Yemen: One Film Director Uses Cinema to Renew Hope

Yemeni film director, Amr Gamal, is reviving film and renewing hope in the City of Aden, in Yemen, a country engulfed in a devastating war.
Photo credits: Adenium Productions

Since the mid-August premiere of 10 Days Before The Wedding, Aden residents have been rushing to the box office to purchase tickets by the dozen. This locally-produced film is the first Yemeni film to be produced since the beginning of the civil war in 2014, and the first to be released in Yemeni theatres in a decade.

With the backdrop of the war, which has caused the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis, the  movie focuses on the different ways that war impacts people’s lives. The film depicts social problems such as displacement, homelessness, hunger, and hatred, and highlights the dire economic situation of the country.

Although the government regained control of Aden from the Houthi rebels on July 22, 2015, stability remains a distant dream for this southern Yemeni city. Since that time, the city’s residents have faced substantial physical and mental hardships, including a continued lack of access to basic essential services such as electricity.

Extremist violence, such as the assassination of Governor Jaafar Mohamed Saad, has left residents in a state of constant fear. Yemenis are longing for cultural and commercial projects to escape their reality of war and catastrophe. They have transformed wedding halls into movie theaters, especially since the destruction of the theaters in the country. “What distinguishes the 10 Days Before the Wedding movie is that it’s the first public movie in Yemen,” said Hoda Jafar, a Yemeni movie critic. “Yemeni movies that preceded this one such as ‘Dignity Has No Walls’ and ‘A New Day in Old Sanaa’ have only been shown at festivals. The movie is professionally done in all respects–scenario, photography and directing–despite the difficult circumstances under which it was produced. And this presents a great challenge for other Yemeni directors in the future.”

The first cinema in Yemen appeared in 1918. There were about 49 total movie theaters in the country at the height of their popularity. By the 1990s, the number had declined significantly. Yemeni film director Samir Al-Afif, in a statement to Al Jazeera Net, has claimed this decline was a result of “the weak cultural role of society as well as the spread of the Salafist wave.” Saudi Arabia’s Salafi-Wahhabism considers theaters and movies a “corruption of morality.” It took 35 years for Saudi Arabia to finally lift the ban on its cinemas in December 2017. Today, only three movie theaters remain in Yemen: one in Sanaa and two in Aden, and they only operate occasionally.

Jafar has referred to Gamal as “an artist who has a project and a special vision, not just a person who has the resources or the opportunity to finance his own works.” Under extraordinarily stressful conditions and faced with “negative propaganda,” Yemeni director Amr Gamal, along with team of 120 people, managed to wrap up filming and production in six months. Gamal said in a press interview that “the production of the movie cost about 15 million riyals (approximately 30,000 USD), which is a small budget taking into account the current security and political situation of the country.” He went on to say: “We tried to challenge all those circumstances and we went to the streets to shoot. We had great concerns because of the continuing news about the deteriorating security in Aden, which is why we have stopped providing theater performances in Aden, and we have stopped filming dramas for the same reason,” he added.

“The movie gives hope that love will prevail at the end, despite the devastation that has taken place in the country,”

Audience attendance at the premiere was remarkable, generating “revenues between 15 million and 17 million Yemeni riyals ($30,000- $35,000)” within a week, according to Gamal. Fans of the film have said that they found its message uplifting. “The movie gives hope that love will prevail at the end, despite the devastation that has taken place in the country,” said movie goer Nima Awad.  “We have lived in a time of war, and fallen, but have risen once again, because we are Aden,” said Hoda Ramzi, a Yemeni actress in the film. Recently, the film’s Facebook page announced that the run of the film had been extended at the request of the public.