“Hidden Fences” from Yemen awarded in fifth Gulf Film Festival
The fifth Gulf Film Festival (GFF) concluded on Monday, April 16, 2012 in Dubai. The final award ceremony honored the best in filmmaking talent in the Middle East and around the world.
The GFF started five years ago, and this year for the first time three Yemeni films competed in the festival. One of them, Hidden Fences (Aswar Khafia), won second place in this year’s GFF.
The other two Yemeni films were “My Father is Sleeping” (Abuy Naaim), and “The Easiest Way to Suicide” (Ashal Tareeqa Lil Intihar).
The cast of Hidden Fences includes director Sameer Al-Nemri, producer Kamal Al-Hetari, camera assistants Jamal Al-Nemri and Mohammed Yusof, and translators Radhia Khairan and Ammar Al-Qadhi.
The film explores the lives of marginalized people, black-skinned people who face social discrimination and are victims of violence, known by most Yemenis as Akhdam. Their plight, often unknown to the world and seldom discussed in any developmental forums, is presented from the perspective of a Yemeni writer, who portrays their lives in his novel.
Further, it portrays the details of their lives and discusses their problems, which were discussed in a Yemeni novel entitled “Black Taste and Black Smell”, written by Ali Al-Moqri, a Yemeni author.
“I’m very happy that my short film was awarded in the fifth GFF,” said Al-Nameri, the film’s director.
|An interview with Al-Nemri
Can you tell us about the idea behind Hidden Fences?
Al-Nemri: I came up with the idea after the great success of the novel “Black Taste and Black Smell”. Hidden Fences is a 025-minutes HDV film that reflects the plight of marginalized people and why Yemenis refuse to live with them.
They [marginalized people] are forced to live far away in the outskirts of cities and they find no work but sweeping and sewer fixing. This is evidence of the societal discrimination against them.
Where was this film recorded?
Al-Nemri: The film was videotaped in Ta’iz. It shows a demonstration of marginalized people demanding retribution for the killing of one of their own by an influential public figure.
Marginalized people are being killed in cold blood, but the murderers aren’t punished because of Yemeni social customs which posit that whoever kills a marginalized person isn’t punished, but pays blood money instead.
At the end of the film, possible solutions are given by some marginalized people to prevent acts of violence against them and help them integrate into Yemeni society.
How was the film evaluated by the jury committee?
Al-Nemri: They judge films according to particular criteria, but the theme and message of the film are taken into consideration too.
Why do you think Hidden Fences was awarded fifth place in the GFF?
Al-Nemri: Actually, the film spreads a message to the entire society that marginalized people are all human beings and for that reason no one should look down upon them due to their black skin.
Could you tell us how you participated in the GFF and how the competition was?
Al-Nemri: I found out about the competition and followed the registration procedures, and finally participated.
As for the competition, it was very difficult to compete with the numerous talented film makers from the Gulf countries and Iraq.
Why did you concentrate on the issue of marginalized people in your film?
Al-Nermi: The marginalized people are considered low class and only work jobs which others despise. So, they take priority in my work.
What were the difficulties you faced?
Al-Nemri: I faced lots of problems, because I depended only on myself to produce and direct the film, since I had no sponsors.
What do you think of filmmaking in Yemen?
Al-Nemri: Filmmaking in Yemen has been monopolized by government sectors for many decades. This hindered many directors from making their own original documentary and dramatic films.
Yemeni viewers get used to watching films that others make, without being able to contribute to making such films themselves.
There is no filmmaking in Yemen except for a few films made by some hardworking and creative Yemenis.
Have you participated in other international festivals before?
Al-Nemri: No. This is the first time.
Many observers said that Hidden Fences is a good film that deserves to be awarded the fifth GFF prize.
Al-Nameri works as a cameraman for Al-Jazeera’s channel office (JCO) in Yemen. He also worked as a cameraman and director for Suhail Channel since its founding a few years ago.
Furthermore, he has taught numerous courses in television production and new media.
Al-Nemri studied at the College of Fine Arts in the University of Hodieda and received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. In addition, he took special film and production courses at the JCO in Doha, Qatar.
“Hidden Fences deserves the award because it mainly tackles a very important issue, that of marginalized people. This issue is often considered by the international community,” said Sameer Al-Afeef, a Yemeni director.
“It is a real success to be accepted to participate in an international festival like the GFF, even if you don’t win, because the jury committee admits films according to very high standards. I know this because I presented my short film You and Me in the fourth GFF,” he added.
“There are many cultural and historical issues in Yemen to write about because Yemen has an ancient civilization. This will help Yemenis to produce many films in the future,” said Mohammed Ghawth, a producer.
“In my opinion, the success of Hidden Fences should encourage other talented Yemenis to participate in such competitions,” he added.
Obstacles to filmmaking in Yemen
Yemeni directors often depend on themselves to sponsor their films.
Al-Nemri and Mohammed Al-Hobaishi, a Yemeni director and screenwriter, faced such a problem.
“A film costs about $70,000 to produce. When we show our ideas to the sponsors, they only think of the profit they will get in return, saying that we have to take some scenes, photos and comments to produce a film in a week’s time,” said Al-Hobaishi.
“I produced a film entitled Soqotra: a Land Beyond the Limits of Imagination and it was translated to English and French. Yet with all the efforts I exerted I got only Y.R 40,000 in return,” said Ghawth.
In Yemen, it’s so easy to find something to write about and anyone can find a theme which they can base films on. Foreigners come to Yemen and produce films about Yemen because they are given the time and money, according to Al-Hobaishi.
“We make films about the achievements in a particular organization or a ministry, but they aren’t considered films that bring the director fame, whether inside or outside Yemen because there is no creativity in them,” said Al-Hobaishi.
Paying no attention to films
“It’s a tragic situation for filmmaking in Yemen because no one pays attention to short films,” said Al-Afeef.
“There are special cinemas for films in the world but in Yemen, because people aren’t aware of the importance of films, we have only a few channels where we can show films,” added Al-Afeef.
One reason of little attention to short films is that filmmaking in Yemen is still in its developmental stage. There are no films and dramatic works but some talented and hardworking individuals use the available sources to produce simple short films like Al-Nameri, according to Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Shami, a lecturer in the Faculty of Mass Media at the University of Sana’a.
“There are no special institutes to develop filmmaking and directors. We only have the Department of Radio and Television in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Hodieda,” said Al-Shami.
“However, this department has changed its goals to become like the departments of radio in the Faculty of Mass Media,” he added.
“The youth want to try to make films, but they aren’t able to do so because they aren’t taught how to make films at college. Those who make films in Yemen are only amateurs. There are many ideas which need to be brought to light,” said Al-Shami.
“We hope that officials will pay attention to filmmaking and hope also that special institutions will be established to sponsor short films in Yemen,” Al-Hobaishi added.
Art is important to the country because it develops the individual’s emotions and society’s as well, according to Al-Afeef.
“The previous governments and the current one pay no attention to art. All they care about are the army and the military barracks. They are critical of cinemas and films in general,” he concluded.