The English Sheik & the Yemeni Gentleman | Chicago Reader

The English Sheik & the Yemeni Gentleman

In 1999, English filmmaker Bader Ben Hirsi traveled to Yemen, the land his parents left after the 1962 revolution. Hoping to counter the popular image of the country as a haven for terrorists, he sought out British expatriate Tim Mackintosh-Smith, whose book, Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land, he considered one of the few accurate accounts. Mackintosh-Smith serves as his—and our—tour guide, but this video becomes less a travelogue than a record of Ben Hirsi's own foreignness when he finds that his companion often feels more at ease with ordinary Yemenis than he does. What most fascinates here is Yemen itself, whose amazing and unique architecture is “a weird Arabian gothic” at once highly crafted yet tied to the land. I wanted more and was frustrated by the brief views of traditional music and dance. Mackintosh-Smith suggests that he's a “cultural asylum seeker” who has settled in Yemen to “put the brakes on time.” Ben Hirsi concludes that “life means something else here . . . it's about selflessness and finding happiness in the simplest of things.” 76 min.

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