Stanford UP Logotype Stanford UP Logotype Alisa Lebow: Filming Revolution


The following documents the original digital publication Filming Revolution by Alisa Lebow (Stanford University Press, 2018). DOI: 10.21627/2018fr ISBN: 9781503605220

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Filming Revolution, created by Alisa Lebow and published in 2018 by Stanford University Press, is a meta-documentary about documentary and independent filmmaking in Egypt since the revolution of 2011, bringing together the collective wisdom and creative strategies of media makers in Egypt before, during, and after the revolution. Readers are invited to engage with Egyptian filmmakers, artists, activists, and archivists talking about their work and their ideas about how (and whether) to make films at this point in their history.

This project is not a history of the revolution, nor is it meant to be an exhaustive chronicle of filmmaking in Egypt since 2011. It is, instead, a reflection on what it means to make films in these times. What is the power of the image? When is it effective and when does it join the flow of content, one image among millions of others? When is the short-form activist video appropriate and when does it become necessary or desirable to turn to longer-form work? What kinds of projects are being made? The focus is on documentary and independent filmmaking and creative approaches to representing Egyptian culture and society leading up to and after the events of the revolution. Just as there are many people making interesting work, there are many different approaches to filmmaking that have developed before, during, and since the heady events of 2011.

This interactive documentary database includes interviews with thirty filmmakers, archivists, activists, and artists to look at a range of projects and ideas about them to begin to make sense of what it means to film in times of revolution. The project presents these video interviews and clips through a network visualization structure, associating films and people with themes and historical events. Videos are displayed in the project via the Vimeo API, and themes and people are documented through critical articles by the author.

Technical Requirements

The project uses a Linux web server with MySQL database with data services and a custom CMS developed on PHP (with GD extensions) and HTML5. Frontend of the project was developed in HTML5 using a custom Javascript framework and CSS3. The project is mainly optimized for Chrome (desktop version) and was tested on other browsers such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and main mobile browsers such as Safari iOS without problems as of its publication in late 2018. As of this date, the project is responsive and can be viewed on desktop, tablet, and mobile phone browsers as long as the device is equipped with internet connectivity.

Technical Specifications

The project was developed using custom frameworks for CMS, data services, and frontend. The developers used PHP and HTML5 (Javascript and CSS3) as well as libraries such as Jquery (basic DOM and server-client communication), Create.js (visualization), history.js (deep linking), Froogaloop (Vimeo API control), Webfont (Google Font loading), Intro.js (tutorials), Jquery Cookie (cookie handling), Malihu’s Custom Scrollbar (custom scrollbars), and Redactor (WYSIWYG editor). Video files and video thumbnails are stored on Vimeo, and the project uses Vimeo’s API to access their servers for use of the Vimeo video player and to access thumbnail image files. The project also embeds Google Fonts for typefaces and Google Analytics to track the visitor data.

All of the relational data stored in the database are transferred by a data file in JSON format. The rest of the client-server communication with the server data services are also transferred in JSON format. Jpeg, PNG, and SVG formats are used for image files.

User Experience

publication cover page
Figure 1

From the cover page (see fig. 1), a reader of this project enters through to the splash page (see fig. 2), which contains the logo and tagline of the project. The reader clicks on "START BROWSING" in the middle of the page to enter.

publication splash page
Figure 2

Once inside the project, readers are presented with a graphic interface inviting them to navigate in a variety of ways, and a tutorial guides them through these options (see fig. 3).

archive page with tutorial pop-up
Figure 3
archive page
Figure 4
archive page with bottom menu featured
Figure 5

From the central page, known as the “archive” (see fig. 4), readers may access an “about” page, credits, bibliography, list of resources, contact form, and full tutorial, all at the bottom of the screen (see fig. 5), or they may begin exploring the project’s primary content either by clicking randomly on any of the dots in the graphic interface (see fig. 6) or by using the list along the right side of the screen (see fig. 7), which contains all of the elements of the archive, in list form.

archive page with node selected to show connections to other nodes
Figure 6
right sidebar menu
Figure 7

By hovering over any dot in the archive, a network is visualized linking that node with any other related nodes, indicating the cluster that will appear if the dot is clicked on (see fig. 6).

