Egyptian film "18 Days" provides insight on Occupy Wall Street movement

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The movie "18 days", which screened on Sunday at the Vancouver International Film Festival is about Egypt's miraculous revolution that overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak. But listening to conversations in the theatre, it was clear that some people came to the film with another protest on their mind. "Occupy Wall Street" was mentioned in hushed tones at least three times before the movie started. As one organizer told the Vancouver Observer last month, the New York protests are modeled off the mass demonstrations in Egypt's Tahrir Square.

Although the political and cultural context is starkly different (Barack Obama is hardly a dictator, and the Wall Street protesters aren't seeking to oust him), the questions remain the same. What is the power of protest? How did the Egyptians manage to shake off a violent, tyrannical dictator who ruled the country for over 30 years? Does the Egyptian experience provide any insight into the demonstrations sweeping North America today?

Perhaps to the disappointment of some viewers, the film never delves into a how-to process of staging a triumphant street demonstration. There are no scenes of students chatting online to discuss strategies, no examination of the social media methods used to bring over 1 million demonstrators into the streets. 

Mixing televised news footage and popular YouTube clips, the movie brings together 10 fictional narratives by 10 Egyptian filmmakers who show a kind of “Rashomon Effect” by recounting vastly different experiences of the 18 days that shook the nation.  Rather than taking the obvious route of showing the revolution through the eyes of political activists (who already had their say in the media), most of the 10 filmmakers lend a voice to the underclass who barely scratch out a living in Cairo. 

The movie starts off with its weakest segment, "Retention" by Sherif Arafa, about Egyptians of different political stripes watching the revolution from inside a mental institution. With a very stage-production feel and awkward dialogue, “Retention” nonetheless manages to set the tone for the rest of the movies by showing the varied characters who make up Egyptian society.

In “God's Creation”, Kamla Abu Zikry recounts the protests from the view of a working-class street vendor whose main concern is not about democracy, but whether colouring her hair blonde will get her in trouble with Allah.

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