During the first half of the sixties of the last century, the Yemeni photographer Jaafar Mohammed Ali produced his feature film "From the Cottage to the Palace". It was shown to the public for the first time in the city of Aden in 1965 at the Al-Badri School theater in the Crater neighborhood. Thus, it was considered the first film in the history of cinema in Yemen, as it is "written in the world cinema record," according to the journalist Shakeeb Awadh.
But it is a matter of fairness here to recall that the first film that was made before that, in Yemen, was the 1951 film "Abath al-Masheeb," as mentioned in the book (The Emergence of Cinema and the Experience of Film Production in Hadramout) by journalist Ali Salem Al-Yazidi; however, this film was not shown to the public.
The modest and slight experience of feature film production in Yemen relied on the individual production of creative people who loved the art of cinema and did not rise to the level of institutional production. Since the first modest experiences and until now, many names of artists have emerged, who have presented cinematic works of varying levels, however, the experience of the artist Amr Gamal, in recent years seemed remarkable. This, of course, does not diminish the experiences of others, most notably the artist director, Dr. Sameer Afeef.
During the period from the release of the film "From the Cottage to the Palace" by the photographer Jaafar Mohammed Ali in 1965 until the film Al Murhaqoon "The Burdened" by Amr Gamal in 2023, the Yemeni cinematic film remained dependent on the individual's creative achievement, although the latter was adopted with the support of donors, meaning that the feature cinematic work is still born in the private "cottage" of the creative individual.
Moreover, the art of cinema is a high-cost production and industry that needs large financial capabilities due to its dependence on many cadres, technical equipment, and studios, as well as marketing, especially when it comes to feature “drama" films, which means the need for the presence of large film production companies.
It is noteworthy, historically, that the Yemenis knew the cinema early in the last century, in the city of Aden, specifically in 1918, when the city’s audience watched, for the first time, cinematic shows in a modest theater that was located in the Al-Qatee neighborhood in the city of Crater, where the predominant screenings were for Indian films, and this was because that neighborhood was mainly characterized by the residence of the Indian community or families whose origins go back to India.
This is how the Yemenis became acquainted with this art, only 23 years after the first cinema show appeared in the whole world, in Paris in 1895. When the "Hurricane" cinema appeared, which was founded by "Mr. Taha Hammoud", known as the king of cinema in Aden—because he owned different movie theaters in the city of Aden.
Despite the Yemenis' early knowledge of the art of cinema, they did not reach the stage of filmmaking. Furthermore, the first serious steps faltered as a result of the conditions of the political conflict in the south of the country, and therefore a national project for the film industry and production in Yemen was thwarted, so that the opportunities dwindled and then disappeared completely in the following years, until it came to the point that cinemas were lost across the country after the mid-nineties of the last century, for many reasons.
Likewise, it should be noted here that the real and correct beginning in the field of film production was with the establishment of the General Association for Cinema in southern Yemen in 1972, i.e., five years after the independence from British colonialism. This coincided with sending many young people to study the art of cinema, in all its disciplines, outside the country. Then, the wheel of progress turned around at that time, and the Association produced 45 documentaries and a number of cinematic news magazines, with the assistance of Arab, Palestinian, and Iraqi expertise in producing some of them. They were shown in cinemas in the governorates. Some of them also participated in several international festivals in the category of documentaries and recorded films and won important awards.
Similarly, despite the beginning's slight and modest technical capabilities, the continuity of work laid the right building blocks for the creation of a purely Yemeni national cinema at the time, and a film production department was established at the Association. Also in the early eighties, arrangements began for the production of feature "drama" films, and likewise, a project was also set to build a studio for the production of documentaries.
During the eighties of the last century, the General Association for Cinema in Aden prepared to produce a feature film, documenting the October 14 revolution. Indeed, some Arab artists, such as: Egyptian director Salah Abu Saif, Youssef Shaheen, author Fathia Al-Assal, artist Abdulrahman Abu Zahra, and filmmakers from the Soviet Union, came to Aden for this purpose, but it stumbled due to the country’s situation at the time. This was confirmed to me by the journalist Shakeeb Awadh and the director Khaleel Ghanem, in previous press interviews I had with them. While an idea was proposed also to produce a film based on the novel "The Hostage" by the Yemeni novelist Zaid Mutie Dammaj, which was supposed to be directed by the famous Egyptian director Salah Abu Saif.
