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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Despite Yemen's war, cinema returns to Aden with a tale about marriage

With its premiere just weeks away, '10 Days Before The Wedding' is a triumph of the spirit
Sally Hamada plays Rasha in 10 Days Before the Wedding, soon to be seen in Yemen. Courtesy of Adenium Productions

It may seem an unlikely film location. Aden, at war for more than three years, is a city where basic services are hard to come by. Entertainment has taken a back seat to survival.

But for Amr Gamal, the Yemeni director of 10 Days Before The Wedding, the destruction of his city has not stopped him.

The movie is believed to be the first feature ever filmed, directed, produced and publicly screened since Yemen's southern secessionists and northern-based government unified in 1990.

It will be shown around Eid Al Adha.

With a series of conflicts in the 28 years since unification nothing has damaged cinema more than the Houthi rebels who have been at war with the government since 2015.

The Houthis destroyed or closed Aden's cinemas. The city, controlled once again by the internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, still lies in ruins.

For Mr Gamal, his film offers a rare opportunity for people to forget the pain and fear of war.

Describing it as social commentary laced with comedy, 10 Days Before The Wedding nevertheless revolves around the war, Mr Gamal told The National.

The overhanging message, he said, is that "we must resist until the last moment".

Sally Hamada as Rasha in 10 Days Before the Wedding. Courtesy Adenium Productions

"Films have occasionally been produced in Yemen before but they were only shown on TV channels," he says.

"The people of Aden have never experienced going to theatres to watch such a movie."

Needing somewhere to show the movie, however, has required ingenuity.

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In a nod to the title, wedding halls are the solution, Ali bin Ammer, who is in charge of promoting the film, told The National.

Filming has taken place in the streets of old districts of Aden in an attempt to show aspects of the city's cosmopolitan history. Aden has long included different religions and nationalities.

"We wanted to show the real nice face of Aden, the port city which was a link between the east and the west in the 18th and 19th centuries," Mr Gamal says. "We tried to shed light on the daily life of the ordinary people who have been residing peacefully in Aden for long time until the Houthis invaded the city causing pain and suffering."

Director Amr Gamal speaking on August 7 in Aden about his film, 10 Days Before the Wedding. Courtesy Amr Gamal

The movie was produced within a very tight budget but includes Qasim Omar and Hashim Al Sayed, two top cinema figures in Yemen in addition to 38 other actors and actresses.

"We wanted to light a candle of happiness for the people in our country who have been living in doom and gloom because of the war," Sally Hamada, the actress in the lead role told The National.

Portraying Rasha, a young girl from Aden trying to overcome several dilemmas before her wedding, was an experience tinged with both hope and sadness.

"The movie was a great chance for me because it will restore the role of the cinema in Aden which is coming at a very critical time," she says. "People are so excited to see the movie because they miss happiness, they miss the smile which was stolen from their faces because of the war."

Tickets will soon be available, organisers say, in the wedding halls where screenings are being organised.

The production is causing buzz in the city, being talked about a lot in newspapers and local websites, a rare change from politics, as well as drawing international praise.

Sara Ishaq, a British-Yemeni director and co-founder of Comra Films, who in 2015 devised a two-week documentary training course aimed at aspiring Yemeni filmmakers, told The National: "In a time like this in Yemen, it is an act of sheer resistance to be able to make films. Yemen had a non-existent film industry before the war began, so to say that the climate for filmmaking is even harder now is an understatement."

Of Mr Gamal and his colleagues, she added: "You can guarantee that they have only succeeded to bring their projects to light through unwavering commitment, passion and unimaginable struggle. We hope to be able to support filmmakers more actively through training programmes, production and marketing in the future, but for the time being, hats off to anyone who walks this path alone."