First London Yemen film festival [Archives:2008/1123/Reportage]

January 24 2008

By: Desmond Korros
For Yemen Times

“A tremendous success” the words used to describe The First London Yemen Film Festival by visitors to the screenings at the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London. This Festival was the brainchild of a remarkable British woman, Leila Ingrams, who has worked enthusiastically and tirelessly for Yemen – her work includes writing articles and books, putting on exhibitions about Yemen for British universities and exhibiting Yemeni children's work around the UK; added to this, charitable work concerning Yemen for different charities

I met Leila Ingrams for the first time briefly on the first night, but was told that in a very modest manner, she had written “Actually this Festival would not have happened if it had not have been for the Film Directors' generous permission to show their films, the magnificent support from the London Middle East Institute, School of Oriental and African Studies, but characteristically, apparently, had not mentioned the work she had put into it!

The School of Oriental and African Studies, London Middle East Institute, University of London hosted the films in the Khalili Lecture Theatre. The Festival ran for three nights in December to well-packed audiences. Professor Mohamed Said, lecturer at SOAS, introduced the Festival and the Yemeni Ambassador to Britain, Mr. Mohamed Taha Mustapha, who opened this First Festival of films on Yemen. The films of the French film Director, Pascal Privet, and the well-known French Ethno-musicologist, Jean Lambert, illustrated the vital part that music plays in Yemeni life. The song of Sana'a, a unique musical form, was recognised by UNESCO in 2003. The films of the Italian, Caterina Borelli, on the unique architecture of Hadhramaut and the restoration, using local materials, local knowledge and local people, of Madrasah al-Amiriyya in Rada were unique. Added to this, was the knowledge that the famous Iraqi archaeologist, Dr. Selma Al Radi who presented the latter film, has just received the AGHA KHAN AWARD for her work in Yemen. The well-known Yemeni Film Directors, Khadija Al Salami and Bader Ben Hirsi showed their expertise in film-making – Khadija's A Stranger in Her Own City and Bader's feature film, A New Day in Old Sana'a – the first-ever Yemeni feature film. New Film Directors to many are Sami Saif and Sophia Ambo with their tear-jerking film Family. All the films deserve praise and the directors have won awards from around the world. I thought them all of a special standard.

Each night the audience applauded the films and the work of the Directors. I noticed that Leila Ingrams was surrounded by questioners as to how to get hold of the films and I gather people were asking'When will the next Festival be?' Much of the audience seemed to know nothing or very little about Yemen. This Festival, an exceptional feat, has really put Yemen on the map. Ingrams was approached by SOAS to display photographs and artefacts on Yemen in the foyer of the Khalili Theatre and has been asked to continue the display until the end of February – what a compliment! Absolutely wrongly, Yemen is not portrayed by the West in a good light, but Leila's Festival has created a positive foundation on which to build the Truth about Yemen and its people – its importance in antiquity and in the present times.

The first thing I wanted to do after attending these films was buy a ticket to Sana'a, meet the Yemeni people, hear their music, eat their food and see their beautiful country.