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
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.”