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Interview: Director Jehane Noujaim Faces Chaos in Cairo to Film ‘The Square’

Jehane Noujaim, director of "The Square"

Jehane Noujaim, director of The Square

UPDATE 8/17/14: Jehane Noujaim wins two Emmys for her documentary The Square, which won 3 Awards at the Creative Arts Emmys 2014! Jehane won the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming. Noujaim was awarded a second Emmy Award for Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming along with her other three Directors of Photography: Muhammed Hamdy, Ahmed Hassan and Cressida Trew. The editing team for The Square—Pedro Kos, Christopher de la Torre and Mohamed El Manasterly—were awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming. Congratulations, Jehane and The Square team!

UDPATE 1/25/14: Jehane Noujaim wins Directors Guild of America award for The Square.

UPDATE 1/16/14: Netflix ‘original’ documentary The Square lands Oscar nomination.

By Patricia Caso/January 10, 2014
Photo Credit: Noujaim Films

Jehane Noujaim is an Egyptian-American director currently on the Oscar shortlist for The Square, her fifth feature-length documentary. For two years, danger and chaos were part and parcel of  her quest to chronicle Egypt’s 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square. Undaunted, Jehane (@JehaneNoujaim) and her team followed the emotional stories of activists Ahmed, Aida, Khalid, Magdy, Ragia and Ramy.

“If audiences can feel like they experienced a revolution live, experience being in Tahrir Square, and what it felt like to be in the shoes of Ahmed, we will feel like we would have accomplished something.”  Jehane Noujaim

After seeing this film, I was taken by the courage it took for Jehane to so personally depict what she calls “the civil rights movement of our time.” I grabbed some time with her by phone to learn more about her direction and vision for this thought-provoking  film…  [Read more…]

Filmmaker Gail Dolgin and the Oscar®-Nominated “Barber of Birmingham”

Gail Dolgin filmmaker of "The Barber of Birmingham"

Gail Dolgin, co-director and producer "The Barber of Birmingham"

By Pamela Burke/January 27, 2012

I was sad to hear in October, 2010 that Berkeley independent filmmaker Gail Dolgin had passed away after a long and valiant battle with cancer. Gail was an old college friend of mine whom I remember fondly from an adventure-filled journey we took many years ago on our own Grand Tour across Europe.

We lost track of each other after that trek, but it would always be remembered as the trip of a lifetime, driving some 10,000 miles in a tiny Renault in search of the paintings we studied in our art history classes at the University of Pennsylvania. We scoured every nook and cranny where we thought we could find them. Gail was in love with art, photography and everything the eye could absorb.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/18641752]

Gail became a well-respected documentarian working in northern California. During the last years of her life, Gail was producing and directing the documentary, “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement,” a portrait of 85-year-old barber James Armstrong who was an activist during the battle for civil rights. In the film he looks back on that struggle as he witnesses the election of the the first African-American president. Through Gail’s interviews and directing, his story brings to life that tumultuous time.

Gail’s daughter, Amelia Nardinelli, remembers that during her mother’s final days she summoned up all of her energy and held a production meeting with her co-director Robin Fryday and Judith Helfand, an award-winning filmmaker whose company Chicken & Egg Pictures supported the film with a grant.

She was there by their side strategizing about everything from filming additional scenes to finding meaningful songs. Amelia says, “They assured her that the 18 minute work in progress was a wonderful short and that Gail ‘had done it.'”

Gail Dolgin's film "Barber of Birmingham"

"The Barber of Birmingham"

All of them thought the piece had the “soul of a feature with the power of a great short.” Robin and Judith promised to see the film to completion. With Gail in agreement, they changed the format from a full length feature to a short. That short took the next year to complete with the blood, sweat and toil of her daughter, friends and partners.

It was exciting to hear this week as the Academy Award® nominations were being announced that this 26 minute film had been nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject along with four others. What an ode to Gail and all the people involved in the creation and completion of this work.

Gail Dolginn and Vicente Franco's "Daughter from Danang"

"Daughter from Danang"

With the same kind of exuberance, Gail had made “Daughter from Danang” with co-director Vicente Franco. It won the Sundance Grand Jury Award and also a 2002 Academy Award nomination, later airing on PBS’s primetime series “American Experience.” That film documented the journey of an Amerasian girl going to meet her mother in Vietnam after a 22-year separation.

Gail heard about the daughter’s plans to take this emotional journey back to Danang and six weeks later was in Asia. You’ll see Amelia talking about her mother’s passion for this project here.


Her daughter says that stories of people like the women united in Vietnam and the barber’s struggles in Alabama inspired her mother and will inspire others to “keep on keeping on.” Amelia is thrilled to be going to the Oscars® in February and will be sitting in the seat that her mom would have sat in.

How terrific that this project came to fruition along with the help of the WDN (The Women Donors Network) and that Mr. Armstrong’s journey and the memories of those times will be preserved because of Gail and her team’s perseverance and talent.

James Armstrong, "The Barber of Birmingham"

James Armstrong (1923-2009)/Photo: Robin Fryday

Website: The Barber of Birmingham


Top 10: “Barber of Birmingham” co-directed by Gail Dolgin Earns Oscar Nomination

Gail Dolgin, co-director of Barber of Birmingham

“Barber of Birmingham” co-directed by Gail Dolgin Earns Oscar Nomination: Glenny Brock–welbham.com–1/24/12