War, famine and fear: Ye­meni cin­ema fights back

‘10 Days Be­fore the Wed­ding’ true to re­al­ity

Arab Times - - FEATURES -

ADEN, Sept 15, (AFP): On open­ing night, Ye­meni di­rec­tor Amr Ga­mal held his breath to see if any­one would turn up for his film, screened in a makeshift the­atre in the war-torn coun­try.

More than a week later, the re­cep­tion hall-turned-cin­ema is still packed nightly as res­i­dents of the south­ern city of Aden bring their chil­dren, friends and neigh­bours to see Ga­mal’s “10 Days Be­fore the Wed­ding”.

The movie, which tells the story of a cou­ple strug­gling to wed amid war and its af­ter­math, is Ga­mal’s de­but feature film – and one of only a hand­ful of Ye­meni pro­duc­tions to come out over the past two decades.

“Our big­gest fear was first and fore­most that no one would come to see the film,” he said af­ter a screen­ing ear­lier this month.

“We thought there was no way we’d have a big turnout be­cause ev­ery­one is so afraid,” Ga­mal told AFP. “But the un­ex­pected hap­pened.” “10 Days Be­fore the Wed­ding” cen­tres on the lives of Rasha and Maamoun, two young Ye­me­nis whose wed­ding day was put on hold in 2015, when Saudi Ara­bia and its mil­i­tary al­lies joined the war be­tween Ye­men’s gov­ern­ment and rebels in an at­tempt to bol­ster the army.

The cou­ple’s sec­ond at­tempt to wed, af­ter the con­flict calmed in the gov­ern­ment bas­tion of Aden, is com­pli­cated by the af­ter­math of war, in­clud­ing poverty, as­sas­si­na­tions and spo­radic bat­tles.

“There’s al­ways a par­al­lel war af­ter it’s of­fi­cially over... af­ter the vi­o­lence has tech­ni­cally ended,” Ga­mal said of his film.

“And un­for­tu­nately so many am­bi­tions, dreams, are de­stroyed in the face of war across the Arab world.”

The story has struck a chord with Ye­me­nis in Aden, who have packed the makeshift cin­ema for each of the film’s eight sched­uled screen­ings.

With chil­dren and ba­bies in tow, they grab pop­corn from a side­walk con­ces­sion stand be­fore head­ing in­side for the show, break­ing into ap­plause as it comes to an end.

“The film was amaz­ing. It was true to re­al­ity, it lit­er­ally par­al­lelled our lives here in Aden – a city that’s re­ally suf­fer­ing. That’s some­thing that truly de­serves to be heard and seen,” said one au­di­ence mem­ber af­ter a screen­ing.

Car­ry­ing

An­other movie-goer, car­ry­ing his in­fant daugh­ter, hailed the film as “in­de­scrib­able”.

While the movie has proved a lo­cal hit, Ga­mal strug­gled to se­cure what he de­scribed as “mod­est” fund­ing for his film, which was cast and shot en­tirely in wartime Ye­men.

The film went ahead with a re­ported pro­duc­tion bud­get of around $30,000 (25,650 eu­ros) – and with­out a the­atre in which to premier it, as lo­cal cin­e­mas have shut down due to bud­get cuts or dam­age.

Ga­mal and his team in­stead con­verted a lo­cal wed­ding venue into an im­pro­vised the­atre, ar­rang­ing red vel­vet din­ing chairs into rows and in­stalling a pull-down pro­jec­tor screen.

The pro­duc­tion team also had to face the daily strug­gles of life in a coun­try wracked by con­flict – from hours-long power out­ages to cel­lu­lar net­work fail­ures.

“We ac­tu­ally had to drive to the ac­tors’ houses to in­form them of a change in sched­ule or lo­ca­tion be­cause there was no sig­nal half the time,” Ga­mal said. He cred­its the peo­ple of Ye­men for mak­ing his film pos­si­ble. Upon see­ing the cam­eras and ac­tors in the streets, they brought them wa­ter, cheered them on, and in some cases of­fered up their stores and homes for film­ing free of charge.

“It was in­sane to pro­duce a film in Ye­men now, un­der the cur­rent con­di­tions,” said Ga­mal.

“But... it was a way of speak­ing back, of chal­leng­ing (re­al­ity), and I think that res­onated with the au­di­ence. They felt like it rep­re­sented them,” he added.

Ye­meni di­rec­tors have fought for decades to rep­re­sent their coun­try, and its peo­ple, on the sil­ver screen.

Fol­low­ing the uni­fi­ca­tion of the once-in­de­pen­dent north and south in 1990, Ye­men grad­u­ally lost its cin­e­mas to re­li­gious fat­was, neg­li­gence, poverty and war.

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