It’s just after 7 p.m. on Friday night, and protesters and the Egyptian army are engaged in a violent confrontation in front of the Egyptian Cabinet building near Tahrir Square. On his narrow downtown Cairo balcony about 10 blocks away, Karim El Hakim, a U.S.-raised, Egypt-dwelling filmmaker, is shaking his head.
"It's the same playbook as November," he says, alluding to protests three weeks ago that escalated into street violence and claimed the lives of more than 40 Egyptians. "The army wants to divide and conquer."
An editor on the 2004 DGA-nominated documentary "Control Room," El Hakim says he knows first-hand how brutal things can get. He was arrested last Jan. 25, the first night of massive protests that would eventually topple Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
Like many other protesters, El Hakim, 42, says he was beaten by dozens of men with rubber truncheons before being thrown inside a police truck that would take him to a desert holding cell.
But the arrest came with a silver lining: When he was released the next morning, he had an idea for a film. He would make a documentary about the revolution that would tell of his own experiences as events unfolded. He and his filmmaking partner, Omar Shargawi, would direct, and they and their friends and families would star in the movie.
"As I rode home, I knew that we didn't have to look far for the characters," El Hakim recalls. "We were the characters."
The resulting movie, titled "1/2 Revolution," will make its North American premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next month. In it, one sees the revolution unfold through the eyes of El Hakim and a small circle of Egyptians, half-Egyptians and expats. There's his friend Phillippe, a Lebanese filmmaker; Shargawi, a Danish-Palestinian who moved to Egypt a few years ago; El Hakim's elderly father, Omar, who has lived in Cairo his whole life; and El Hakim's wife, Samaher, a Palestinian filmmaker, among others.
The movie follows them last winter in the charged atmosphere of the streets and in El Hakim's high-ceilinged apartment, where they smoke and discuss the nerve-fraying events around them.