Ireland’s beActive’s recently produced transmedia documentary Road to Revolution presents the consequences of the Arab Spring movement from the point of view of three journalists who were on the ground: Tiago Carrasco (reporter), João Fontes (cameraman) and João Henriques (photographer). Film Ireland chatted to the film’s Portuguese director, Dânia Lucas, about the whole experience, which has included engaging the audience through social media profiles, blogs, webisodes and hundreds of photographs, as well as through this traditional documentary feature film.
Tell us how the Road to Revolution project began.
The project was born from the desire of the filmmakers to witness a historic moment, to be part of that scream for change and, more crucially, to be able to report testimonies of ordinary people whose lives themselves had suffered authentic revolutions. In the wake of the Arab Spring, the production team decided to throw themselves into it, traveling from Turkey, which they regarded as the democratic model in the Middle East (something they found to be false) to Tunisia, in the midst of the cradle of demonstrations that culminated in the great revolt of the Arab countries. This journey was always made over land and across nine different countries.
Road to Revolution is not just a feature documentary but part of a multi-platform project. Tell us about the book, the app and the other content.
Road to Revolution is a multiplatform documentary that tells the story of this journey through various platforms, including a book, a mobile application, an extensive online presence, a feature film for theatrical release and a two-part TV documentary (52 minutes per episode). The book details through writings and photography, the episodes of the journey – placing them in historical and cultural context. It is a mix between a pure travel book, a novel and an academic essay about the Arab world.
The documentary focuses on the story of the people who lived at the Arab Spring in Syria to Tunisia, through Libya and Egypt. It’s the story of; the Syrian soldier who joined the rebels when he saw a friend being killed by the army; the mother who lost her son in the Libyan civil war; the Egyptian who still resists in Tahrir Square and the young Tunisian, with whom the revolution has not changed his life. Online, the public could contact the filmmakers during the production stages and during the journey, through social networks (including Facebook and Flickr) and the website, which is in essence, a logbook, with photos and video teasers. During the trip, the audience could keep up to date through the chronicles of João Carrasco in the “SOL” newspaper and web episodes released weekly on YouTube.
The interactive application available for Tablets and Connected TV devices complements the project, providing more much more content, which was material not used in the Documentary and TV episodes. With a playful side and a more informative aspect, the application works as a game, interactive book, a travel map and a news feed (with photos and videos) giving an overview of the socio-economic, geographical and political development of each country and ethnicity.
With the Arab Spring receiving so much news coverage, what was your focus for this project?
We crossed 9000km in order to understand the Arab Spring as a whole and what its effects are in each country, although essentially, the ultimate goal we set ourselves was to portray the personal emotions provoked by a global upheaval. We did not want to talk with the great leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, leaders of the Salafism movement or leaders of liberal parties. We wanted to follow a number of experiences: a Syrian army deserter who joined the rebels; the oppression experienced by Kurds in Turkey; the Palestinian struggle surrounded by Israeli settlements; and the hope of the last holdout of Tahrir Square. It was that feeling, hope, that we found more throughout the project, that all the horrors that Arabs are living through now, are being accepted as a transition period between a black past and a more prosperous future.
For the feature documentary, how did you decide which stories to feature and how much work went into tracking down the participants?
It is always difficult to convince someone to spend a few days / weeks of their lives with a camera behind them. In the Arab world, this is further complicated by the fact that many women refuse to be filmed (often under pressure from husbands and parents) and as a result of the Islamic trend in general. Three of the characters chosen for the documentary are references to the places where the riots began – the market of Sidi Bouzid, the court in Benghazi and Tahrir Square. The Tunisian Hamza is virtually the same as Mohammed Bouazizi (the first martyr, whose death initiated the Arab Spring) and shows that little has changed in the life after the revolution. Mohammed Ali took the court in Benghazi, wanting it to become a museum and a home for victims. Mohammed Draz is one of 47 Tahrir Square resistant’s and says that this only comes about when Egypt is not the army or the Muslim Brotherhood. Besides these, there is also the story of two Syrian defectors who left the army of Bashar al – Assad to join the rebel forces.
What considerations were there for filming in these locations? Did you ever feel under threat?
Yes, we entered illegally into Syria and one member of the team had issues handling the pressure and had to abandon the project. The team was attacked with tear gas and water jets in Palestine. In Egypt, the police cut the sound cable from the camera, threatened the team with violence and then the Director of Photography was chased by a group of Salafis to his hotel room. In Syria, we witnessed a massacre of innocent children who picked potatoes – two died. We were also denied entry to Algeria for being ‘journalists’, so to make things easier, we never declared ourselves as journalists or filmmakers (except Libya) and always tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.