Oscar-nominated director, Jehane Noujaim will be the graduation speaker at Northwestern University in Qatar’s ceremony on May 4, the university announced today. Her latest documentary, The Square, is the first Egyptian film to receive an Oscar nomination.
An Egyptian-American filmmaker, Noujaim has steadily risen to fame over the past decade, directing a number of documentaries and projects that tackle a wide range of issues related to media, democracy and freedom of expression. Her 2004 acclaimed documentary, Control Room, featured Al Jazeera and was filmed in Qatar. In the same bold and timely fashion, The Square offers engaging, real-life insights into the developments that have enveloped Egypt since demonstrators first took to the streets in January 2011.
The Square follows the uprising in Tahrir Square, Cairo, the center of Arab Spring uprisings and the subsequent demonstrations. It won the Audience Award at both the Sundance Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013. Noujaim received the Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature along with co-director Karim Amer.
“In general … it’s a positive look because it looks at the friendships that stayed together despite the political divides. So we do cover from all these different angles; we cover the personal stories behind the headlines of what it meant to feel and be in the middle of revolution,” Noujaim told Jon Stewart of The Daily Show in a recent interview.
Noujaim was born in the US and raised in Kuwait and Cairo before returning to the US, where she attended Harvard University and graduated magna cum laude in visual arts and philosophy. As an undergrad, Noujaim was awarded the Gardiner fellowship, which supported her direction of Mokattam, an Arabic film about a garbage-collecting village near Cairo.
“In selecting a graduation speaker we seek a person who exemplifies the values of Northwestern University in Qatar and its commitment to freedom of expression. A person whose life and work represents the world of communication, journalism and liberal arts as well as one who connects the Middle East and Arab world with the US,” said NU-Q Dean and CEO Everette Dennis.
“On top of that, we are interested in a person of achievement and career distinction; in Jehane Noujaim, we have found such an individual.”
Dennis also commented on the impact that films such as The Square and Control Room have had on the region: “Noujaim’s films, which give voice to different facets of society, continue to influence the region’s outlook on democracy and freedom. She is an exemplary role model for students of someone who is shaping the media in a part of the world that benefits from it.”
Noujaim won the prestigious TED Prize in 2006, which grants recipients $100,000 and a “wish to change the world.” With this, she created and organized Pangea Day, an international multimedia event in May of 2008, which drew on a live videoconference and the power of film to bring people from around the world together.