The number of massacres Egypt witnessed after the 25 January Revolution is enough for anyone to lose count. But some of them are unforgettable, and the names of some of those killed have been recorded as part of the country’s recent history. The Maspero massacre and Mina Daniel, known as the Egyptian Che Guevara, is one of them.
Following an emotionally-charged mass funeral for Daniel, filmmaker Amal Ramsis decided to document the event, but from a different perspective. The documentary “The Trace of the Butterfly” was her way of expressing the pain through the eyes of Mina’s sister, Mary.
In April, “The Trace of the Butterfly” won the Audience Award in the International Women’s Film Festival Dortmund.
On the night of 9 October, Mary Danial appeared on media channels as the first person to accuse the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) of killing her brother and 27 other Coptic Christians during a peaceful march they participated in.
“How come they call them thugs when the army killed them before my own eyes and the tank almost ran over me,” Mary says on the film.
“The main character of the film, Mary, had a big impact on me,” said Amal Ramsis. “When I first saw her on TV, I understood the kind of social pressure this woman could go through to express her anger and her opinion in such an open way against the church and army”.
From that moment, Ramsis saw the strength Mary speaks with, and she believed Mary had a unique story that deserves to be covered. So, she went on looking for her, the lady who held a red flag with Mina’s photo on it, in every march, until she successfully found her.
“I followed my instinct as a documentary filmmaker, and I managed to find her. But when we met, I discovered a bigger story than I ever expected,” Ramsis added.
Ramsis saw another side of Mary, one that people do not usually get to see, choosing to tell the story of “these people who are not considered heroes by the mainstream media; these people are the ones who have a lot to tell and to give”.
Throughout the documentary, the viewer goes through Mary’s journey; the place she lives, the way she talks with her family, her thoughts and beliefs.
It aimed to show the sufferings and struggles that women go through in a society like Egypt, and moreover the pain of losing someone close, and the ways of dealing with it.
When she described how she was forcibly married to a man 17 years her senior, just because he was rich, Mary spoke in the voice of girls with similar experiences. “I reached 26, I was very old not to be married according to tradition. When he came with all of his money, my family found no reason to say no,” Mary says in one scene.
The most special thing about Mary is that the turning point of her personal life, when she decided to walk away from her miserable marriage, which coincidentally was the same day of the Maspero massacre. This is a story not only about Mary, but about lots of women who witnessed personal life changes at the same time as the country’s revolutionary events, according to Ramsis.
It would be hard for viewers to hold their tears watching Mary crying while going through Mina’s closet, photos and perfumes, with all the memories each and every piece holds for her. The shooting wasn’t an easy mission for Ramsis either, who admits to crying a lot throughout the shooting and editing.
Yet, she believes that this is one of the roles of the filmmakers, to explore new feelings and emotions and to be able to express and to transmit them to the audience. A film should be, in a way, a new experience on the emotional level, through the image and through cinematographic language.
The documentary spotlights the clashes between police and protesters from October 2011 until the 30 June mass protests. The shooting took two years, bearing witness to many of the political changes in the country, and giving the chance to Ramsis to document the meaning of “people who gave everything for the dream of real change”.
As an independent film, the whole process of shooting and editing was done without any external funding. The postproduction was done in four days. A Spanish company provided two days for colour correction, and a French studio provided two days of sound mixing.
“The Trace of the Butterfly” also participated in the Istanbul Film Festival and the CINEQUEST Film Festival at California.