The Uprising


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Although the crowd scenes and military violence are depressingly familiar, Snowdon also finds individual faces to outline the strength of sentiment across many of the countries."

Peter Snowdon's documentary about the Arab Spring is not the first to use Youtube clips to outline the impact of a revolution. The Green Wave, in particular, focused on social media, as it charted the 2009 Iranian elections and subsequent uprising, but almost all the recent documentaries concerning - including The Square, Point And Shoot and 1/2 Revolution have used some element of 'citizen journalism' to bring home the immediacy of the protests in the Middle East.

Snowdon's approach differs, however, in that he takes a look at the Arab Spring as a whole, mixing footage from Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia under Ben Alli and Syria under Bashar al-Assad with video from some of the less well-publicised protests in Yemen under Ali Abdullah Saleh (and his military leader and son Ahmed Ali) and those in Bahrain under King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa. Using a week-long structure, which begins with an intertitle announcing "7 days ago" and ends with "today", he shows how the commanalities between these revolutions.

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Similarities include initial protests, police and military crackdowns and the way that uprisings which start on the streets often end with destruction in the homes of the innocent. The calls from the crowds, wherever they are, almost always include the word "freedom" and show how it is basic human needs such as "bread" and "work" that are fuelling the demonstrations.

Those in touch with global news will have seen similar videos on television, but there is no doubting the culmulative weight that watching a lot of them together carries with it. Snowdon also includes significant segments featuring female protesters - most surprisingly, an elderly woman leading a call and response call in a crowd - an element that has often been lacking in some of the other films of this type.

Although the crowd scenes and military violence are depressingly familiar, Snowdon also finds individual faces to outline the strength of sentiment across many of the countries - most strikingly in a video of a man with a young child talking about the destruction of his house. "Does al-Qaeda live in my hair?" he asks, "My TV says Samsung, not Osama bin Laden".

Snowdon also takes the idea of revolution as "turning" and uses scenes of a tornado as a metaphor for the build up of pressure under despotic governments. Those looking for analysis or political enlighenment will be disappointed, as this is an emotional rather than background-based approach to rebellion. But while it lacks the support of a wider, more academic framework, it succeeds in emphasising the humanity and individual stories that lie beneath the headlines. Once its initial festival run and broadcast transmissions are over, the film will be made freely available under a Creative Commons license - a fitting decision for a documentary that has, in effect, been made for the people lucky enough to live outside of conflict zones by the people who are still enduring living within them. Given the snatched nature of the footage, it will be just as effective, if not more so, when viewed on a small screen as opposed to a large one.

Creative programmers or those interested in the connecting threads between uprisings might consider screening/watching it as a double-bill with How To Start A Revolution, which explores how some of the similarities of protest may have stemmed from Gene Sharp's tenets on peaceful rebellion.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2014
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Explores the 2011 Arab Spring through Youtube footage.

Director: Peter Snowdon

Writer: Peter Snowdon, Bruno Tracq

Year: 2013

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: UK, Belgium, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain


EIFF 2014

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