Sara Ishaq: Kamara has No Walls

Before Scottish/Yemenite Sara Ishaq directed the personal, wonderful “The Mulberry House”, she made this 26 mins. long documentary that is nominated for an Oscar in the Documentary Short Subject category. It is extremely tough and shocking to watch because the director, in this her first documentary, brings reportage footage shot by courageous cameramen Nasr Al-Namir and Khaled Rajeh in the streets of San’a in Yemen, and in the hospitals where dead and dying victims are brought in, into a context, where the two cameramen are interviewed looking back on what happened, as well as the fathers to a dead young man and a boy who got blinded by the bullets from the regime’s soldiers. Here is the synopsis of the film from the website of the film, link below:

Through the lenses of two cameramen and the accounts of two fathers, Karama Has No Walls encapsulates the tragic events of a day that changed the course of Yemen’s 2011 revolution (Friday of Karama [Dignity], March 18th 2011). The film retells the story of the tragic events of the day as they unfolded, from a peaceful prayer gathering to a barrage of bullets.

By changing the reportage material into a creative documentary with a human perspective, including people who were there filming or who came there to find out whether their loved one was one of the victims… you are watching a film, an interpretation of what happened on the square Karma, that means dignity! It’s as simple as that but it takes a clever filmmaker to get there. Read what she has written on the website of the film: 

“The strongest motive that led to the making of “Karama has no walls” movie was meeting young Saleem Al-Harazi, during Yemen’s 2011 revolution, who

had been blinded during the Friday of Dignity attack. Following this encounter, I met the father of martyr Anwar Al-Muati, Abdul-Wahed, who I’d met by chance while working on a BBC piece about the revolution. It shook me how little I and everyone else knew about the actual attacks that took place on the day, and even less about the victims and their families whose lives were irreparably shattered. Most people I talked to about the event at the time seemed to have no clear idea of what actually happened or who was responsible. The subject fell pray to a systematic media blackout. My personal experience at the Square, and of the protestors, gave me insight into how events unfolded as well as what the human cost was, however, no matter how loudly I tried to shout from the rooftops to draw attention to the matter, it seemed my voice fell on deaf ears and a film, that contextualised and humanised the subject, seemed to be the only solution.

While collaborating with other cameramen and activists in the Square, we came across footage of the attacks on YouTube, and this subsequently led us to meet and befriend the cameramen involved in capturing the incredible footage of the attacks. What they showed me when I met them in person left me shocked, and I realised that merely sending the footage to TV channels would reduce the images to routine and forgettable news items which would not impact viewers in the way that I was impacted having spoken to the cameramen and victims. Meeting the cameramen and realising the degree of risk they took in order to document such violations of human rights, was the biggest motivation for me to try my best to publicise their incredibly brave work.

The difficult process of making the film with no money and minimal help made me realise that if this film was possible, equipped only with commitment and the indispensible support of people around us, then any other film would be possible too. It has given my team and myself the motivation to persevere with future films, despite the often long, arduous and laborious process of filmmaking, from inception until release, with no guarantee for good results or a positive reception by its viewers. In the end, seeing an audience respond positively to our efforts, as was the case with Karama Has No Walls , is really what gives us the much-needed encouragement to continue. Personally, this has given me a stronger sense of responsibility to make films that matter and to continue to work towards raising awareness about important human-interest stories (mainly in Yemen), which are typically unexplored by mainstream media…”

And for us who know so little about Yemen, but now considerably more, some background material: The protests in Sana’a began in February 2011, following the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, with a group of youth setting down a row of tents outside their university gates, vowing not to return home until their demands were met. This ever-expanding tent-city became the hub of hope and inspiration for thousands of Yemeni people and was dubbed ‘Change Square’. Within weeks, it became the arena where members of a heavily armed population set aside their weapons and peacefully assembled to demand the fall of (former) president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year autocratic rule. For the first time in over 30 years, the barrier of fear was broken. Men and women, city-dwellers and tribesmen, rich and poor, young and old, all stood together, equal and resolute in the face of adversity.

UK/Yemen, 2012, 26 mins.


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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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