In a way, it’s not as difficult a situation as, for example, for Magdy and Ahmed, because of my background in the U.S. If I get jailed, there will be articles that would be written about it. There are so many people that were arrested and jailed that would disappear for months. In that way, I want to preface all of this talk of arrest with the fact that we were a lot safer, in terms of how long we would be arrested for and what would happen to us, than most people, and that gave us this strength and it taught me a fearlessness that I will never forget.

So, the first time that I was arrested for any significant amount of time was the battle of Mohamed Mahmoud in November 2011. There was actually a ceasefire and we were going to the fault lines, the barrier between the army and police on one side and the protestors on the other. It was a beautiful scene; the sheikhs from Al-Azhar came down and were getting people from both sides to be led in prayer, the sun was setting, and after seeing people being wounded and dying for the previous four days, it was such a relief. I wanted to film it and actually post it online.

So I was filming and then somebody threw a tear gas canister, the bullets started, and the ceasefire was broken. Karim and his sister Dina, one of the producers of the film, ran toward the protestors’ side and Magdy and I ran to the other side, not by accident. That morning I had said that one problem in our filming was that we really had not gotten access to the young military and how they’re feeling. Everybody in Egypt is drafted into the military, so we’re talking about brothers and cousins — how did they feel about a shooting on people that could be relatives of theirs?

I wanted to get that perspective, so we went over to the other side and started interviewing people as the bullets were flying. We interviewed people for about 10 minutes before a sort of higher ranking general with a ski mask stopped me by name and said, “Jehane, give me your camera and your footage.” They arrested me, gave me to the police, and they disappeared me and Magdy for about 36 hours before Ragia Omran, the human rights lawyer in the film, tweeted my picture and then they ended up finding me.

GALO: The role of social media and citizen journalism in the documentary, and in the revolution itself, is obviously very important and fills in many missing pieces to the story that may go unreported — which is, I believe, what Khalid is doing with his media collective Mosireen. You touched on this during the Q&A, but can you talk about the footage you shot and its effects on mobilizing the protests even before the film was released?

KA: We were not spectators; we were very much part of this struggle. So when that’s the case, I feel like you have this complicated situation with your material. As a filmmaker, you believe in a long-form kind of film that’s going to tell a story a certain way but, at the same time, in our situation, you’re filming something that you know is going to have an impact on the events that are unfolding on the ground today.

JN: Yes, I mean, because we were all protestors in the Square, we both saw the benefit of creating a long form film that would really show the emotional story behind the headlines. But because we were all protestors, we were filming footage which could be used as evidence in trials, so anything that was useful, we allowed different people to use. Mosireen has used some of it, and the one particular example was when the body was being dragged across the Square. This was actually filmed by one of the people on my filmmaking team, Cressida Trew, Khalid’s wife. It was uploaded online and picked up by international news stations and local news stations, and people who did not know what was going on in the Square saw the footage and then immediately — within two hours — there were people who had flocked out to the Square.

It was really a show of solidarity with people saying, “This will not happen in my name, under my watch.” Egyptians standing up for other Egyptians, it was a beautiful sight to see. It was similar to what happened during the first 18 days, when people stood together in solidarity and protected each other’s lives. Ahmed learned how to use the camera halfway through the filmmaking process and the camera became a kind of weapon for him. He goes to the front lines, he shoots, and, often times, he’s the only camera in the Square when everybody else is gone. Even when there were no characters and he wasn’t filming for the film, he would be filming because he was the only witness in the Square.

GALO: What’s the status of the film being officially released in Egypt? I think you’ve made it available to stream online until that becomes a reality, correct? How important is getting it officially approved and released in Egypt?

JN: We haven’t streamed it yet. [Editor’s Note: The film was released for streaming in Egypt through on February 22.] We’re still working out when it’s going to happen — it should happen within the next week. We’re currently working through the process of censorship — which is a very bureaucratic process — because it’s important to not have the film only seen by activists. I mean there are so many people who have seen it, who have not waited for this process of censorship but have downloaded it and spread it around anyway. But by going through the process and by having it officially approved, the film would be seen by so many more people.

At this time in Egypt, I feel like we’re going through a time similar to post-September 11th in the U.S. People feel like they are under attack. The media starts self-censoring themselves, and that’s the worst thing you can do. When people are in this atmosphere of fear, there’s this dehumanization of the other, the “we have to attack the enemy” kind of attitude, and that’s the danger of what can happen in Egypt as well. I think the most important thing to do during these times is to release films which humanize these characters because these are ordinary people, whether they’re secular or from the Brotherhood — you know, Magdy has a very complicated relationship with the Brotherhood. In the end, he’s a human being who wants the same things everybody else wants, which is a decent future for his family and the ability to make a living; the ability to have basic human rights and social justice that people deserve to live on in the world.

GALO: You take us on a very personal journey through each activist’s story. So for the main characters in The Square — how has the film and the global response to the film affected their lives? And what does the films recognition in all the various ways it’s been acknowledged mean to you and your team?

JN: My hope, when I make a film, is to be able to share a small glimpse of that magic that I felt, or if I’ve fallen in love with a character, to be able to share that beauty with somebody, with the rest of the world. And so, I immediately wanted to share these incredible personalities that we followed, and it’s been amazing. They have inspired other people halfway across the world, just as we’d hoped. Ahmed has inspired kids in high school and colleges all around the U.S. that don’t know anything about Egypt, but they see him as a young person fighting for change, putting everything on the line to fight for what he believes in. They see him as somebody who is similar to people fighting during the Civil Rights movement. What’s been really exciting is having students come up to us and say, “you know, I never knew anything about Egypt, never followed anything about the Middle East, but to see these people putting everything on the line to fight for what they believe in is truly inspiring and makes me think about what I’m doing for the environment, or what I’m doing for the cause that I believe in.”

And this is a global struggle that’s happening; in Kiev they had a huge screening of The Square out in their square. It was minus…maybe minus 15 degrees that night. We did a screening in the plaza in Mexico City — the film has really exploded in South America. People are relating to the film, far outside of Egypt and the Middle East and that’s exciting.

KA: I think, fundamentally, this whole experience changed us. Being part of this revolution and documenting it; they’ve gone hand in hand. We’re never spectators. We’re always a part of what’s happening on the ground. I went down as a skeptic. I didn’t really think anything was going to happen, and I was fundamentally shocked and awed by the power and majesty of people who were for the first time crying out for their rights. When you witness that and when you witness acts of injustice against that force, and you witness people like our characters who continue to stand up again after they keep getting pushed down and [they]continue to stand up and continue to push for it, something fundamental changes in you and you realize there’s a responsibility that comes with that witness and that you have the responsibility to share that story around the world. When others witness these stories, they hold them up and turn these lonely fights into global fights, and that’s how we can level the playing field.

“The Square” is currently playing nationwide across select theatres and is also available on Netflix Originals. For more information about the film, please visit Tune in to ABC this Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 7e/4p to watch the Oscars. 

Video Courtesy of Netflix.

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Featured image: Filmmaker Jehane Noujaim. Photo Credit: Ahmed Hassan.