Media coverage of the Arab Spring has been obstructed by state impediments to reporting and horrific violence – with the deaths of American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik only the most high-profile examples. Therefore any film that documents in detail one of the uprisings in the Middle East is of obvious historical and current-affairs interest. However, an emotional personal journey and a fair bit of comedy take The Reluctant Revolutionary beyond mere reportage.
The documentary maker and cameraman is the Briton Sean McAllister. The star, however, is the Yemeni Kais, a failed hotelier-turned-tour guide, who begins the film as a hapless comic figure, his few clients having cancelled on him as the political tension in the country escalates. Demonstrators are gathering in Change Square in the capital Sana’a, to protest against the corruption and human rights abuses of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year-rule.
To Kais the protest is initially an annoyance, the last nail in the coffin of his struggling tour agency. But as he accompanies McAllister around Change Square, and witnesses the atmosphere sour from festive (the Briton describes it as an “Arabic Glastonbury”) to restive, before armed government thugs move in and the killing begins, Kais is gradually converted to the cause.
McAllister is a guest in Kais’s home, and The Reluctant Revolutionary features frequent funny moments between the Yemeni, his friends and relatives, and their Western visitor, with both family and cultural bases for the jokes. These serve as a welcome counterpoint to the brutal fallout from the violent state repression, which McAllister catalogues unflinchingly.
Director: Sean McAllister
Starring: Sean McAllister
On at: Cinema Union (17 March, 6pm)