When Sara Ishaq returns to Yemen after ten years abroad reconnecting with the Scottish half of her roots she finds the country she grew up is on the brink of a revolution. It’s 2011 and the infectious spirit of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt has reached the peninsula – the people want an end to corruption.
Take, for example, Sara’s cousin Waleed. He was abducted from the street without a warrant, disappeared and tortured for four months by the National Security Forces. Sara, who is behind the camera throughout, captures her family as they help publicise Waleed’s case to put pressure on the authorities to release him.
As the protests pick up on the streets outside, numbers hit the thousands and demonstrators demand that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh stand down. Sara extends her stay by a month and a half; the time her father thinks it will take for him to relinquish power.
And so The Mulberry House continues to move between Sara’s family home and the revolution gaining traction outside its walls. Towards the beginning it seems that Sara’s father is more interested in when his daughter will marry: “One of the revolution’s achievements will be that Sara finds a husband” he says.
But perhaps representing the change among Yemeni people themselves, many of whom became more politically engaged as the demonstrations went on, her father drops the (far less interesting) subject of when his daughter will marry and concentrates more on the revolution itself, for example supporting Sara’s decision to film.
“Documenting events with her camera can help people and uploading so the world sees… she’s reflecting people’s pain” he says, though Sara’s grandfather seems less sure. The documentary eventually becomes a unique and deeply personal lens through which to examine one family’s attitudes towards the Yemeni uprising.
Meanwhile, Sara continues to document events in Change Square – the cradle of the revolution in the capital Sanaa – filming, blogging and giving interviews to various news channels across the world. She takes us through Saleh’s imposition of the state of emergency to a black out in the Hasbara neighbourhood in anticipation of shelling by the air force.
Sara’s documentary will be filmed as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival next month where it will make its UK premiere. Her second documentary to come out of this trip, Karama Has No Walls, is about the Friday of Dignity on 18 March when 45 protestors were massacred in the Square and has become the first Yemeni documentary to receive an Oscar nomination.
As for The Mulberry House itself, more context and analysis would help to the viewer understand Yemen’s revolution in more depth, particularly as it did not gain as much momentum in the international press as the Arab Spring in Egypt or Tunisia for example.
Eventually the protests in Yemen led to the downfall of Saleh and ended his 33-year rule. But “corruption still exists” points out Sara’s father – incidents of the abuse of free speech continue and the right to protest still obstructed.