A filmmaker returns to Cairo and captures Egypt at its best

February 06, 2011

When Ethar Hassaan boarded a plane bound for Egypt on February 1, her intent had been to witness the revolution sweeping her country.

But once on the ground in Cairo, the city in which she was born and raised, her training in media and a desire to document the history-making events took over.

“I went because I’m Egyptian and I really wanted to be there,” said Hassaan, a sophomore in the communication program at Northwestern University in Qatar. “But the communication student in me popped out and I had to get photos and videos.”

Hassaan spent two of the next four days in Tahrir Square taking photos and video of protests that would eventually oust former President Hosni Mubarak. The result: An original short film called “What I Saw.”

Though the film serves in part as a visual document of the events and people of Tahrir Square, its real strength is its ability to convey the mood of the square, which saw humor, rage, piousness, sympathy and more.

In one scene Hassaan captures a woman holding a banner and screaming; in the next a group of men on their knees praying.

Though Hassaan had worked on film projects as part of her studies in Northwestern’s communication program, creating a film around a live, sometimes chaotic event presented particular challenges – working without a script, creating compelling images without the help of lighting kits, and capturing events and people in the moment.

She managed to overcome the challenges though, and in the end the experience might impact the way she approaches filmmaking.

“I thought I liked the scripted work,” Hassaan said, “but I really liked this project.”

Though she ended up creating a film out of her experience, witnessing the generosity and good-will of the Egyptian people was one of the best parts of the experience.

“It was really interesting,” Hassaan said. “Once you got in the square you didn’t feel like there was any difference between anyone – no class difference, no religion difference, no gender difference – because we were all there for the same reason.”

“It was like the Egypt I always wished for was there in Tahrir,” she said.

Hassaan has submitted her film to the Al Jazeera Documentary Film Festival for consideration. You can watch it below or on Hassaan’s Vimeo page.