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An Impossible Dream? Meet Yemeni Filmmaker Ammar Basha

03/24/2014 06:57 pm ET | Updated May 24, 2014

"But isn't it a strange dream?" he retorted.

And I could not help but to think: indeed, it is a 'strange' dream.

Then I thought is not that precisely what dreams are for?

Dream of something impossible and then make it come true. This is how change happens.

I was having dinner in Beirut two weeks ago with two Swiss colleagues and friends. And somehow our discussion moved to the TEDxSanaa event, which I attended last November in Yemen. I told them how inspired I was by one of the young speakers, Yemeni filmmaker Ammr Basha, who talked about his dream of producing fiction Yemeni films.

One of my friends is a seasoned journalist and an expert on the Middle Eastern context, including the Yemeni. So when he said that Amar's dream was a 'strange' dream, he was not ridiculing him; he was actually alluding to the context of Yemen itself: a country with no movie theaters, and this young Yemeni director is dreaming of producing films in it!

And yes, it seems impossible, yet I dare say it is still possible.

To understand the context of Yemen, consider the fact that in the '70s of last century, there were several movie theaters operating in North Yemen. I still remember how my older brother used to take me with him every time he went to the movies.

Think also of the fact that at that time, while poverty and illiteracy were common, religious fundamentalism was not widespread. At that time Yemeni schools were teaching one hour of religious ethics on a weakly basis.

Then things started to change and within the context of the Cold War Saudi Arabia began to export its line of dogmatic and reactionary interpretation of Islam. It was an anathema to the then relatively moderate teachings of both Sunni Shaffie and Shiite Zayidi Schools of Islam - the prevalent Islamic schools in North Yemen.

Just as Saudi Arabia, North Yemeni political elites were keen to counter the socialist ideology of South Yemen. As a result, they allowed the Saudis to open their mosques, send their imams, and spread the teachings and literature of political Islam in the country. Instead of one hour of ethics, more than 8 hours of Islamists teachings were indoctrinating Yemeni children.

With the spread of the Wahhabi line of Islam fundamentalist dogmas became socially acceptable. Any expression of arts was considered a sin: painting, sculpture, music, dancing, theater, and movies. Freethinking, innovation, beauty, and life were stifled and considered 'un-Islamic.'

Slowly one movie theater after another was closed in North Yemen. And today, the once famous Belqis movie theater stands deserted and empty in the heart of Sana'a Tahrir square. Old posters of Indian, Egyptian and western films still stand half torn on its walls.

These changes and its societal context do not seem to scare Ammar Basha. He and other young talented Yemeni filmmakers believe that change is possible.

I thought about his dream when Yemeni film 'Karama Has No Walls' by Yemeni Scottish female director Sara Ishaq was shortlisted for Oscars for foreign short documentary films. I thought of his dream when the first ever International Yemeni Film & Arts Festival was announced in January 2014 and has been held in different cities, including London and Washington DC. And yes, you guessed it right, the festival is yet to be featured in Yemen itself. No one said change is easy.

I though about his inspiring talk at TEDxSanaa, where he told us of his dream of directing a fiction film and of starting a film industry in Yemen.

Impossible? Maybe. But Ammar thinks that the impossible is possible. He dares to dream! Change happens this way.

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