growing up as a teenager during the egyptian evolution
Mohammed Siam, an Egyptian art director and producer made during 3 years a film entitled Amal, based on the story of a young rebel girl who became a woman during the time that followed the Egyptian Arab Spring. Amal, a name that means « hope » in Arabic is 15 at the beginning of this film documentary, she is a teenager who is committed to the revolutionary fight led by her country. We see her growing up with many memories shown through VHS films of her birthday parties taped by her father when he was alive. Years fly by like theater acts and the many events go by in front of the eyes of whom embodies in this film the Egyptian youth, supported by her mother, her friends and her rebel companions.
Arab Springs, as they were many and in different countries started in 2010 and are considered as finished during the year of 2012. They are series of Arabic revolutions that correspond to an awakening of the people and which led to very different results according to where it takes place: various protestations, reforms and even governments crashes, sometimes. The protestations were originally peaceful, but, in some countries such as Lybia and Syria , they became civil wars that caused, to this day, the death of thousands of people. These people wanted to get their freedom back and their democracy to be a true one.
It’s in this context in which Amal lives in 2012, a year after the Egyptian Arab Spring. She wants to free herself from what is oppressing her: She would like to go out in the evening, smoke when she feels like it and mostly change completely the current regime of her country. She speaks loud, swears towards the policemen that hit her in the past and cries when her feelings and determination are becoming too strong. This teenager wants to be heard, respected and treated just like her guy friends, even in the violence. She is motivated by the meaningful words of her father who died in a riot. His figure is present throughout the film thanks to the flashbacks of the VHS from Amal’s childhood filmed by him and which are constantly echoing not only in Amal’s life but all along the narrative of the film. As the years go by, the elections come to an end, the events settle and Amal becomes gradually a young woman who goes back to the ordinary life of a young Egyptian woman.
Mohammed Siam explained during the interview that he was making another film documentary at that time entitled « Major Force » and which was about a a 45 year old policeman involved in the regime. He wanted to make another film, as opposed to the one with the policeman that implies someone from the revolutionary side, from the opposite generation and about a woman. Siam used to live in Cairo and it is during a protestation and a sitting, while he was doing a wild casting that he met Amal:
I didn’t know how exactly to put into words what I was looking for but I knew what it was, just like the crazy directors in films who say « Wow, that’s her! »
He thinks his documentaries more like a way to discover a new face of the world rather than a way to render some knowledge or to express one’s opinion. With Amal in particular, it is a question of seeing this revolution from women’s point of view, how they dread the Arab world, all of these woman battles and what they mean. It’s the spontaneity, the genuineness and the enthusiasm of Amal that, even in front of the camera, had caught the attention of the director. With former psychology studies he did that fascinated him in the past, and still does to this day, Siam explains:
I like to read people, to analyse things, just people, not their stories, but their behaviour, their body language… Then I asked myself what could I say thanks to her, to represent the country through her, rather than the other way round
It’s in this context that this film documentary was born and that Siam and Amal started this new « journey ».
I discovered the story of the film. The story is that Amal is growing up. The way these events are building her, building her identity, her entity and how these political circumstances and policemen are building this with her. There are many layers in this film : the issue of the missing father, the various forms of power..which are divided in subject within each chapter. The first chapter is more political, the second one is more on the metaphysical side with the figure of the father, death, life, « how, why and when was I born », all these unknown things… The third one is about love, she now became a woman.
It’s really her who got pulled by the hair (he is referring to one of the scenes) and we see her in the scene after that, watching cartoons, in order to remind us that she is still a little girl, she is 14. Yes, she did that, she was bold, but she is also a young girl who got physically and emotionally attacked, she was harassed, but she is still a little girl who watches cartoons while eating her cereals.
The authenticity of the images from Amal’s life shows us, without any filter, these events through the Egyptian youth’s point of view, through the point of view of those who will soon take the lead. These teenagers aren’t only teenagers, they carry a strong past that built them and which this brand new context reinforced for a moment.
I had to pick the best activities of her life, she does a lot of things. It’s during the second year that I find out this idea of a parallel between the political side of the country and her actions. We didn’t need to put a lot about the political context, seeing Amal was enough to understand and it’s what makes the beauty of her story. She brings many layers, not only about women but also on the idea of minorities and the feeling of being in one, the conflict of the generations also because the lost youth can’t fit in.
Obviously, the strength of this movie relies as well on to the fact that the point of view chosen is a female one and that you can’t get rid of it. We see what a young revolutionary woman can go through in a revolutionary context while having to deal with the daily fight of every woman against morals and customs of her society that forces her to act under duress for a while.
I wanted to ring an alarm, to point the attention in order to show that one must be careful. Even if we have that flame, that colour, to protest, to revolt, there is this idea as well that we should tame this opposition and take care of this young generation.
The double fight that Amal leads enriches this long work and makes it even more valuable. It reminds us of what teenagers are able to do, no matter the place or the circumstances if we give them the opportunity, paired with the strength and endurance that women are capable of. It participates to the young memoirs that lived during the Arab Springs and that marked forever the History of the countries which have participated in it and the echo they provoked elsewhere.