An Interview with with Leon Shahabian and Merym Almoshaikah of "Yemeniettes"

March 24, 2014, 12:25 AM   |   posted by 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

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.2 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/24/14 @ 3:15 PM – Yemeniettes and The Red Carpet
03/25/14 @ 11:35 AM – Yemeniettes and The Red Carpet

Permalink  [Permalink]

Download The Daily

Check out the latest festival highlights and goings on in the print edition of The Daily.

View Now

CIFF Tweets

Great coverage on the #CIFF39 line-up by our friends over at @indiewire: #CleFilmFest

about 7 hours ago   .   Reply   .   Retweet   .   Favorite

CIFF Facebook Posts

And here we go! CIFF members it’s time to head over to and place your #CIFF39 ticket orders! Use code “Facebook” to receive $2 off each ticket purchase. Tickets go on sale to the general public in one week on Friday, March 6th. #CleFilmFest

about 9 hours ago   .   Link

CIFF on YouTube All Videos


Between Two Films.


CIFF 38 Daily Buzz Day 13 Wrap Up


Meet the Filmmaker with Michele Josue, Judy & Dennis Shepard from "Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine"

Tickets On Sale to the General Public Friday, March 6th >

Tickets On Sale to the General Public Friday, March 6th

CIFF39 tickets will go on sale to the general public Friday, March 6th at 11:00 a.m.

Tickets on Sale to Members Friday, February 27th >

Tickets on Sale to Members Friday, February 27th

CIFF39 tickets go on sale to MEMBERS ONLY February 27th at 11:00 a.m. Join or renew today!

Sign up for our email newsletter

  • facebook
  • twitter
  • instagram
  • youtube
  • flickr
  • foursquare
  • iphone
  • android