REVIEW: Karama Has No Walls [2013]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: NR | Runtime: 26 minutes | Release Date: 2013 (UAE)
Director(s): Sara Ishaq

“Sit-in! Sit-in! Until the regime is toppled!”

The last words Anwar Al-Muaati spoke to his father upon leaving for “Change Square” in Sana’a, Yemen were, “If you tell me I can’t go and all the other fathers tell their sons the same, who will fight the revolution?” That’s a powerful sentiment of patriotism, freedom, and want for peace most born in the United States simply cannot comprehend. Anwar was one of 53 innocent, non-violent protestors who died on March 18, 2011, a day known as Juma’at El-Karama (Friday of Dignity). They were there to participate in a sit-in to hopefully see change like that which occurred in Egypt and its overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship. Wanting President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule to end, they left their weapons at home, set up tents, and sat in the streets unaware of what was to come.

Directed by Sara Ishaq, Karama Has No Walls utilizes uncensored footage of that day shot by 17-year old Nasr Al-Namir and 23-year old Khaled Rajeh. We see the wall “thugs” built to separate the sit-in from the neighborhood, witness anonymous hands above it pouring petrol while the protestors are at prayer, and gasp as flames rise into the sky to put everyone on edge. Both cameramen describe the scene and the carnage while we watch the sniper fire begin to put Yemeni citizens on the ground in pools of blood. It’s a harrowingly first-hand account of civil war and the oppressive power of a government that does not have the people’s vote. Ishaq shows it all, letting reality unfold in the chaotic insanity of a tragic day that rallied a country awake.

A film containing just this type of gruesome and unconscionable footage can conjure feelings of detachment as you trick yourself to keep watching because it happened miles and miles away to nameless people you don’t know. So rather than make it solely a bold news document, Ishaq also adds the personal stories of Anwar and eleven-year old Saleem Al-Harazi. She interviews their fathers to get a grip on the pain, pride, and sacrifice—two men who saw their boys on Al-Jazeera unaware of what was actually happening. Their accounts will move you to tears as you witness civil war a world away. True change has casualties, martyrs, and heroes who stood up or sat down, refusing to retreat no matter the pressure. A nightmare for so many families, Juma’at El-Karama also proves a rallying cry for peace.

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