Egypt Independent

Revolutionary documentaries: Amr Qadri

For a property developer, Amr Qadri has been doing a lot of filming lately. Since 4 February, Qadri has established a daily routine: he wakes up, pins the morning’s newspaper to his bulletin board, and films the day’s headlines. Later, on his way to or from his office located on the outskirts of Cairo, Qadri will make a downtown detour, and head to Tahrir Square—sometimes going twice a day.

He typically doesn’t spend much time in the square. “I walk around for a few minutes with my camera, talking to people about the news of the day, the headlines, and film whatever it is the people in Tahrir have to say about them.”

“Usually, I’ll film anywhere between five to seven minutes each day,” he said. “I can’t spend too much time in Tahrir every day—sometimes it take hours to go down there and get into the square just to talk to people for a few minutes.”

“I also don’t want to overwhelm myself with footage,” he said, almost wincing at the mention of the five hours of film he has so far amassed. “Whatever I end up making, I want it to be comprehensive without being unbearably long.”

It’s safe to say that whatever Qadri is making will likely end up in the form of a documentary, although the 26-year-old insists that wasn’t his initial purpose.

“I don’t know what really put the idea in my head. I didn’t necessarily set out to make a documentary—I just wanted to create a record of a historical event. Which,” he adds after a pause, “I guess is the definition of a documentary.”

Still, Qadri claims a more selfish motive. “I’m not trying to capitalize on the revolution, or make a name for myself by filming what other people are doing, he said. “I started filming this for myself.”

Having never been politically active or even “interested in the news,” Qadri, like many Egyptians, found his life turned upside down in the unexpected upheaval that recently swept across the country. “My main motivation was to try to understand for myself, as much as I could, what was actually going on. What was being said and done out on the streets, and what were the steps that will lead to whatever it is we’ll be left to deal with when this is all over.”

Qadri’s desire for a more evolved understanding grew in correspondence to the sense of uncertainty that most people seemed to be experiencing. “It felt like there were two separate worlds—the things going on behind the scenes, that we only see the results of in the papers and on the news,” he said. “And then there’s the real world, the actual events happening out on the streets for everyone to see and discuss, and especially in Tahrir Square.”

Given the amount of differing opinions—and fears—which he was exposed to during his Tahrir interviews, it’s understandable that Qadri quickly felt overwhelmed by the results of his endeavor. “Everything felt so disconnected and hypothetical,” said Qadri. “It didn’t seem to make sense to look for the most accurate perspective or opinion of what was actually happening, because I don’t think that exists.”

Instead, Qadri realized he would be better off, and would reach a fuller understanding, by creating a collage of the wide variety of opinions, suggestions, beliefs, and fears—a visual microcosm of the disparate feelings that the population seemed to hold towards the revolution and its aftermath, particularly the sinister and somewhat convoluted events that many have labeled as attempts at a “counter-revolution.”

Unfortunately for Qadri, his efforts have brought him little clarification. “At first, it was reassuring to see I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “Then, when I realized it seemed most people didn’t know what was going on either—especially those who strongly believed that they did—it became a little alarming.”

“I’m more confused now then I was when I first started working on this.”

This widespread uncertainty, he explains, is manifested in the different reactions his camera has triggered amongst members of the same crowd. “Some people [in Tahrir Square] will act as if they’ve been waiting all their lives to talk to me, others yell at me as if this is all my fault.” He recalls being met with aggression on several instances, especially during the “few weeks after Mubarak stepped down,” when, on several occasions, simply asking people what they were still doing in Tahrir was enough to start unpleasantly heated debates, many of which he feels were driven by suspicion felt by the square’s apparent residents.

“Generally, I’ve had to tell myself that most people can’t really be blamed for overreacting,” he said. “Everyone’s scared, and confused.”

“It seems the only thing people know for sure, is that nobody really knows anything. People don’t know who’s on their side, or how many sides there are. They know what they want, but there’s an incredible amount of uncertainty in regards to what it is that they’re up against.”

Like everyone else, Qadri has no idea how things will end, or where the current state will lead the nation. He will, however, keep filming as long as “there is still something to film.”

“I’m not planning on releasing this soon, and it definitely isn’t going up on YouTube,” he said, adding that if and when he does release his as-yet-untitled documentary, it will be long after the dust has settled on this unprecedented upheaval—it wouldn’t be possible, he believes, to complete his feature beforehand, regardless of whatever form it ends up taking. Ultimately, Qadri insists, “I’m documenting these events for myself, more than anyone else.”

“Otherwise, I’d have a hard time believing any of this was actually happening.”