By Kevin Davis, for National Yemen
On March 15, the Yemen Peace Project held its third installment of the Yemeni Film Festival in Washington, DC. The event followed screenings in Los Angeles and New York City earlier this year. The YPP also plans to hold events in San Francisco, London, Sana’a, and Aden. The sold-out event was an indication of the American public’s increasing interest in Yemen, largely due to recent political events such as the 2011 Uprising and America’s involvement in anti-terrorism activities in the country. However, where most events in Washington focusing on Yemen center on discussions of international relations and national security, the Film Festival was an opportunity to introduce and American audience to a broad set of issues confronting Yemen today.
Throughout the day, eleven films were shown, ranging from 5-minute shorts to full feature-length films. Most filmmakers were Yemeni, and perhaps surprising to an American audience, many of the filmmakers were women. Many of the films focused on the 2011 Uprising, including Ammar Basha’s series Days in the Heart of the Revolution, which highlights grievances from Yemenis throughout the country, and Nawal al-Maghafi’s humorous yet moving The President’s Man and His Revolutionary Son, which documents the uprising from the differing perspectives of a doctor in Taiz and his father, a spokesman for the GPC. These films provided a moving and diverse depiction of the uprising from multiple perspectives and angles, a much needed addition conversations in the USA.
Other highlights from the festival were Felisa Jimenez’s visually stunning Socotra: H’er wa Imshin and Musa Syeed’s powerful The Big House. Socotra documents the shifting social and economic realities of residents of Socotra. The Big House was one of only a few fictional films, invoking a dream-like vision of a young Yemeni who enters his local governors mansion. Perhaps the predictable climax of the festival was the Oscar-nominated Karama Has No Walls by Sara Ishaq. The heart-wrenching film was met with collective tears audible throughout the audience.
One of the strength’s of the film festival was the decision to host an accompanying photograph exhibit, featuring photographs from Yemeni artists. It also featured a roundtable discussion featuring Laura Kasinof, a freelance journalist, Amal Basha, Yemeni human rights activist and representative to the National Dialogue, Sama’a al-Hamdani, Yemeni researcher and activist, and Nabila al-Zubayr, a Yemeni activist and participant to the National Dialogue. The speakers reflected on the films and shared their own stories related to the 2011 Uprising. Many expressed disappointment with the National Dialogue process and the lack of progress they see since the uprising. The films, especially Days in the Heart of the Revolution, reflect this sentiment as well.
During my own stay in Yemen from 2010-2011 and again in 2013, the wealth of knowledge I gained and the experiences I had were difficult to translate for an American audience. The depth of Yemen’s diversity and history make it difficult to recount. I often lament that lack of focus on Yemen, aside from the occasional panel on drone strikes or Al-Qaeda. The importance of events such as the Yemen Film Festival cannot be understated, and I hope this event indicates an eagerness on the part of Americans to learn more about Yemen. Films are an important part of the process of mutual understanding.