The elements are color-coded into three general areas: Themes (green), People (yellow), and Projects (red), representing the main ways in which the project can be organized and searched. The list in the right sidebar can be filtered by these three general areas, and also by “articles,” which are the companion pieces to all of the themes and people included in the project. All articles are written by the project’s author, Alisa Lebow. When the filter function is used, the graphic interface of the archive is also filtered, revealing only the elements related to that filter (see fig. 8).

archive page with themes selcted in the right sidebar menu
Figure 8

Themes (green) represents all of the themes discussed in the interviews. Clicking on a theme will bring the viewer to a cluster, which is the next level of the project’s interface. A theme cluster (see figs. 9 through 11) consists of all of the extracts from interviews that relate to that particular theme, along with any relevant other artifacts, such as extracts or trailers from projects mentioned, and even subthemes. Some themes have related subthemes, while other themes are singular (see fig. 12).

theme cluster for FILMING IN TAHRIR SQUARE highlighted
Figure 9
theme cluster for FIRST PERSON/PERSONAL FILM highlighted
Figure 10
theme cluster for FILM AS WEAPON highlighted
Figure 11
right sidebar menu with themes expanded to show subthemes
Figure 12

People (yellow) includes all of the people interviewed for this project. Clicking on the name of an individual person will lead the reader to a cluster where he or she may find all of the clips from that individual’s interview (see figs. 13 and 14). In addition, that cluster will include any associated projects that the individual was involved with, and an article about that person.

person cluster for TAHANI RACHED highlighted
Figure 13
person cluster for SALMA EL TARZI highlighted
Figure 14

Projects (red) takes the reader straight to the projects discussed in the documentary, some of which included video extracts and/or trailers, and all of which include a brief description (see fig. 15). The makers of the project(s) are also included in those clusters.

project cluster for A DEEP LONG BREATH highlighted
Figure 15

From within any cluster, readers may click on a horizontal rectangle (also color coded, using the same scheme) which will take them to the third level of the project, which contains the media. Yellow horizontal rectangles link to interview extracts from the people interviewed for the project, red horizontal rectangles link to extracts or trailers of projects.

screenshot of viola shafik video clip playing
Figure 16
screenshot of mostafa bahagat video clip playing
Figure 17

Once in the media level, the video clip will automatically play, and there will be information in the upper left-hand corner identifying the video clip and the associated themes, people, and/or projects (see figs. 16 and 17). In the live version of the project, there is the option to also create pathways, which is done by clicking on the "ADD TO PATHWAY" tab, also in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. The pathways allow the readers to keep and share a record of their own journey through this project, and/or to highlight extracts of interviews or from projects they would like to share with other readers. There is a list of the pathways that readers have made on the left-hand side of the main archive screen (see fig. 18). Readers may click on any pathway to see what media readers have chosen to highlight.

archive page with left sidebar menu listing pathways
Figure 18

When a media clip has played to the end, the readers may select from a random set that appears on the right side of the screen, or they may go back to the cluster from which they came, either by clicking on the level tool in the bottom left corner (see fig. 19) or by simply clicking the X in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

close-up of level tool
Figure 19
screenshot of an essay page
Figure 20

In the cluster view, there are also vertical rectangles, which represent articles about either People (yellow) or Themes (green). Clicking on these takes the reader to relevant articles, which can help to give some background to the person or theme in question (see fig. 20). The articles are also accessible via the “Articles” filter of the list. Articles feature links to related clips, and those linkages appear as horizontal rectangles in the text with lines activated to titles in sidebars as a reader scrolls through the content.

The list has a search function at the bottom, for those readers who want to go directly to an element of the project. This function is mainly designed for returning readers using the site primarily as a research tool who already know where they want to go. It may be less useful for those who are simply exploring the project for the first time.

The navigational affordances, especially the relational features, are supported by the data and file structures outlined below.


Data Structure

The project employs a highly complex data structure to enable the nonlinear browsing and interlinked relationship web between media and concepts. Primarily there are seven different entities: People, Projects, Themes, Clips, Extracts, Articles, and Pathways.

People are the interviewees of the project and may link to:

  • Projects: A person may be responsible for more than one project and can be linked to those as well.
  • Clips: Each part of the interviews is stored as a different video clip and is linked to people.
  • Themes: Each person can be linked to various themes indirectly by the themes that are linked to their related clips.

Projects are the important documentaries and can be linked to:

  • People: A project may be linked to one or more people if listed in the data structure, or none if no correspondent is present.
  • Extracts: There can be parts of trailers of the documentaries in video format, and these can be linked to the projects.
  • Themes: Each project can be linked to various themes indirectly by the themes that are linked to their related extracts.

Themes are the concepts in form of tags or keywords that bind most of the entities, and they are the main elements for the nonlinear, nonhierarchical structure. Themes can be linked to:

  • Themes: We can create a two-level hierarchical structure for the themes as main and subthemes.
  • Clips: Themes can be linked to interview video clips.
  • Extracts: Themes can be linked to project trailer or video extracts.
  • Articles: Themes can be linked to articles.

Clips are the interview parts stored as different video clips and can be linked to:

  • People: A clip is a part of a particular person’s interview, so it should be linked to only one person.
  • Themes: Each clip can be linked to several themes depending on the content.
  • Clips: A clip can be linked to other clips so that we can provide a link to that clip while viewing.
  • Extracts: A clip can be linked to other extracts so that we can provide a link to that extract while viewing.
  • Articles: A clip can be mentioned in an article as a reference and can be linked.
  • Pathways: A clip can be a part of a pathway created by the visitors or by administrators.

