Sara Ishaq: The Mulberry House

It is such a good beginning of the film. A family gathered around food, eating, discussing, among other matters the usual one, you think, about man/woman, boy/girl in a society with pretty conservative traditions, seen from our part of the world. They have fun, laugh, close-up on faces, children, youngsters, father, grandfather. They are all in a big house with a garden to which the daughter Sara has come back after having grown up in Scotland with her mother. She has a camera in hand.

Atmosphere… crucial, but always so difficult to establish in a film, here it is done beautifully to place you in the present-day-reality. Actually you, with this opening, tend to think that you are about to watch a Yemenite version of a Marcel Pagnol film.

But you are not. You are told that a family member is in prison for treason, and you are slowly, parallel to the development and characterisation of the main characters, aware that something is going to happen outside the house in the streets of Saan’a, where demonstrations against the dictatorship take place, it is maybe a revolution, for sure it is events that will influence the harmony of the family.

Father and grandfather. Sara behind the camera reminds her father that he, when she was 15, had planned to get her married to ”an old man”. He denies, but you see in his eyes that he remembers. He is a strong character with an open face, always readable, in the film, he is – like all of them when they watch the news in front of the camera – totally against the present regime, he brings food to the demonstrators, goes with others to give blood to the injured in the riots, he seems to be a lovely father to the kids in the house (never found out how many children he has!) and he ends up saying – to her – how proud he is of his daughter Sara for her documenting the ongoing revolution. Even if he during one of the demonstrations expresses doubt upon her ability to operate the camera!

My favourite, however, is the grandfather, a man full of dignity who goes around in the house and in the garden, he favours so much. He reads the quran, watches the television, dresses up when he goes shopping, gives advice, expresses opinions and calls Sara ”my sweetheart”. In a fine scene he asks her to leave the camera to help him with a plant in the garden, a flower will follow to be named Sara. 

A family film? Yes. Private? No. Personal? Yes, as it is a film about a daughter, who returns to her roots… oops, now the words start to be klichés. Roots, yes but conveyed in a way so we non-yemenites easily can identify with the family, the three generations and its situation, in a film that captures the warmth and passes it on to us in a light tone that is broken when reality knocks on the door.

And there is such a lovely ending of the film… will not reveal it other than say that it of course takes place in the garden, thus the title of the film.

A fine facebook page exists on the film.

2013, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Scotland, UAE, 64 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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