Artists bring smiles in war-weary Yemen

2020-12-30 12:16:46

Actors rehearse on Dec 23 for the opening performance in Sanaa of Yemeni Film. The play addresses the struggles of Yemeni artists. [MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE] SANAA, Yemen-Yemenis of all ages filed into a hall this month in Sanaa, laughing and clapping as actors took to the stage with comic relief for their war-wracked country. Hoping to provide entertainment to the embattled population, a troupe of struggling artists performed a play called Yemeni Film, which showcases the country's hardships. It revolves around young people who want to produce a film but face a mountain of challenges, including violence, airstrikes, a lack of funding and a shortage of trained actors. In an effort to avoid the minefields of political sensitivities and any backlash, the actors turn to comedy to paint a picture of their ordeal. For the dozens of men, women and children who packed a Sanaa cultural center, it was a welcome respite from their daily struggles. They cheered, whistled and laughed as they sat side-by-side with no face masks, despite the coronavirus risks. "We, as struggling artists, cannot provide food aid or stop the ongoing conflict," Mohammed Khaled, the director of the play, said. "All we can do is offer the people entertainment to take them out of their current situation and an artistic message that they can enjoy." The conflict affected everyone and everything in Yemen, said Khaled, and the art scene is no exception. "This play talks about me, and all the artists and filmmakers in Yemen who are struggling," he said. Before the war, Yemen had a budding film and theater industry but there were only a handful of makeshift cinemas that showed old films. Cultural centers or schools provided the backdrop for plays that spoke of politics or significant moments in Yemeni history. Over the years, some films produced by Yemenis grabbed headlines. "The biggest problem that we face is that there are no movie theaters," said Khaled. Today filmmakers produce their work but "upload it online only", he said. "There is no financial return and this undermines (our) ability to sustain the industry." Actor Ahmad Hilmy hopes cultural events, including concerts, will return to Sanaa. "We actors and filmmakers suffer a lot because there is no infrastructure for the film and theater industry," he said. Sanaa resident Ayash Subai said cultural activities should be used to offset the headlines that only depict Yemen as a war zone. "This is what we young people in the country miss. These activities convey the beautiful and positive image of Yemen that we miss," he said. To make up for it, Subai said, young people follow the work of Yemeni artists online. "But this is not enough," he added. Agencies Via Xinhua