So, the last effort of the General Association for Cinema in Aden, before 1990, was to obtain the approval of the government to grant the Association a wide area of land in the Al-Arish area on the environs of Aden to establish a film production city. This was revealed by the director of the Association, Hussein Mohammed Abdullah, who assumed responsibility for the Association in Unity State.
Besides, the end of the first half of the nineties of the last century represented the beginning of the collapse in Yemen of the official role towards the art of cinema, especially after the 1994 war, when the government abandoned this role, despite the formal presence of the Association, which was not granted any budget for production, in conjunction with the onslaught and attack of religious extremism towards the arts, including cinema, and the closure of cinemas in the governorates.
In light of such a situation, the individual role of cinema lovers in Yemen emerged, while civil and non-governmental organizations adopted attempts to produce low-cost documentaries and recorded films, with the support of international donor institutions, which created a basis for the launch of many talents in the path of cinema art. However, the production of cinematic feature films remained far from that until a few artists began a new phase of producing feature cinema, helped by the technical development in this field, according to the available capabilities, so that, later, Yemeni films appeared, such as the film "Al-Haneen" directed by Dr. Sameer Al-Afeef, and later the movie "Ten Days Before the Wedding", by the director and the author Amr Gamal.
Today, the achievements of the artist Amr Gamal, place him as a promising facade in the course of cinematic work in Yemen, due to his remarkable talent and diligent artistic activity, and also his care in selecting his topics and addressing them artistically, as well as the heroes of his works among the actors. He is usually characterized by deliberation, positive caution, and reliance on his own texts, before he undertakes any of his artistic works, working on the requirements of those works with professionalism and remarkable sophistication, as well as using foreign technical cadres and external production participation, as in his film Al Murhaqoon "The Burdened".
Why did I not mention other Yemeni films, such as: (A New Day in Old Sanaa) by British-Yemeni director Badr bin Al-Harsi? Because his film is a British European production, and the film "The Losing Bet" was a Television film as well, and the film "The Boat", was produced by Yemeni TV. In addition to other cinematic works that cannot be classified as feature films or considered Yemeni productions.
The director, Amr Gamal, was chosen in May 2023 as the first director from Yemen among the list of 101 most influential directors in the Arab filmmaking, which the Arab Cinema Center launches annually on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival. The Yemeni director won two awards from Amnesty International in February 2023 for his feature "drama" film (The Burdened) as part of the activities of the 73rd edition of the Berlin International Film Festival. Further, his film received the most influential film award, and also won the second place as the best feature film in the Panorama section, by audience vote, during the same festival.
Today, the achievements of the artist Amr Gamal place him as a promising facade in the course of cinematic work in Yemen, due to his remarkable talent and diligent artistic activity, and also his care in selecting his topics and addressing them artistically, as well as the heroes of his works among the actors. He is usually characterized by deliberation, positive caution, and reliance on his own texts, before he undertakes any of his artistic works, and working on the requirements of those works with professionalism and remarkable sophistication, as well as the use of foreign technical cadres and external production participation, as in his film "The Burdened".
Actually, it is not simply and easily for the individual to leave an impact on his society, but the artist Amr Gamal was able, in less than two decades, with a conscious and artistic awareness, to draw the attention of members of society in a difficult and complex situation that the country is going through and present himself as a role model for the young men, when he set foot on the path of the art of drama in Yemen, especially in the art of theater, TV drama, and cinema, after the forced exclusion of the arts in the country and the severe frustration that befell the senior practitioners of drama. So he filled the void with merit, presenting a success story of an exceptional young man who works silently and without making noise, starting with the Khaleej Aden Troupe, which he founded in the city of Aden in 2005.
Accordingly, the involvement of many creative young people in this field, especially in the production of short films, with remarkable professionalism, benefiting from international technical support funds, is a matter that heralds a good future for cinema, and a serious first step for the production of fictional Yemeni cinema. However, the matter requires the establishment of an infrastructure that depends on institutional work, whether it is in the public or private sector, Unless it will remain an individual work, whose creators start from the "cottage" of the photographer Jaafar Mohammed Ali.