Yemeni filmmaker tells a powerful story despite threat from extremists

Khadija Al Salami at the kolkata international film festival

Khadija Al Salami, Yemen’s first female filmmaker and producer, was born in the mountain city of Sana’a. Forced into child marriage at the age of ll, she rebelled against her family and existing values, daring to leave her husband and seek a divorce. With determination and courage, Khadija Al Salami gained personal freedom and changed her fate. At the age of l6, she received a grant that allowed her to follow her dreams by studying in the US where she ultimately completed a master’s degree in film production and directing. She has made 25 documentaries on a range of social issues in Yemen, often focussing on the lives of women. She is a recipient of the Legion d’ Honneur. Her film, “I Am Nojoom Age 10 and Divorced” was screened at the Kolkata International Film Festival 2Ol5.

It tells the story of a 10-year-old girl who is forced to marry a man, who is 2O years older than her. Later, the tortured child-bride asks for divorce. Khadija speaks to Abhijit Ganguly about her life and work.

pic courtesy movizonline.com

Movie stills - I Am Nojoom Age 10 and Divorced

You had a difficult childhood. What was your inspiration?

A lot of girls at my primary school got married. I had seen what my mother and my grandmother had to go through and I didn’t want my life to be like that. I thought the only thing that would save me was education. In my country, due to poverty and ignorance girls are denied education and are instead relegated to helping with chores at home.

I have set up a small foundation for girls’ education in Yemen and I am currently supporting 500 girls with my resources and the help of friends, to attend school. I have been inspired by some of the young girls whom I am helping who desperately want an education but who struggle because of financial hardship. The problem in Yemen is not only the behavior of the husband or the father, it is above all poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance.

How challenging was it to shoot the film in Yemen?

Yemen doesn't have a movie industry. Therefore, the people of Yemen are not very used to cameras and big lights and other shooting equipment. And since the issue dealt with the movie is very controversial, no one knew why or what exactly we were shooting while the production process was going on. In fact, even the actors were not shown the actual script before the main day of the shooting.

The extremists came to know about the film and within two days from the start of my film’s shooting, they came and deleted all the images from my camera. They stole our generator. One person who was watching the shoot from the terrace fell off in the dark and died. Not a single day passed during my shooting period when I didn’t cry. But I am very happy that the film got released!

Khadija Al Salami at the kolkata international film festival
Do you consider yourself an activist or a filmmaker?

I am a filmmaker first. But issues regarding women and children touch me a lot. Most of my films are based on these issues. Being a woman, I understand what women of my country have to undergo. I speak about their pains through my films.

What is your word of advice for the girls out there who are subjected to such hardships?

When you believe in something don’t be afraid. Trust yourself. Do what you feel is right and what your mind and heart tells you to do.

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