Yemeni Young Contemporaries Journal

The Yemeni Young Contemporaries are a group of Yemeni young people from Liverpool, who were brought together to take part in a filmmaking project, that resulted in the film 'I Call You Yemen'.

Since March 2015, Yemen has been undergoing an internal and external conflict that has destroyed the country's infrastructure and led to a humanitarian disaster. Thousands of Yemeni men, women and children have been killed or injured, and millions have been displaced and traumatised.

As part of Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 2016, Yemeni young people from Liverpool Arabic Centre worked with Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and Optical Jukebox to produce a revealing documentary, capturing how this far away conflict affects Liverpool’s Yemeni people on a daily basis, as they face constant anxiety for the well-being and safety of their friends, family and their beloved Yemen. Commissioned by Saferworld.

Below is a journal, detailing the group's experiences during the filming process.

Week 1

This was our first workshop as the Yemeni Young Contempories. The purpose of the meeting was to familiarise the group with the film project and how it was going to be planned, managed, and produced. What was key was to help them understand that they will lead the film, and decide what the subject will be, with guidance from Cathy, Emma, Taher and Anne.

Cathy led the discussion and Emma joined us through Skype from London. Each member of the YYC introduced themselves and said a few words about why they would like to take part in the project. Then Cathy and Emma went through the schedule of events. Anne and Taher provided the context of the project and what arrangement was made between LAAF and Saferworld, the funding organisation.

The issues covered in this workshop were; the audience, ideas for the film like how to produce a film without being party to any of the fighting parties, how to connect Yemenis in Lodge Lane about what is happening in Yemen, what emotions should the film have, who should be interviewed, when will it start and finish, and how it was going to be shown and where.

Some members of the group initially expressed concerns that maybe no one would agree to be interviewed; others suggested starting with one of their immediate family members like the father, the mother or siblings. Another suggestion was to interview older children at the LAC Saturday’s Arabic School.

The YYC saw a number of clips and short films from Yemen as well as demo films about what to consider when producing a film. Then Cathy talked about what to consider when filming to make for interesting viewing e.g. poor quality audio will detract from even the most lovely looking images, and the importance of movement in every shot to help tell the story.

Lodge Lane was suggested to be the hub for making a film of this kind as many shop keepers in Lodge Lane run their shops on the one hand and on the other hand their eyes are on the news about what is happening in Yemen. It was suggested that interviewing Yemenis in and around Lodge Lane could be one of the best ways to show the connection between Yemenis here in Liverpool and the impact of war on Yemenis in Yemen.

The workshop was really interactive and participatory. Cathy as the lead for the session introduced the subject and the group contributed to the discussion and provided numerous ideas of how the film could be done and what content to include like; impact of no medical facilities when hospitals were destroyed, roads closed, water was scarce and people queue for hours to get a bucket of water, thousands of checkpoints on the road which reduces people’s mobility, people have no work or income, mental wellbeing when someone loses their nearest and closest person in the family, where to go for support or leave the country in desperation.

All members of the group commented on the short clips and films they saw on the screen and made some suggestions for improvement. They also took actions like typing notes on the computer, taking photographs, creating a WhatsApp group, as well as Google Hangouts for future communication. Razak organised the lunch from a local Yemeni cafe.

Cathy and Emma will both lead the next stage in a couple of weeks, when they give the YYC group a hands-on workshop in filmmaking. Following this, the group will head out onto the streets around the LAC and start to film interviews and related footage of daily life.

Everyone is very excited to be able to work in such a collaborative way, across age groups, to help raise awareness of the terrible situation in Yemen right now, and to understand how the impact of war is being felt here in the heart of Liverpool's Yemeni community.

Week 2

It's now 24 hours since we said bye and thank your for a great day yesterday. It was lovely to read your contributions. For the first time I had very little to add. You have said it almost all.

I will start with morning session. Thank you Razak and Anne for organising with Nooria the opening of the office on Sunday. Otherwise we would have been freezing waiting outside.

Cathy and Emma taught us so much about editing, importing images, sound, and for the first time I learnt what cut means and its importance to synchronise audio and video. Cathy uses premier soft wear for her editing but iMovie can do the job. We were able to see 4 screens, one for importing audio and video top left, one for review or "hovering" top right, one for editing bottom left, and the forth one bottom left, I forgot what it's for.

Cathy and Emma emphasised the importance of organising the files on the computer as well as making sure all audio and video are copied to at least two extra hard drive in case the video card is lost or damaged.

