Lights, Camera, ACTION!! [Archives:1998/13/Culture]

March 30 1998

Apart from some TV documentaries, cinema in Yemen is almost non-existent. The Yemeni singer Ahmed Qassem acted in a film, produced by a Yemeni businessman in 1965 in Egypt, alongside some of Egypt’s most famous actors. A lone feature film – From the Shack to the Palace – was made in Aden during the same period.
To know more about the future prospects for a movie industry in Yemen, Dr. Salah Haddash of Yemen Times met one of the country’s well-known film makers.
Saeed Hassan Al-Zubaidi has an M.A in film direction from the Moscow Institute of Cinematography, Russia, 1981. Professionally, he is a film director. He is the first Yemeni to graduate from that institute in the field of feature films.
Al-Zubaidi, 47, has been working since 1983 as a free-lance film maker. Through his “Yemen Cinema” enterprise, he has made more than 70 films for various foreign organizations, Yemeni ministries, and private enterprises.
Q: What do you think of the history of cinema in Yemen?
A: We cannot say ” history of cinema in Yemen” since we do not have any cinema, at all.
Q: Have you tried to direct any films in Yemen?
A: We were supposed to do a film in cooperation with the General Authority of Theater and Cinema (GATC). Unfortunately, we did not continue the job. Although the producer was ready to pay and the GATC had the necessary equipment and film stock, work was hindered by numerous problems.
Q: What is required to establish a movie industry in Yemen?
A: There should be an infrastructure for such an industry to ensure the continuity of the work. Producing one or two films does not lay down the necessary foundation for a Yemeni cinema. Establishing a Yemeni cinema needs a number of conditions.
Q: What are these conditions?
A: For example, all Indian films as well as the Arabic and Egyptian films have special characteristics. These characteristics do not materialize unless there are many films produced. Directors usually follow different patterns. Therefore, I suggest that Yemeni cinema must have a new, different direction.
Q: What sort of films have you made?
A: I have been working 14 years, making films and commercials for private companies and government ministries. I also made one feature work and I’m preparing for the second.
Q: What is the title of this feature film you already finished?
A: Al-Zu’aifera Days is a film about the conditions of the teachers who are sent to remote villages and about the schools there. This film was exhibited in Al-Afif Cultural Foundation.
I first wrote the scenario and I made several field visits. I found that the scenario was not appropriate, there were not enough actors, no facilities. So, I just decided to change the scenario and it was OK.
Q: Have you marketed the film?
A: Not yet.
Q: How long is this film?
A: Nearly one hour. I would like to re-edit the film to decrease its duration because it’s not a commercial film. Actually, it is a film that any body can watch.
Q: What about the second film?
A: It is based on a short story written by Dawood Ba-Zil. I wrote the scenario and made major changes in characters and events. I called it ” Amr” or the command.
While making this film, I faced many problems mainly because of actors. For example, if one actor was absent, the whole work stopped. Actually, they were not real actors. I had to train them myself. I stopped working due to the absence of three actors and due to insufficient funds.
Q: How long does filming take?
A: The actual process of filming takes 2 weeks. Preparation for filming and looking for actors takes 3 months.
Q: How about financing?
A: Financing is difficult because it should cover all costs of the filming process. Therefore, it is not feasible to make films here. My real purpose behind making films is not to benefit financially. Some private businessmen may pay a third of the total expenses of making a film. But, who can guarantee the returns?
Actually, this film may make profit in about one year. Film making has its own moral rewards. We are backward in making films because we think only of financial aspects.
Q: Do you mean that the government should undertake the process of making films?
A: No, not necessarily the government. The private sector can also participate. The support from the government is so little. It has no motives to support us unless we make a propaganda film. But if it is artistic work, the government pays no attention.
Q: How is your second film going, anyway?
A: I haven’t finished making it yet. But, filming is going on. I have worked 20 minutes on this film while it is supposed to last between 90 to 100 minutes.
Q: Are you able to successfully market your films
A: I made some films, but I still cannot market any of them. The problem is that production is closely connected with the TV, rather than with the market, especially in video production.
Q: Do official censors interfere with your work?
A: Yes, very much so. This thing makes a film producer look for a channel that accepts his work. Thus, we always have to do things that satisfy others. This depends upon whom you work for. Art has become a business.
Q: Do you plan to submit your films to international competitions?
A: If I had a movie camera, Al-Zu’aifera Days would win many prizes. But, unfortunately, the film was recorded on video tape.
Q: Is there any cinema club in Yemen?
A: Some people are toying with the idea of establishing a cinema club, but I don’t believe they will manage to do that. Establishing a cinema club needs some special conditions which are not available here.
Q. How do you see people’s liking of cinema?
A: People living in the coastal areas of Yemen, for example, love Indian films. There are many poor people in Yemen who try to escape from their reality in the stories of Indian films. Just like in India, the weather of the coastal areas in Yemen is very hot. Many Indians live in Yemen. All these are reasons why people to like Indian films.
Q: What do you think of the level of films shown in Yemeni cinemas?
A: If you want to judge the types of the films, you had better judge the type of viewers. Cinema owners show 2 films a day. They just want money regardless of any moral restraints.