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March 24, 2014 | posted in Filmmakers
“Yemeniettes”is a story of courage, passion, and female empowerment. Producer and screenwriter Leon Shahabian and his assistant Merym Almoshaikah spoke with The Daily about their own challenges and experiences making the film.
CIFF: Where did the creative inspiration for “Yemeniettes” initiate?
Leon Shahabian: We were filming a Pan-Arab entrepreneurship competition as part Layalina’s most recent reality series, and I was drawn to a team from Yemen that wasn’t part of our show. I fell in love with their story and their contagious optimism, and it took us six months to convince potential funders to believe in these girls.
CIFF: This year 38th Cleveland International Film Festival is honoring films and filmmakers that are traditionally underrepresented, specifically those from the LGBT community. How does “Yemeniettes”contribute to this conversation?
Merym Almoshaikah: These young girls grew up in a conservative society, one that perpetually encourages a traditional, subservient role for women, where not much is expected of them outside the home. They also grew up in a poor society, one that happens to be battling against the threat of terrorism every day. The young girls did not receive the best education possible; they attended public schools, which focus on rote learning and stifle creativity. And yet, despite all these circumstances and challenges the girls are optimistic, and they are proving that much is possible. All too many end up as victims of the social and political circumstances around them, succumbing to the pressures placed on them whether it’s from family, society, or government. This film shows that despite being an underrepresented minority like that of the LGBT community, struggling against enormous odds every day, achievements – however small – are possible with the right tools and support systems.
LS: Our crew was mostly female since it’s difficult to film in the Arabian Gulf with a male crew, especially if you’re interviewing women for your film. We had LGBT community members in every department of the production, and the film is better for it. It’s one of the reasons that we submitted the movie to CIFF this year.
CIFF: What do you hope audiences will learn from “Yemeniettes”?
LS: Audiences are amazing. They see things in your film that you don’t. I like watching audiences as they’re watching my films to see which themes resonate, and which don’t. If anything, I hope that audiences walk away with an appreciation for the oneness of the human experience despite geographic and vast cultural differences.
CIFF: Is there anything else that will interest CIFF audiences?
MA: Although it focuses on a heavy subject matter, “Yemeniettes” has many facets to it that I think will interest and entertain audiences. CIFF audiences will definitely find themselves chuckling at some of the mannerisms depicted in the film that, although are very cultural, are also still very relatable.
LS: While we don’t have any of the amazing young women featured in the film in attendance at CIFF, audience members who have questions will find a fountain of knowledge about the Arabian Gulf in my colleague Merym Almoshaikah.
— Interview by Molly Drake
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