'The Square'

‘The Square’ shortlisted for Oscar, Egypt premiere canceled

“The Square,” a documentary film by Egyptian-American director Jehane Noujaim about the January 2011 revolution, is among 15 films selected for the Oscar shortlist for documentary features in 2014. 

Just one day after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nomination of “The Square” for best documentary, however, the film’s Egyptian premiere at the sixth Panorama of the European Film has been canceled.

The film was supposed to have its Egyptian premiere on Thursday at the Galaxy Cinema in Cairo’s Manial neighborhood as part of the sixth Panorama, organized by Misr International Films (MIF).

MIF head Marianne Khoury told Mada Masr that while the censorship board and the military granted the Panorama the permit and authorization to show the film, the director and producers did not send the print on time for Thursday's screening.

According to a follow-up statement by the Panorama team sent to Mada Masr “the producers of the film wanted to take the time to work on a wholly Arabic translated version for the Egyptian audience rather than screening the film in it's international version. This was however not completed and shipped on time.”

In an earlier interview, Khoury said that getting approval from Egypt’s censorship body had been an extremely difficult process due to the film’s sensitive content, which includes a lot of brutally raw footage of the excessive violence used by the Egyptian military and security forces against protestors over the past three years.

Noujaim is best known for two of her previous feature-length documentaries, “Startup.com” (2001) and “Control Room” (2004).

“The Square” is the director’s fifth feature-length documentary. It premiered in January at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in the US, where it won the Audience Award for World Cinema in the documentary category. Due to the ever-changing nature of Egypt’s revolution, Noujaim updated the film’s ending several times over the summer of 2013. Since then, the film has gone on to win the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

According to an October 17 New York Times article about the film and its many versions, “There was a cut for Sundance; another one submitted in the summer to the Toronto International Film Festival; the version that actually played in Toronto in September; and the final one opening Oct. 25 in New York (similar to the previous version, with technical tweaks).”

While the endings may have been different, each cut begins in Tahrir Square during the 18-day uprising that led to the ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.

In the film, Noujaim shadows a range of individuals, including central characters Magdy Ashour, a Muslim Brotherhood member, and Ahmed Hassan, a young secularist. A long list of activists, ranging from Bothania Kamel and Khalid Abdalla, to Aida El Kashef and Ramy Essam, also appear. The film has been heralded for both its artistic merit and its immersive technique, which sheds a rather gruesome light on the often bloody battle of narratives which have taken place in Egypt over the past three years.

In the final cut of the film, Noujaim shadows several characters active in the events around former President Mohamed Morsi’s election in June 2012, the military’s ouster of him in July 2013, and the subsequent violent dispersal of his supporters at two sit-ins on August 14.

Noujaim’s footage from events such as the Maspero and Mohamed Mahmoud killings is haunting, painful, and oftentimes in conflict with the current pro-military narrative of most local media outlets.

The last Egyptian documentary to be shortlisted for an Oscar nomination was Mai Iskander's "Garbage Dreams" in 2009.