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Karama Has No Walls

Karama Has No Walls:


Yemeni woman's film on 2011 protests receives Oscar nod


Sara Ishac is a young Yemeni woman with a Master’s degree in Film Studies from the University of Edinburgh. While studying, she returned to Yemen to look for an idea for her final project, but Ishac never would have expected that the movie she directed would become the first Yemeni film to receive an Oscar nomination.


Karama Has No Walls is a documentary about the “Friday of Dignity” on March 18, 2011, a day that witnessed a massacre in which no less than 45 protesters who had gathered in Taghyir Square to bring down the regime of former President Ali Abdallah Saleh were killed.


The project began as a short film on the changes that occurred in Ishac’s family during the revolution. “I was extremely hesitant onTaghyir Square,” Ishac told NOW. But after seeing the wall the regime had built around the square and hearing about protesters being attacked the next day, “I was greatly moved by the accounts of the horrors… So I thought I should make a movie relating that story so that it would bear witness to what happened.” The project expanded accordingly.


The film drew its title from the wall the regime had built around the square before taking it by storm. The protesters trapped behind the wall were shot at by snipers positioned on the rooftops of surrounding buildings.


Because Ishac is a filmmaker, not an investigative journalist, her work focused on the human side of the incident. “I wanted to film the [people] that were killed or maimed, especially those involving young children,” she told NOW.


Ishac collaborated with Abdulrahman Hussein, who had previously worked as an assistant director on a Yemeni short, as well as Amin al-Ghaberi, a cameraman who had shot live scenes from the Friday of Dignity events.


Although the crew was initially unsure of how the movie would unfold, Ishac told NOW that the film progressed organically. In the end, the short film focused on two humanitarian cases and their experiences during the Friday of Dignity events, in addition to interviews with cameramen and doctors on the field. The crew managed to shoot the movie in just one week.


As for how the film received an Oscar nomination, Ishac told NOW that “it happened purely by chance.” The movie was initially screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it won first prize. “I later learned that the movie that wins the festival becomes eligible for an Oscar nomination. When we submitted the movie’s candidature for the nomination, I was absolutely not optimistic that it would receive the nomination out of millions of films,” Ishac told NOW.


To her surprise, Ishac encountered few problems as a female filmmaker in a male-dominated country. She told NOW that although her family worried each time she returned home late, her greatest concern was the safety of witnesses she filmed. “I encountered no difficulty in dealing with the protesters on the square. I was not harassed in any way; rather, the men on the square always tried to protect me and I was well-known,” she said.


So far, Ishac has directed two films and produced several others. One film, titled “Bayt al-Tout” (The Mulberry House), recounts the daily life of her family living in a house with a mulberry tree in the garden. The movie was screened multiple times at the Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) and the Dubai International Film Festival.


Ishac and her team were immensely pleased to learn about the Oscar nomination for Karama Has No Walls, which will compete with four other documentaries for the top prize. The final results will be released in March 2014.


“I am trying not to think too much about whether or not the film will win,” Ishac said. “From the outset, I did not expect we would reach this far because our main aim was to make a touching movie and raise people’s awareness regarding what happened on the Friday of Dignity.”


“It is enough for me that the film added something to [our] cause and to my country, Yemen.”