Over the last five weeks of this column, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing some of the women working in narrative filmmaking, but in order to get a fuller picture of women directors, it’s impossible not to talk about documentary filmmaking. A study ran in 2013 by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC reported that women directed more documentary films than they did narratives—at the rate of 34.5% of documentaries to 16.9% of narrative films.
Documentaries allow us to view other parts of the world, to catch up on events happening around us, or to learn about things from our past. In January of 2011, the citizens of Cairo, Egypt took to Tahrir Square, the town square, to begin a mass protest again the then-president Hosni Mubarak and demand an end to police brutality and lack of free speech and free elections that had been occurring in Egypt. Over the course of the next two years, President Mubarak would be overthrown from office, replaced with a new President, Mohamed Mosni, who would also be overthrown due to the power of the people’s protest. As the daily struggle between the people and the state continued, Egyptian American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim filmed the events and composed them into her 2013 documentary film The Square. The Square premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, but Noujaim shortly went back to Egypt to resume filming, and presented an updated version at the Toronto International Film Festival later that fall. It is also currently one of the few films that have a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Noujaim and her crew are not afraid to capture the harsh realities that the people of Egypt and the protestors face in an up close and personal camera style, refusing to shy away from these acts of violence, but to contrast this, the film also includes the life and culture that surrounds the square. One of the featured protestors is a musician, Ramy Essam, whose music becomes the soundtrack of the revolution. It’s amazing to watch all different kinds of people joined together through song and dance. Despite the struggles and violent acts and immense sacrifices that the protesters have made in order to fight for the rights of the people, The Square is not a depressing watch. Quite the opposite, it is an inspiring look at the power of the people’s voice. I feel like this documentary is especially relevant during this recent turbulent period of change. All over this country and all over the world, people are standing up to demand that their voices be heard and that their rights be respected. I think that anyone who doubts their ability to make a difference in this world should give The Square a watch. Our voices matter. Once the protesters in Tahrir Square came together, they were successful in toppling not one but two regimes.
We are more powerful than we are led to believe. Jehane Noujaim and her documentary show us this first-hand.
You can watch The Square streaming exclusively on Netflix now. If you are interested in more of Noujaim’s work, another documentary of hers called Control Room, about Al Jazeera, which is also available to stream there.
There are no new women-directed films opening this weekend, but plenty are still playing in the Milwaukee area:
Suffragette (dir. Sarah Gavron) is currently playing at the Downer Theater.
The 33 (dir. Patricia Riggen) is currently playing at AMC Mayfair, Bayshore iPic, and several Marcus theatre chains.
Love the Coopers (dir. Jessie Nelson) is currently playing at AMC Mayfair, Bayshore iPic, and several Marcus theatre chains.
The Intern (dir. Nancy Meyers) is currently playing at several Marcus theatre chains.
Miss You Already (dir. Catherine Hardwicke) is currently playing at the Marcus Ridge Cinema.