Extracts are the trailers or video extracts of projects stored as different video clips and can be linked to:

  • Projects: A clip is a part of a particular documentary project, so it should be linked to only one project.
  • Themes: Each extract can be linked to several themes depending on the content.
  • Clips: An extract can be linked to other clips so that we can provide a link to that clip while viewing.
  • Extracts: An extract can be linked to other extracts so that we can provide a link to that extract while viewing.
  • Articles: An extract can be mentioned in an article as a reference and can be linked.
  • Pathways: An extract can be a part of a pathway created by the visitors or by administrators.

Articles are the bodies of hypertext material about a person, project, or theme, including links to both internal and external resources (links), and can be linked to:

  • People: Articles can be about a person and primarily linked to that particular person. Moreover, articles can be linked to other people if there is some relationship between that person and the article content.
  • Projects: Articles can be about a project and primarily linked to that particular project. Moreover, articles can be linked to other projects if there is some relationship between that project and the article content.
  • Themes: Articles can be about a theme and primarily linked to that particular theme. Moreover, articles can be linked to other themes if there is some relationship between that theme and the article content.
  • Clips: Articles can have links to several interview clips if needed. These links are embedded inside the body of the article text.
  • Extracts: Articles can have links to several project extracts if needed. These links are embedded inside the body of the article text.

Pathways are the curated video playlists created by the visitors or the administrators raised as a linear browsing solution alternative to the main nonlinear fashion. Pathways can be linked to:

  • Clips: Each pathway can have an indefinite number of interview clips in its stream.
  • Extracts: Each pathway can have an indefinite number of project extracts in its stream.

File Structure

IIn a browser, fixed and citable urls are displayed for each unique page of the project, but the content is rendered from JSON files. The urls display inherent relationships between media, people, and themes through categories and numbers.

For example:
Theme url:
Person url:
Video clip url:

The following table provides a map of the public_html files which would display the above content and functionality in a web browser. The archive of these files is stored in the Stanford Digital Repository and is or will be available for research purposes in the event it can no longer be delivered via the web due to browser and system incompatibilities as technologies evolve.


Root folder for the main frontend file, url redirector, and favorite icons


Main folder for CMS


CMS CSS files


Image upload handler scripts


Image files for the icons that are used in CMS


Scripts for database connectivity, main CMS functions, and CMS login


Scripts that define the dynamically created forms and lists for the custom database tables


Custom JS files that define the interactive structure of the CMS and libraries such as Jquery.


WYSIWYG html editor


Image files uploaded via CMS


Frontend CSS files


Main data file, data services, and Twitter connectivity


Frontend image files for icons and backgrounds


Custom JS files that define the interactive structure of the frontend and libraries such as Jquery, history.js, and so on


Image resizer


Cached resized images


Scripts that define the dynamically resized images uploaded via CMS



Alisa Lebow



Kakare Interactive

Hüseyin Kuşcu - Programmer/Collaborator

Asım Evren Yantaç - Designer

Ayça Ünlüer - Additional Design

Yasemin Yıldırım - Additional Design


Production Coordinator/Camera Person – Egypt

Laila Samy El Balouty


Sound Recordist/Additional Camera

Alisa Lebow


Video Editing/Transcoding

Alisa Lebow


Additional Video Editing – Arabic

Vanessa Bowles



Amira Ghazala

Alexandra Buccianti


International Advisors

Amal Khalaf

Omar Kholeif

Mukhtar Kokache

Nora Razian

Sherene Seikaly

Maha Taki

Mark Westmoreland


Interactive/Design Advisors

Sheena Calvert

Yasmin Elayat

Sandra Gaudenzi

Derin Korman

Cynthia Madansky

Laila Shereen Sakr (aka VJ Um Amel)


Special Thanks:

Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Orton Akıncı

Michael Chanan

Elizabeth Cowie

Jon Dovey

Madhusree Dutta

Başak Ertür

Jenifer Evans

Khaled Fahmy

Nida Ghouse

Asena Günal

James Knowles

Ranjani Mazumdar

Rasha Salti

Azize Tan

Nicole Wolf


and all of those who agreed to be interviewed and share extracts from their films for this project


Filming Revolution was funded by the Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship Programme and supported by University of Sussex, School of Media, Film and Music.


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Alaa Al Aswany (2011) On the State of Egypt: What Caused the Revolution. Translated by Jonathan Wright (Canongate).

Anne Alexander and Mostafa Bassiouny (2014) Bread, Freedom, Social Justice: Workers and the Egyptian Revolution (Zed Books).

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