Wael Omar has been working in film and TV for the past ten years and is recognized for his achievements in digital activism and documentaries, his films have aired on BBC Storyville, AlArabiya, CMN and ITVS, as well as being featured at various film festivals. With an eye on the ascending media market in the Middle East, Wael founded Middle West Films in 2008 along with fellow Egyptian independent filmmakers. Based in Cairo, Middle West Films is a development and incubation house for feature documentary projects with authentic cultural appeal to both domestic and international markets. Six years ago, Omar film’s State of Emergency captured a firsthand account of the state of fear that existed; the systemic police brutality and torture that took place during the 2005 presidential elections when Hosni Mubarak ran against other candidates. On January 25, 2011, when Wael Omar went down to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest for democracy, he expected to do what had always come naturally – make a film. Three days later, however, he would put down his camera and fight alongside his people, transitioning from director to citizen journalist:
-As a filmmaker, what kinds of projects do you gravitate towards?
-“Socio-political documentaries, human stories and stories that revolve around the advent of globalism and certain global phenomen. Really anything that has to do with showing Cairo and Egypt in a new light.
-How is documentary viewed in Egypt? Is it considered more as a form of journalism rather than a cinematic art form?
-“Yes, on one level as journalism, but on another level it’s a way into making feature films, because documentary is not really given the weight that it has in the West. Obviously, I’m from a different school of thought completely and I think slowly we’re gaining ground to make feature documentaries. We’re trying to get one screen in a local movie theatre in Cairo to dedicate itself to screening only independent films and documentaries.
-State of Emergency followed the 2005 elections in Egypt. With the recent revolution, did you approach it as a filmmaker or an activist, or both? How did your role change?
-When I went down (to Tahrir Square) on January 25th, it was out of sheer curiosity, but on [the] other hand I’m always ready to take the camera and go. When we got there we quickly realized that this was something much bigger than we all expected, so by the 28th – the Day of Rage as they call it now – I had my camera with me, but we were quickly faced with brutal force. So you find yourself making the decision to be either a filmmaker or fight for your cause. At that point I put the camera away to work with the protesters.”
-Did you remain primarily as a protester, or were there times throughout the course of those weeks that you picked up your camera again with the intention to create something similar to State of Emergency?
-There was a small problem. I was disabled for a few days, because I got shot on the 28th. Thankfully there were no major injuries, nothing significant enough to do any long-term harm. I was on antibiotics, so three days later I got up and went back to Tahrir Square. Then there were job offers left and right, to be a fixer for the New York Times and Human Rights Watch, which I ended up doing. We went around and did some investigating. Thinking back, that was probably the most dangerous situation I’ve put myself in, even more than getting shot to be honest, because those were the days when all foreigners were suspect. I have a lot of friends that were detained for even helping out. So I guess I was sort of thrown into being a freelance revolutionary and found myself liking the job very much.
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