freedom and justice. The people of Tunisia’s upheavals culminated in mid-January with the ousting of strongman Ben Ali after more than two decades of dictatorship, bringing hope of democracy to the entire region. Days later, Shargawi arrived in Cairo on assignment to film street kids in the Egyptian capital. Unknown to him and his friends, they quickly become part of the popular movement that would later bring down the Mubarak regime with the restoration of freedom and justice in Egypt as its primary aim. ½ Revolution, the documentary by Shargawi and El Hakim, which was recently screened at Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of the group of men and women that became revolutionaries by accident during those fateful moments.

While ½ Revolution may have come about accidentally as the filmmakers explained, the resulting final edit from 100 hours of footage shot between late January and early February 2011 is a gripping and compelling 72-minute documentary about the Egyptian uprising seen from the unique perspective of a group of artist/activist friends (all of Arab origin, but most with foreign citizenship) living in Downtown Cairo. Shargawi and El Hakim, along with their group, take the viewer to the heart of a revolution, beyond the Tahrir Square protests, to reintroduce images which, yes, have already been broadly disseminated by the media, and also to unveil the never-seen-before day and night reality of the rebellion from the streets, alleyways and homes of Cairo. It all started with a demonstration on January 25, 2011. What followed was fear, anger, death, destruction… and hope.

Blurring the lines between the observed and the observer (being in front of versus being behind the camera), the film is truly an explorative, first-person documentary. Mostly shot with handheld DV and cellphone cameras, the doc relies heavily on outdoor footage of people running and chanting, tear-gassed and shot civilians looking for reprieve, and what Shargawi describes as akin to scenes of Intifada—crowds confronting Hosni Mubarak’s secret police and the army. The film also features scenes from inside El Hakim’s apartment that he shares with his Palestinian wife, Samaher, and their toddler son, where the crew gathers to arm themselves with the latest news, debate and to seek refuge when the street violence reaches its climax.

½ Revolution is a spontaneous film; its pace and intensity resembles that of a Thriller/Action movie as it never ceases to deliver adrenaline or fear while embarking the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotion. There is some sentiment of relief when Mubarak announces that he will not run for president again. But the respite quickly gives way to intense violence and peril. Here, the filmmakers encounter a number of challenges and deadly threats to their safety during the making of the film, including intimidation, arrest and assault by the secret police, only to be released because of their (Shargawi and El Hakim) foreign passports.

Eight days after Shargawi and his friends flee Egypt, Mubarak steps down. But as the title suggests, the reality is that the revolution is far from over as another dictatorship — the Military — has stepped into Mubarak’s place.

Watch the film, 1/2 Revolution, on Prescreen HERE.

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