When British film maker Sean McAllister set out to chart the decline of Tourism in Yemen, he could not have predicted that within a few months the country would be submerged in a full scale popular uprising. And yet his documentary is not an attempt to explain the dynamics of the Yemeni revolution, rather like all good documentaries it is primarily a character focused piece, managing to tell the story of many through one.
There has seldom been as compelling a subject as Qais, the eponymous reluctant revolutionary. A tour guide in a country almost entirely bereft of tourists yet still humorous and endearing there is an inescapable element of tragicomedy about his story which Mcallister’s unfussy camera work allows to take centre stage.
The beauty of Qais’s transition from skeptic to vocal supporter of the revolution is the immediacy of its relevance, not just to the Yemeni uprising. He, like so many across the region’s uprising populaces must balance the struggles of his own life, business and family with that of his people’s fight for dignity and human rights. The greatest achievement of this documentary is one which has largely alluded the cameras of the mainstream media, namely managing to truly capture the Arab Spring at the level of the ordinary individual. We at once understand Qais’s hesitancy to join the uprising with the inevitable chaos and instability it will cause him personally, already scarcely capable of sustaining his own family and business. Simultaneously it allows us to appreciate the stakes involved when his hesitancy begins to give way to resolve, placing his marriage and ultimately his own life on the line, unable to sit idly by.
Mcallister’s own presence throughout the film is both subtle and important. His simple yet unjudgemental style of questions allow us to hear the voice of what many will undoubtedly begin this film assuming to be a simple man. And yet like the majority of those featured in the documentary, his insights are at once greatly philosophical, boyishly humorous and profoundly melancholic. Qais’s remark, early on in the film, predicting the outcome of an uprising to be ‘not a bloodbath, but a blood-swimming pool’ is almost comical and yet as we find out later, tragically prophetic.
In The Reluctant Revolutionary, the Yemeni uprising serves as both a context to Qais’s own story and in its own right as a story of the dignity and bravery of the Yemeni people. The horrors of the regime’s brutal crackdown on Yemen’s staunchly peaceful protesters are documented by Mcallister’s handheld camera. The scenes of shaky, cell-phone footage help lend a great relevance to the piece. This method of recording, made famous by Arab citizens charting their countries’ uprisings, embodies the chaos, confusion and fear felt by so many in the midst of these popular revolts.
The juxtaposing of ordinary life in the Arab worlds poorest nation with the extraordinary events of the Yemeni uprising and one mans personal journey through are what The Reluctant Revolutionary does so well and to great effect. It is the reluctance of the less politically inclined, the apathetic whose transitions have defined these revolutions, which form the heart of Sean Mcallister’s documentary and ultimately make for a powerfully poetic testimony to the inspiring bravery of the ordinary citizens in the Arab Spring.
There will be a screening of the documentary followed by a session with the director at the Prince Charles cinema on Thursday 5th April 2012 at 20:30. Follow the link for details https://www.facebook.com/events/293109247421348/
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