Yemen's first-ever feature film to be screened at Cannes Festival

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Friday, May 6, 2005

The first ever feature-length film to be shot in Yemen will be screened, but will not compete for prizes, at this year's international Cannes Film Festival. The 90-minute romantic drama by British-Yemeni film director, Bader Ben Hirsi, is titled A New Day in Old Sanaa'a.

"For the most people viewing this film, it will be the first time they ever see images of Yemen. The results will be a very positive message" which offers a "true and honest" portrait of life in Yemen, said a spokesman from the Yemeni Media Center in 2003, when the film was in the planning stage. The film will depict aspects that are "completely different from the negative image that most of the world has" of the Middle-Eastern Arab nation, said the spokesman.

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Map of Yemen. Source: CIA World Factbook

Sana'a, where the capital of Yemen has been relocated since 1962, is known for its Muslim university and many mosques, as a center of Islamic culture. It was noted in medieval times as a beautiful and hospitable city, and was described by the 10th century Persian traveler Ahmad ibn Rustah as follows: "It is the city of Yemen — there not being found in the highland or the Tihama or the Hijaz a city greater, more populous or more prosperous, of more noble origin or more delicious food than it... with fine dwellings."

The leading actor is Nabil Saber of Old Sana'a, and his co-star is the actress and make-up artist Julia Towns of London. The pair found real-life romance and exchanged wedding vows last year in London, after bowing to tradition and obtaining agreement from both their families.

The film, co-produced by the Yemen Media Center and Felix Films of London, is not yet 100% complete due to funding shortfall. There is planned to be a low-key showing to introduce the film at the Marché du Film (Film Market) portion of the Cannes Festival, but it is not eligible to compete for the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) due to its unfinished status. The official premiere is to be held this summer, with widespread promotion and showing in universities and art centers around the world.

Ben Hirsi commented on his film, "A New Day in Old Sana'a could be categorized as a romantic drama, showing a very real conflict between modern values and old, [but] is respectful of the strong morals of Yemen's Islamic society. It does not contain such cinematic norms as profanity, graphic violence or sexually explicit content... As is true in modern-day Sana'a, however, traditional practices and concepts are tackled and confronted — topics such as love, caste, Yemeni marriage customs and the wearing of the veil are addressed in detail, and the inner turmoil that results from changing social values in a modernizing society forms a central theme of the story."


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Cannes Festival Palace as of June 27, 2004. Courtesy of Filip Maljkovic

This year's Cannes Festival

The Cannes Film Festival (French: Festival de Cannes) is a highly prestigious event attended by numerous show business celebrities that takes place every year in the Cannes Palace in the seaside resort town of Cannes, in southern France, along the Riviera. This year's festival is scheduled from May 11 to 22.

Currently 26 films have been selected for competition, including a relatively large lineup of American films. "I saw a lot of very good American films and had to refuse ones I would have liked to include because we have to keep a balance in the selection," said Artistic Director Thierry Fremaux to the trade magazine Variety. "American cinema has a lot of vitality right now, and I think we've picked a range of films that reflect its richness and diversity."

The American films announced to be in this year's competition include:

  • Broken Flowers, by Jim Jarmusch
  • Last Days, by Gus Van Sant
  • Manderlay, by Lars von Trier
  • Sin City, by Frank Miller, Robert Rodríguez
  • The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, by Tommy Lee Jones, who is making his directorial debut.

Sources