“The role of social media is to get everyone to know that we all share the same problems, we all share the same needs, we’re all asking for the same rights,” says Amr Salama. After using social media to follow and participate in demonstrations that ultimately helped topple former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian filmmaker has now used Twitter to gather over 300 gigabytes of documentary video of demonstrations at Tahrir Square and elsewhere as part of a new film about the revolution that may soon be making the rounds at film festivals all over the world.
Salama’s project capitalizes on the new democratic possibilities unlocked by rampant adoption of both handheld video and social media. “Everyone was using cell phones to shoot pictures and videos and put it online; everyone was making videos to show how the regime was corrupted and tell how they were dealing with it,” he told Beet.tv:
Especially after that special case of Khaled Said, the young man that was killed and tortured by the police. It got everyone together. There was a page called “We Are All Khaled Said” that got everyone connected on the Internet. At the same time, those who weren’t on the Internet shared the same problems and shared the same needs as well. They just weren’t as connected.
Social media also gave demonstrators the jump on the government’s efforts to crack down on the Internet. “The government didn’t know which [Internet] carrier was providing all these videos,” Salama explains. The activists were quickly able to share this information among themselves to continue to broadcast videos over the Internet. Likewise, photographers were able to directly share their videos with Arab news channels, delivering them by hand to offices and contacts. And now, in the wake of the revolution, and with society in many ways still in anarchy, social media has allowed for the beginning of creating a true archive of the events.
The film, Tahrir Square: The Good, The Bad, The Politician, is a collaborative project by Salama and two other filmmakers. Salama is making the third segment, The Politician, about Egypt’s revolution from the politicians’ point of view. His film tries to understand “how the decisions were made, how Mubarak turned into a dictator, and how dictators fall eventually by the power of the people.”
The bulk of Salama’s footage, primarily interviews of people who had been working closely with Mubarak, was shot after the revolution. But it’s augmented by the hours of videos from Tahrir Square, all contributed via his open call over Twitter.
In her March essay “Twitter and the Anti-Playstation Effect on War Coverage,” sociologist Zeynep Tufecki makes a persuasive case that while the apparatus of traditional news media, especially television, acted to distance news events and their audience, social media helped close that distance, by connecting readers and viewers to the humanity of both activists, reporters, and activist/reporters. News organizations willing to experiment with a more immersive social approach to media, from NPR to Al-Jazeera, were able to overcome this problem. Salama’s approach is another example of this synthesis: grounded in social media, employing video that doesn’t hide the messiness of news behind the glass case of professional gloss, curated and arranged by a professional storyteller who was himself a participant.
Salama thinks it may be premature to judge the effect of the revolution on filmmaking in Egypt, but he’s willing to venture a few predictions. The success of amateur video proves that movies can be compelling with lower budgets, so long as they tackle more serious topics. The most-needed change is greater respect for the audience. “Like democracy, we seek to be respected,” Salama says. “We want to be a part of every project we watch now.”