Q. What was the most surprising thing you learned while working on the project?
Ahmed Naguib (Cameraman): Definitely the amount of time and effort that they put in every episode as well as being able to work under unreal external pressures. It was amazing witnessing all that. Al Bernameg’s team was and still is the best at what they did. It rarely happens when you have that much chemistry behind the scenes of a TV show here in the [Middle East].
Rachel Bozich: This film served as a looking glass for me into other cultures and into my own. The everyday freedoms most people take for granted, especially freedom of speech and the power to vote, things that many people throughout the world do not have. When it came to this past election, this film was a huge motivating factor for me and inspired me to get out there and encourage others to vote and speak their mind – not because they necessarily wanted to, but because we can and there are millions of people out there who don’t have that privilege.
Moaz El Farouk: Working on TG had so many surprises, but the most surprising thing was working on archive footage of a protest in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution back in January 2011. Before wrapping up the film I was watching it over and over to take some notes and I found myself in the middle of the protest. It was a real surprising moment.
Cyril Aris: How many death threats they had received. I was on the outside, so I never really followed how much trouble Bassem went through because of this. The only time I heard of his troubles was when he went to court. But I never knew how many people loved him, and how many people hated him.
Katie Maraghy: I didn’t realize the scope and scale of the Arab Spring across the region. I obviously knew some of the basics and catalysts that drove the conflicts, but it wasn’t until I made the full timeline of events for our production team that I realized the extent of the revolution, all the entities involved, and the quick turnover as power changed hands over and over again.
Q. What was your favorite part about working on the film?
Ahmed Naguib: Definitely being the fly on the wall to the discussions that took place between Bassem, the writers, and the rest of the team. The team was quite diverse so it was like witnessing a mini Egypt, represented by different backgrounds and beliefs.
Moaz El Farouk: My favorite part of the film is the post-revolution and the beginning of Bassem’s show. It always makes me feel like we were able to earn our freedom as Egyptians and we can always earn it again if we wanted to. Also, the research part when I got to [research and hunt] for rare shots of historical moments. It feels amazing when I found really cool footage, that was really important, that nobody else has seen before.
Tyler Walk: I really enjoyed working with all the crew members. It was a collaborative experience. Everyone had the freedom to give feedback and ideas. The director was really fun to work with. There were many times where we’d find ourselves cracking up coming up with ideas and trying them in the edit. Some worked, some didn’t. It was fun to try everything we could.
Q. Have you had any interesting reactions from people you’ve shown the movie to?
Moaz El Farouk: All my friends who watched the film absolutely loved it. But it was really interesting when I attended a screening of the film in TriBeca 2016. We had Bassem at the screening to answer the audience’s questions after, and 3 people of the attending audience stood up while Bassem was answering questions. They insulted him in front of the audience, and yelled “traitor!” It turned out that they are supporting the military’s role in Egypt and they just attended the screening to defend their love for the dictatorship by insulting the free voice of Egypt.
Jamie Canobbio: My parents came to one of the screenings during the Tribeca Film Festival. They’re not exactly big movie buffs. I think their reaction was proof that we all did a pretty good job telling this story. They genuinely loved the film and were amazed by Bassem’s story and what’s happening politically in that part of the world. I think through humor, it’s so much easier to reach people and connect with them.
Paul Tyan: A friend of mine told me he cried and laughed several times during the film, because he could relate to some aspects of his own country (China).
Salah Anwar: No, I think people either like or hate Bassem Youssef. I remember a lot of my friends really liked the fact that I worked on a film about him and others just hated it.
Q. What is your favorite moment or sequence? (IF you can think of it, what was your favorite piece of footage that didn’t make it into the final cut?)
Amina Nada (Translator): My favorite moment is seeing Bassem with his daughter and him walking in the snow at the end of the movie. It gives hope to the viewers in a unique way. It looks like a scene in a fiction film.
Moaz El Farouk: My favorite moment was when Mubarak was forced to resign from his presidency.
Rachel Bozich: My favorite shot that didn’t make it into the film was by a freelance filmmaker. She positioned herself on top of a building and captured thousands of people praying in the middle of the street. Yet, the best part, in the middle of the shot, is a parked car – people surrounded the car on either side, all wearing different color clothing, and it was truly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
Cyril Aris: I love the scene where they blow out the birthday candles of someone’s birthday, while violent protests are happening outside. It really reflects the state of the Middle East, in one scene only. Trying to survive, while surrounded with chaos and violence. It is not so much a question of denial, it is more a self-imposed denial as a means to simply survive.
Mansour Ahmed: There were some scenes in the original footage of a folklore Egyptian poet who I thought could have added a nice flavor to the story, but unfortunately his scenes were taken out.
Tyler Walk: There were so many characters and side stories that never made the cut due to time and other storytelling issues. There was a great scene with one of the show’s producers where she tunes in to watch the episode of the show that they had been producing all week and they find out that the show had been cut from the air. Her shock and panic was very vivid and was a great moment. We didn’t have Bassem’s reaction to the news on camera, but we found through test screenings that we really needed to be with Bassem somehow, not a side character, when he realizes his show was cut. Through voice over and several interviews with Bassem, we were able to construct a very emotional moment with him. It sets him up for the third act … should he continue the show, or not? What’s his purpose, how does he save his integrity. He must continue.
Katie Maraghy: The scene where some of the staff of Al Bernameg are crammed into this hallway, singing, smiling and laughing. There are these incredible women, standing together, pushing back against a government that doesn’t want their show to exist. I loved that.
— Tickling Giants (@Tickling_Giants) September 8, 2017
[Main image: Pedro Ugarte/AFP]
David Polsdorfer served in the United States Navy from 2008 until 2013 as a Cryptologic Technician Collector. He worked in the intelligence community at NIOC Hawaii and completed one tour to Afghanistan in 2011 as an LLVI operator. In 2014 he was selected to be part of The Daily Show’s Veteran Immersion Program and continued there as an intern in the fall. In 2015, he worked as a production assistant with Sara Taksler and Sarkasmos Productions, LLC on the documentary film, Tickling Giants. He recently received his Bachelor’s from Columbia University in Political Science. He writes and edits. Follow David on Twitter @DPolsdorferLC
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