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PLU to host filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, screen ‘The Square’ documentary on Egypt

“It was a war. A war in the square. Not a revolution.”

The words come from Ahmed Hassan, one of the Egyptian organizers of the Tahrir Revolution that began in 2011.

Hassan is one of several followed by the cameras of Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim for her Academy Award-nominated documentary “The Square.”

A free screening of the documentary Thursday night at Pacific Lutheran University will be followed by Noujaim presenting the second Ambassador Chris Stevens Memorial Lecture.

PLU’s Wang Center for Global Education organized the event named for Stevens, who was killed Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya. Some of Stevens’ family members will attend the PLU event.

“The Square,” released in 2013, covers the on-again, off-again revolution that began during the so-called Arab Spring in January 2011. A growing demonstration and occupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square led to the downfall of longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. He was replaced by a military regime.

The documentary was shot on the streets and in the homes of organizers as they fought to have a democratic government installed. It contains images of government brutality, military doublespeak and the passions of people fighting to be heard.

The film shows people of different faiths — Muslim, Christian, secular — who worked together to overthrow Mubarak and later the military. The film has no narration and only a minimal use of dates and names. It offers an insider’s guide to the Egyptian revolution, one that documents the changing alliances, rulers, victories, defeats and perspectives of the Egyptian people.

After Noujaim thought the film was finished, Egyptians became dissatisfied with Muslim Brotherhood-backed president Mohamed Morsi. He made ever-increasing power grabs after his June 2012 election and was ousted in July 2013.

Former Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who forced Morsi out, is the current president of Egypt.

PLU communication professor Joanne Lisosky uses the “The Square” in a global media class she teaches.

During the Tahrir Square occupation, Lisosky was teaching in Azerbaijan. Her primarily Muslim students were watching the revolution unfold on TV. “They would say, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’ ” she recalled.

The film shows events that were not captured by American news cameras. At one point in “The Square,” military personnel carriers deliberately run over and apparently kill protesters.

“That was a scene that my students brought up. They thought it was startling because they knew nothing about that,” Lisosky said. She calls Egypt “one of the most risky places to be as a documentary storyteller.”

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