Jehane Noujaim

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One World

The Art of Storytelling: Jehane Noujaim

With her unusual background and upbringing between the United States and the Middle East, Jehane Noujaim has a unique vantage point from which to film stories. In her Oscar nominated documentary The Square Noujaim follows a number of Egyptians through the ongoing Egyptian Revolution, the Arab Spring.

The organic way in which the film’s crew came together is one of the many unique twists that makes Noujaim’s brand of storytelling particularly engaging and insightful. The team met in Tahrir Square as the protests began; all brought there by a similar desire to witness history and then to share what was happening with the world. The danger to herself and the crew was very real. They were arrested on several occasions. Yet the importance of sharing this story was larger than the fear of arrest.

In discussing her film, Noujaim speaks with a frankness of one who has a genuine passion for the narrative she is telling. The daughter of an American mother and an Egyptian father, she felt a deep connection to the people and to the reports. I grew up ten minutes away from Tahrir so I felt I had no choice but to be there, she explains in her interview with Deepak Chopra.

Jehane Noujaim set out not to film the victors, but rather to explore the reasons the Egyptian people were protesting. She wanted to explore what is it like when you feel like you’ve lost. In the moments of hopelessness what keeps a revolutionary going? Those are the critical moments the world should know about. What makes those people come back the next day and continue fighting for what they believe in.

When exploring issues of war and revolution there is always a tendency to place blame, either with a dictatorial leader, with a fundamentalist rebellion, or with an overzealous military. Noujaim shies away from such bold pronouncements. The only conclusion that she can come about the ongoing struggles in Egypt is that all of these actors are merely symptoms of the larger issue. They are symptoms of a system that has a lack of consciousness and an inability to protect all Egyptians equally.

Despite this disheartening reality, she maintains a deep seeded optimism. She credits the people she was able to follow in her film and others that she had the opportunity to meet during the five years she spent filming in Tahrir Square. Their conviction is clear, they want a better life for themselves, their children and for the people of Egypt. Noujaim’s mission is to present the stories of these real people engaging in a struggle that is larger than themselves and work to create positive change. For Jehane Noujaim, this is the story of the Egyptian Revolution and this is the story that demands telling.

25:31 | 2014

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