The Reluctant Revolutionary
An intimate and timely portrait of Yemen, told through tour leader Kais; a story of love, loss and hope on the unknown road to revolution.
The Reluctant Revolutionary is an intimate portrait of Yemen as the revolution unfolds, told through the eyes of Kais, an intelligent if ambivalent commentator on the changing times in Yemen, offering poignant moments of reflection, loss, anger and hope on the unknown road to revolution and change. Kais is a 35-year-old tour guide leader from Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, struggling to make ends meet and working in his father’s travel agency. He is philosophical, articulate and reflective but as the story begins, he is cynical about the undercurrents of dissent in the country and supportive of the President. When one of his tours has to be cut short due to the instability and increased danger for tourists, he returns to Sana’a to find two permanent camps in the city centre: one for the President and one against. Kais is adamant that protests won’t solve anything, that the president is doing his best and that violence will never be used to quash the protesters. At first, he refuses to enter the anti-president camp, but is convinced by the filmmaker to have a look one night. Over a number of visits we see Kais change, ‘I never imagined seeing rival tribes coming and sitting here in peace, without their Kalashnikovs’ he declares. We understand the camp through Kais’s eyes. As the protest camp grows from ‘Change Square’ to take over the surrounding streets and all the way towards the presidential palace, we also see that like Kais, numerous people are being converted to the movement. Kais embraces the revolution as each Friday gets bigger, and bloodier. Through his eyes, we see the events unfolding in the peace camps – the reactions to killings, defections, the President’s failure to sign a peace deal – and understand what the revolution means to ordinary Yemenis. Sean McAllister shows us a revolution in the making through the eyes of ordinary Yemeni citizens. He paints a subtle picture that shows the very root of people’s discontent and demands from the government.
Indeed, at home, Kais must care for his pregnant wife, but times are tight: “there is no work or money to be made in Yemen during the revolution days.” Kais is visibly happy for the revolution but scared for his family, “this isn’t a great time to be bringing another child into the world” he says. Meanwhile, all foreign journalists are tracked down and sent out of the country: Sean is the only remaining foreigner in his hotel. The film addresses questions of the role of the documentary filmmaker – whether to stay or leave? What to film or not? Which side to take? The country is expecting a massacre – as the call to prayer sounds, we see makeshift hospitals in the background with hundreds of empty beds and drips lined up waiting to receive new casualties from the street. As the events now known as the Friday of Dignity strike, 52 are killed and Sean is one of a handful of foreigners there to witness. Kais, like everybody, worries about the future of Yemen: “It won’t be a blood bath, it will be a blood swimming pool”.
Writer: Fuad Al-Qrize
Director: Sean McAllister
DOP: Sean McAllister
Editor: Johnny Burke