A year ago the people of Egypt took to the streets to demand the ouster of their American-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak. It was part of the Arab Spring, a wave of revolutionary uprisings that looked capable of changing the face of the Middle East forever.
The main protests in Cairo took place in Tahrir Square, not far from where a group of friends - young, artistic and mostly foreign with Egyptian roots - lived. As the masses paraded through the streets in front of their apartments, these friends started filming what was going on. They were spectators. But as the government began to crack down on the protests, as gunfire echoed in the streets of Cairo, they became revolutionaries. 1/2 Revolution is their footage.
A first person documentary, 1/2 Revolution is edited and structured and paced like a found footage film - as if the Cloverfield monster were actually the thugs of Egypt's police and military. The distance between the audience and the events is erased, and 1/2 Revolution becomes utterly engrossing as a story as we watch these people experience great and terrible events, and eventually begin to fear for their lives. This is documentary as narrative, a documentary that you easily forget is a documentary.
There are moments of stunning exhilaration in 1/2 Revolution; watching the peope rise up and face off against violent police and risk their lives for their beliefs is inspiring and often choked me up. But the film doesn't shy away from the less savory elements; there's an insidious strain of anti-Semitism running through the protests. Directors Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim don't mythologize the protesters in any way, letting the actual events speak for themselves.
1/2 Revolution often has the feel of an action movie. As the government cracks down on the protests, clashes get more violent and the friends, driven at first by curiosity and later by idealism, find themselves drawn into actual street battles. People are shot dead, cars are lit afire, tear gas is launched almost casually. The audience is right there, living the action, shoulder to shoulder with the courageous people standing up for their country.
There are highs and lows; one day the revolution seems to be succeeding and the streets are alive with music, while on others pro-Mubarak thugs take over whole blocks, beating people. There is a sense of real and serious danger, and you begin to get very, very worried about the filmmakers. And they begin to get very, very worried as well.
Compelling and gripping, 1/2 Revolution is one of the best documentaries I have seen in some time. It busts preconceived notions of documentaries and is filled with adrenaline and excitement. And even at a brisk 72 minutes it will leave you almost breathless.
The title, by the way, comes from the sad truth of the current situation. While Hosni Mubarak did eventually step down, Egyptians found themselves trading one dictator for a brand new one. Half the revolution has happened, but there is still more to come.