By Ejiro Onobrakpo
As the stars that came out to shine at the glitzy opening night of the 4th season of the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), the ancient city of Calabar greeted them with balmy weather and a Cultural Center which stood aglow in all its glory.
They had boarded the well branded double decker bus from the Lakeside Resort Hotel at Tinapa for the touristy ride to the Cultural center at the city centre and as they rode, they bantered, with for the opening film for the 4th AFRIFF, many doubted the idea of opening the festival with a documentary instead of a feature like other respected festivals.
The documentary they chose was THE SQUARE; a 2013 Egyptian-American documentary film by Jehane Noujaim, which received an Oscar nomination and also won three Emmy Awards at the 66th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, out of the four categories for which it was nominated. Unfortunately, Jehane was not yet at festival because of visa issues (or maybe the scare of Eebola, a well- dressed star had whispered. Lol.)
As the lights went out and the screen lit, silence fell on the full screening room, which was filled to capacity. What was to come turned out to be a master stroke. And many would come to applaud the organizers for their choice of opening the festival, which is, tagged “AFRICAN UNITE” with this season of the African International film festival.
THE SQUARE which depicts the ongoing Egyptian Revolution of 2011 from its roots in Tahrir Square in 2011 to the eve of the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and the subsequent enthronement of a new military government, through the eyes and minds of Khalid Abdalla (an actor, KITE RUNNER), Dina Abdullah (a female activist), Magdy Ashour (a member of the muslim brotherhood), Ramy (a musical artist) and Ahmed Hassan is a work of great patience and mastery.
One can call it a coming of age story but that would not tell the whole story of Egypt descending cascading into a vortex series of cascading revolutions and counterrevolutions. A documentary told by ordinary citizens and tied so beautifully that one would wish which for such spirited characters all over Africa. The structure of the film compelled her viewers with its rough and spontaneous energy of the characters and its cinema verite style. The approach is intimate with an African consciousness and desire. When the closing credits ran and the lights came up, you could hear the crowd of stars and guests saying “we can do this in Nigeria.”
A story so carefully pitched had that left a multiplex of emotions; so deeply troubling but yet ultimately exhilarating. The closing lines… “…We don’t want a leader because everyone at Tahrir Square was a leader. What Want we want is a CONSCIENCE.” These lines which had scrawled across the screen over a backdrop of Tahrir Square overflowing with chanting Egyptians was itself not only epochal but simply beautiful. The audience unanimously stars that came out rated it 10/10, not only in their one-on-one discussions but with the resounding standing ovation it had received.