A free press is the cornerstone of every thriving democracy. As such, Lima Charlie News has continued to report about oppressive censorship and the intimidation, jailing and even the murder of journalists in such places as Turkey, Africa, Russia and Egypt. This includes some of the challenges we now face even in our own country.
With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2017
Freedom of expression continues to be under assault as well, with Egyptian authorities announcing jail time for “mocking” the Egyptian flag, as well as detaining citizens for displaying a rainbow flag.
— Amnesty UK (@AmnestyUK) October 15, 2017
— Egypt Independent (@EgyIndependent) September 23, 2017
In light of these developments, Lima Charlie reached out to the people behind the scenes of the critically acclaimed ode to free speech, “Tickling Giants.”
Directed by Sara Taksler, the film tells the story of Egyptian heart surgeon, Bassem Youssef, and how he became the “Jon Stewart of Egypt” during the Egyptian Arab Spring (or “Egyptian Revolution”). The film was shot almost entirely in Egypt, a country that does not respect freedom of speech, and is spoken primarily in a language foreign to the director, the editors, and the intended audience. When filming began in 2012, Sara Taksler did not know the trajectory that Bassem Youssef’s show (a political satire known as B+, later Al-Bernameg) or his career would take.
The show would go on to be the most popular in the Arab world, drawing 30-40 million viewers regularly, and more than 184 million combined views on YouTube alone. It would eventually be cancelled due to intense pressure from the Egyptian government, which claimed that Youssef’s show was “circulating false news likely to disturb public peace and public security and affect the administration.”
The New York Times has called Taksler’s film “first rate,” Variety called it an “ebullient ode to freedom,” and James Gunn, the director of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” called the movie “harrowing and moving.” And of course, Lima Charlie’s own John Sjoholm, a combat veteran and Middle East operative who discovered Youssef while “on assignment” during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, called it a “brilliant film” giving it “4.5 out of 5 bowls of fūl.” (We highly recommend that you read the review that features an interview with the director herself – Editors).
“Tickling Giants” also has an aggregate score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. All this said, there is not much more we can do to convince readers to see this film.
What we can offer instead is an insider’s perspective on the making of the film and the people who made it. Some of the greatest challenges of filmmaking are often invisible to the moviegoer, and this is true of this documentary.
Through making the film, many of the English speaking crew learned for the first time about Bassem Youssef and the Arab Spring, and many of the Arabic speaking crew relived the hopes and nightmares they experienced in those turbulent years. To capture this, questions were sent to members of the crew, asking them to share their experiences. Below are some of their answers.
Q. Did you know about Bassem before working on the film? If so, what was your opinion of him?
Moaz El Farouk (Assistant Editor): I knew about Bassem since he started his journey on YouTube back in 2011. I always believed in him as the voice of all young people of Egypt.
Rachel Bozich (Assistant Editor): I did not know Bassem beforehand, but was stunned how quickly I grew to admire him and his work.
Cyril Aris (Assistant Editor): Yes, of course, all Middle-Easterners knew of him. I knew he was the Egyptian Jon Stewart, and had seen some of his show. I was happy to see such free speech in such an oppressive country. It gave everyone hope.
Jamie Canobbio (Editor): Once I started on the project and had the chance to work with all the footage it was easy to see what people in Egypt loved about him. He’s a magnetic figure. Very charming and charismatic. He’s a person well equipped to lead, much like a politician. It was fascinating to tell the story of an ordinary person who suddenly finds fame and is inadvertently burdened with being the voice of an entire country.
Salah Anwar (Assistant Editor): Yes, I was born in Egypt then I moved here [to the US] in 2010 and I watched his show on YouTube all the time and later on TV until he was banned. I liked his groundbreaking work and at the same time I didn’t hesitate to criticize some of his opinions, but unlike a lot of Egyptians in Egypt I kept in mind that it’s sarcasm, not real life, and that no one is perfect.