Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson
How would you describe your film, Yemen: The Silent War?
Yemen: The Silent War is a short informative documentary about the silent war in Yemen. I wanted to take a non-traditional approach to make an informative documentary. The first sequence of the documentary is silent with only ambient noise, which is a reference to the fact that the war in Yemen is silent.
I did not want the documentary to focus on certain stories or get the viewers emotionally attached with specific people, but rather with the situation as a whole. There are so many documentaries out there about refugees, and I didn’t want this short to be another refugee documentary, but rather a documentary about the situation in Yemen as a whole.
What made you want to tell this story?
I am actually a Yemeni filmmaker, so naturally I wanted to tell this story. I graduated from American University in 2017, and I knew that the first thing I wanted to do after graduation was to go back to Yemen and make documentaries.
After graduation, I felt like I was not ready to go back to Yemen just yet. I did not think I had enough experience to get the message across, so I decided to apply to graduate school.
I have always been aware about Yemeni refugees in Djibouti. Their situation is very complicated, and I wanted to visit the camp regardless of whether I was making a documentary or not. I contacted Vanessa, an associate reporting officer for the UNHCR in Djibouti. She helped me get all the proper approvals and permits prior to my trip and helped make this documentary happen.
Were there other documentaries/films that were inspirational? Or any other pieces?
So many. Mostly pictures that brave journalists and civilians capture of the war. One major thing that the average non-Yemeni viewer would miss in this documentary is references. Each animation references a real story. For example, the animated girl with the teddy bear in the documentary [the one that moves her hand to open her eyes] is a reference to a girl who lost all her family members in an airstrike. Her name is Buthaina [she is also known as Buthaina, the eye of humanity]. If you look her up, you will understand one of many references that most Yemenis would understand watching this documentary.
What has the journey been like getting the film made and now promoted?
One story about my journey that I do not often share is being locked up at the airport for around 8 hours for being a journalist. I was not allowed to contact my embassy, and I was not given access to internet. After being locked up for hours, I eventually managed to get access to internet.
Unfortunately, I had to bribe an airport security guard to get access to internet [something that I am not proud of]. I called my uncle, who had a few contacts, and he was able to get me out.
While I was able to get out, my film equipments were confiscated at the airport until I got approval from the Ministry of Communication [something that I had prior to my trip]. The entire time I was locked u,p I thought that this was the government’s attempt to silence journalists. However, it turned out that people in high government positions were just leveraging the situation to charge non-existing fees as a form of bribery. It is a sad reality that documentary filmmakers have to budget for bribes in order to film in third world countries.
The process was the best part of the documentary. Meeting people who have different backgrounds and traveling on my own was a fun experience. It was me, my camera, my laptop, my sound equipment, and a bunch of hard drives. Traveling for more than a month on your own can also be a good time to reflect on life, which is something that I did during my trip.
As far as promotion, I decided to share my documentary on Vimeo prior to film festivals notifications. At the end of the day, I made this documentary as an informative video that I wanted to share.
What’s next for you as a filmmaker?
Life is unpredictable. Right now, I am doing my masters in Film Production at the University of Southern California. I moved to LA right after my trip, and I can’t wait to see what life has in store.
What advice would you give to new filmmakers?
The most important advice I could give to new filmmakers is to remember that they have a voice. Use it. Be bold. Be ambitious, and do not undersell yourself.
What’s the hardest thing about making a film in 2018?
The hardest thing is to be original. We live in a world that anyone can have access to a camera, which is incredible. It is a challenge, but it makes it interesting.
What would you say if you were a dolphin?
If I was a male dolphin, anything I say would probably be heard more than what a lot of people in the world would say because that is the discriminatory society we live in today. Sorry, I had to be political.
Watch the entire documentary below as part of the UK Film Channel.