Egyptian-born, Australian comedian Akmal Saleh travels to Egypt just after the 2011 revolution to learn from activists why and how so many citizens came together to challenge their government.
INDIE GEMS FILM FESTIVAL: Stand-up comic Akmal Saleh reveals a considerable talent for factual filmmaking with his debut directorial work, Pharaoh vs. The Egyptians. Its life in cinemas may well be brief and limited to smaller festivals, but Saleh’s heartfelt, incisive account of those who lived through Egypt’s revolution in 2011 should find appreciative viewers on cable and public broadcasters.
a snapshot of a key moment in modern social history
Saleh’s tonal shifts between humourous observations and the sometimes shocking content suggests his natural inclination towards comedy was never far away. Saleh rests on his background early on, presenting a factual timeline via cute animated sequences and light-hearted banter to place his film and the social unrest in context. But the filmmaker and his team of first-rate researchers soon move on from cheap giggles; as the details begin to emerge about the social and political unrest that accompanied the brutal reign of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, Saleh’s film takes on a compelling focus. When Pharaoh vs The Egyptians adopts a straight face, it finds its surest footing.
Saleh’s op-ed style is heavily influenced by Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, yet he shows far greater restraint than either when it comes to self-promotion. (Saleh’s film most closely resembles Moore’s first and most personal work, Roger and Me). When Saleh does enter the frame, it’s more impactful because he’s stayed out of his film for a long time up until that point. (Granted, he narrates, but does a professional job and one devoid of comedic inflection.)
Saleh returned to his homeland well after the event, so much of his film’s highs and lows come via some slick post-production work that incorporates network news coverage and a vast archive of stills. The film also doesn't deal with any of the recent turmoil surrounding the newly formed democracy; barring any time-sensitive re-editing to accommodate these developments, Pharaoh vs The Egyptians works best as a snapshot of a key moment in modern social history.
What the film does encapsulate well is the human experience of the revolution. Saleh’s interviewees – activists, artists, cab drivers, journalists and those simply defined as fathers, mothers, wives, sons and sisters – articulate the daily threat of violence from Mubarak’s police force pre-uprising and the unbridled joy at the promise of a new order post-reform. Those behind 'the most civilised revolution in human history" present themselves in exactly those terms; citizens bonded by a shared spirit that changed the direction of their nation (if only temporarily). Akmal Saleh seems committed to the cause, and his film is a powerful testament to both his love for his heritage and the people with whom he shares it.