Maria Bello Hosts Home Screening of Jehane Noujaim’s Documentary ‘The Square’
It’s fitting that Jehane Noujaim, director of the documentary “The Square” about the revolution in Egypt, quoted Margaret Mead in conversation when describing the impact that a dedicated few have had in creating change in Egypt: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Noujaim and a small group of people helped organize the film’s first screening in Los Angeles on Oct. 11 at actress Maria Bello’s Santa Monica home. The doc was shown in Bello’s front yard on a portable screen that will be used to tour the film throughout the Middle East. The movie, which follows a handful of revolutionaries in Tahrir Square, is currently censored in Egypt.
Noujaim was arrested three times while filming the doc during the course of two and a half years. Upon finding copies of her documentary “Egypt: We Are Watching You” (about three women fighting for political change and social justice) in her car at a checkpoint, military intelligence detained Noujaim and confiscated her camera. When allowed a short break, Noujaim went back to her car to throw the remaining batch of DVDs away discretely, ultimately shoving them down a drain in the bathroom.
“Really, like a movie, this guy that had been cleaning the bathrooms comes into the interrogation, walks in with a shred of the DVD and holds it in the air like a trophy and basically says, ‘This woman is hiding something,’” Noujaim recalled. “And at this point, I just broke and I said, ‘I have nothing to lose, I’m just going to be honest with these guys.’”
In retrospect, the Egyptian American director said her actions mirrored the protesters’ decisions to voice their grievances.
“The breaking of fear that I felt at that moment was a tiny, tiny, tiny example of what many Egyptians felt when they went to that square,” she said. “I will not be silent anymore. I will not hide what I feel anymore. Whatever happens to me, I am going to sit in that square and I am going to say what I believe and I am gonna take the consequences because I’m not willing to have children in this country that I feel is completely corrupt.”
When she was arrested again at the height of the rebels’ battle with authorities following the military coup, lawyer and human rights activist Ragia Omran tweeted a picture of the missing person. When Noujaim was permitted to use the restroom after seven hours, someone who had seen the tweet spotted her en route to the bathroom and sent Omran word of her location.
Her experience exemplified the role social media and technology at large played in the revolution.
“One person with a phone can capture a shot of injustice, upload it or tweet it, and someone else can share and it and people will go down to the streets,” the film’s producer, Karim Amer, said. “The more we start to interconnect like that, the more we can start to know the power of witness. And when people know the power of witness, they know the power of change and they know that they can be the conduit of change themselves.”
Amer said the film, which won the people’s choice award for documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival last month and the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival in January as a work in progress, has resonated with audiences because it’s a global story.