'Bogeymen' of Egypt's revolution talk on film

Riot police watch protesters at prayer during Egypt's revolution

Story highlights

  • "Tahrir 2011: The Good, The Bad and The Politician" wins Venice film award on its first screening
  • Three sections cover interviews with protesters, police officers and people close to Hosni Mubarak
  • Many police officers, some still serving, changed their minds just before filming started
  • The police were often feared during Mubarak's time in power
A serving Egyptian police officer describes firing tear gas into crowds of protesters trying to reach Tahrir Square during the country's revolution in January.
"I just had a job to do," he says. "I had my orders, a mission."
Another describes himself and fellow Central Security officers as "bogeymen."
"We suppressed people and made them feel terrorized," he admits. "But if I didn't do it, someone else would do it in my place."
These rarely-heard voices from Egypt's revolution appear in a documentary film called "Tahrir 2011: The Good, The Bad and The Politician," which has made waves at the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals.
At its first ever screening, in Venice, the film won the C.I.C.T. UNESCO "Enrico Fulchignoni" Award.
A review in Hollywood Reporter: "Shot from the demonstrators' viewpoint, the first part of 'Tahrir 2011, The Good, the Bad and the Politician' captures the passion and excitement of the sit-ins in Cairo's Tahrir Square far better than Western TV cameras."
The film is divided into three sections by three different Egyptian directors, Tamer Ezzat, Ayten Amin and Amr Salama.
"The Good" covers stories of the protesters, "The Bad" is interviews with police officers and "The Politician" gives a light-hearted "10 steps to becoming a dictator" based on interviews with allies and opponents of former president Hosni Mubarak.
The police were often feared during Mubarak's time in power and some were accused of excessive violence in their attempts to suppress the revolution.
The government announced in July that it was firing hundreds of high-ranking police officers, including 27 accused of killing demonstrators during the revolt. A police officer accused of killing 20 protesters during a January 28 demonstration has been sentenced to death.
Amin, who directed the section on the police officers, said: "I met up with 12 officers and the one thing they all had in common was they were shaky and kept changing their minds about doing interviews.
"This was a few weeks after the events and they were being attacked everywhere. Some of them agreed to do it and on the morning of the interview I would get a message saying they couldn't do it."
Amin, 32, finally secured interviews with three serving officers and one retired officer. Some were filmed anonymously, while others gave their names.
She said: "All the officers had the idea they were protecting their country. That's what they were educated to believe.
"Some of them believed what they were doing was wrong, but that they had to follow orders.
"Out of six-hour interviews, the last 30 minutes was usually the most important because they finally became honest at the end. At the beginning they were just saying the things we knew from TV."
For his section on "The Good," Ezzat, 40, made use of footage supplied by members of the public to a hastily erected "media center" in Tahrir Square during the revolution.
Ezzat said: "By the end of the 18 days there was a wealth of material from the protestors themselves of the action.
"I tracked down some of the characters shown and took them back to the location of the events.
"I thought geography was very important to the story. Every character in my film reached the square by a different route and has a different story."
His characters included an upper-middle-class girl who had never been involved in activism before but witnessed the death of a protester next to her, a Muslim Brotherhood member, a doctor who helped set up a field hospital, and photographer who gave up his dream of a scholarship in Denmark to return to Egypt and document the revolution.
Ezzat said: "There was an endless number of interesting stories to tell. I wished my piece could have been much longer. I wanted to show the diversity of the participants."
The final section "The Politician," by Salama, uses interviews with opposition politicians such as Mohamed ElBaradei and author Alaa Al Aswany to delve into the psyche of Mubarak.
The directors all used their own experiences in their films.
Amin said: "January 25 was the first time I had ever been to a protest. I hadn't intended to go, but a friend called me and told me I should come.
"I live near Tahrir Square, so I walked there. During that first day there were 45,000 people and I had never seen crowds like that.
"After midnight, the police began to attack. We were running everywhere and some of my friends were arrested.
"I saw a police officer beating a guy. I couldn't believe all the violence. I think that's the reason I wanted to make the film."
She added: "I told one ex-officer that I was there and they were very violent. He told me at the time they didn't see the protesters as people."
Ezzat said: "During the 18 days, I forgot that I was a filmmaker because I was very emotionally involved as an Egyptian. At the end of the 18 days I remembered that I was a filmmaker."