Man of Letters and Revolution

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: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


Man of Letters and Revolution reveals the story of Egypt’s popular uprising through the prism of an author, his struggle, and his novel.


Alaa Al Aswany’s novels are acclaimed in contemporary literature. His latest novel, banned in most of the Arab world, is set in the backdrop of Egypt’s revolution. Man of Letters and Revolution reveals the story of a popular uprising through the prism of an author, his struggle, and his novel.


Egypt’s popular uprising brought the promise that a free and democratic society was possible, but that hope has since been extinguished by a more experienced and better equipped police state. Forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture are the security apparatus’s modus operandi. Non-violent protesters, journalists, and dissidents languish in prisons for years on end. An army-backed government and military president have rejuvenated a fear of the security agencies and closed off arenas for expression in the media and on the streets. I filmed scenes of protest and activism since the start of a popular uprising in January 2011. As I thought about how best to tell the story of what has become of Egypt’s revolution, Alaa Al Aswany emerged as the ideal conduit. He has been deeply involved and engaged as a democracy advocate, he is committed to revolutionary ideals, and events of the uprising form the backdrop of his recent novel. Intimate and personal, the film centers on Alaa Al Aswany’s activism, his journey, and his novel set during revolution, The Republic, As If. In a black box theater setting, characters and dialogue from the novel are integrated into the documentary’s storyline. Award-winning actor, director, and producer Khaled Abol Naga will be involved in envisioning and recreating scenes from the novel. Art is an integral part of the look and feel of the documentary. I will be working with the artist Ganzeer, whose street art gave creative expression to a citizenry’s demand for “Bread, freedom, social justice, human dignity.” Ganzeer is a maker of Concept Pop, a kind of cultural insurgency that can be seen in his diverse output of installations, prints, paintings, videos, guerrilla actions in public space, and comix. The film’s soundtrack will be by singers and bands whose music gave voice to the dreams and aspirations of an uprising. The shooting style is organic, following Al Aswany’s interactions with audiences and students to explore his approach to literature as the art of humanity, and its influence on readers. Complementing Man of Letters and Revolution will be an app that tells a deeper, immersive, more layered story of revolution through an interactive nonlinear experience using AR/VR, video, audio, and text. An app allows for experimentation in ways that would not be possible in linear storytelling, creating several avenues for experiencing the work and initiating a global conversation. Alaa Al Aswany, for example, argues that tyranny is a syndrome. Through the film and app, audiences may be encouraged to explore the condition, symptoms, and cures for the malady of dictatorship. The Man of Letters and Revolution documentary and accompanying app continue a process of knowledge and discovery using a multiplatform experience that gives audiences a chance to share thoughts and consider solutions. Alaa Al Aswany is an international best-selling novelist and polemicist. Man of Letters and Revolution is more than the story of a novel and the novelist. It is a revealing look at politics, social movements, revolution, and ultimately the power of words and ideas.


Abdalla Hassan - Director and Producer
Abdalla Hassan has a background in print, digital, and multimedia journalism. He was a witness to the struggle for a civil society in the Middle East’s most populous state, the flood of revolution in 2011, and the tumultuous years that followed. His account is documented in a book entitled Media, Revolution and Politics in Egypt: The Story of an Uprising (I.B.Tauris, 2015). Abdalla holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a graduate diploma in television journalism from the American University in Cairo. In 2010, he was a journalism fellow at the University of Oxford, where he explored trends in media censorship. Abdalla was the Egypt field producer for Morgan Spurlock’s feature documentary Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? His work has appeared in The New York Times, VICE, World Press Review,, CNN, BBC Radio, and Reuters.


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