We then moved to reviewing the two interviews the team shot on Saturday. This was the time for the team to think about what was good to consider for the film, what was missing and how the team can fill the gap. There was significant discussion about the first interview and the second interview was loaded of emotions. There again the team considered what else to film that person to fill the gap.

Importantly the team had great fun discussing and describing their experience.

From indoor to out door action, day 2 filming started interviewing a young man in Arabic in a middle of a busy store in lodge lane. At times it looked like chaotic, the team was wondering between the store isles.

Suddenly each member of the team were there playing their part in a professional way, dealing with customers in store, communicating with interviewee and interviewer, lighting, camera person, taking photos, and other tasks taking place in that busy place and a tiny isle. When we finished this interview, we didn't have a clue whether we will do another one or not. It was a time for lunch break and all felt hungry. We called a few people on our list but there was no answer.

I was asked to call a young gentleman called H. When Danah saw that I was struggling with the appointment, she took the phone and made the appointment after lunch, just like that. We all loved it and enjoyed our lunch. The team felt satisfied after interviewing H in his work place.

Then it started raining and we were eager to do at least one more interview. We found one who just returned from Yemen recently. We spent some times exploring what we want from this person. All was done and ready to go. Again this was in a shop. What was more interesting was that people started to come to the shop curious to find out what the filming was about.

Again, it was a self managing team where each member of the team played their role as if it was planned that way when it wasn't.

We thought all was running well and we got what we wanted from the interview. The drama started. A man called AB started to shout and saying that he wanted to make his view point. Further, he said what you're doing i.e. the film crew is a waste of tim. He said that he knew the problem and the solution in two points about the war in Yemen. I never knew what these magical 2 points were.

What I admired the team for was that they took this as a joke and started to laugh. Thanks to our first day briefing where we discussed the team will meet such drama in this project.

I can confidently say you're a great team. There's a lot to do. I can see the spirit, enthusiasm and commitment is very high. I can't wait to see you soon at the next round.

Week 3

What a fantastic two long days of team work and filming three significant interviews. Despite the long days, we had fun and lots of laugh but we also did serious work.

We met prompt at ten yesterday where we went straight into planning our two main interviews as well as calling for recruiting interviewees for Sunday.

Emma and Cathy guided the team and made a brief recap about what interviews we have and what else we need to cover. Then we looked at our two interviewees for the day and explored what each of them could contribute to the film. That 45 minutes planning was short sweet and effective.

We invaded Alhakimi's house our first interviewee for the day. There was a warm welcome but very little time for the typical Yemeni hospitality. The team started to pull out the equipment for the filming, checking lights, sounds and position of each of the team members. During what seams chaotic preparations, Ilham Alhakimi the hostess managed to offer us coffee, tea and biscuits and the smell of the Yemeni Bakhoor.

Although, there were no written questions in this interview, each member of the team was able to probe more questions when they felt they had to ask. That worked very well. After the interviews, the team was presented with a flavour of Yemeni music a father and daughter singing while the father plays the Oud. That was indeed something special and I was personally too emotional watching what was happening. I was emotional because this is something you don't see within the Yemeni community. Najib our interviewee pointed it out that thanks to LAAF and LAC' experience, he was determined to learn playing the Oud and sing with his daughter Riham. That was his contribution and passion for the art.

What was new for me today was the filming of other details in the house and away from the interview. The team decided to interview Najib while he was really on the phone to his mum in Yemen. She was explaining to him about the bombing there and then and about how grateful she was for his financial support. The team then took some other shots of details in the house that I will never have thought they were important to the film.

We were behind schedule and it suited our second interviewee. We had lunch break and a short update about our second interviewee. Again we considered what we had and what Ilham Ali the second interviewee could add to the film. We also discussed showing the film at the end of June in the community. Danah volunteered to ask her school Belvadeer. If they agreed, it will be the best option. Another option was the Pakistani centre but we will need a Tecnician for the audio and video, the same with the LAC' Saturday School or Toxteth town hall. The cost might be prohibitive.

We arrived Active8 around 3pm and finish 6pm. The team decided to have a feel about what Ilham does professionally. This meant that she had to shuffle her staff to get what the team wanted to film. The team is grateful to younIlham to be able to do that.

What was different with Ilham in Active8 was that she wanted to know before hand what the interview was about and then she made further phone call to her relatives in Yemen to get an update. Ilham made it very clear to the team right from the start that she was not interested in politics and this is exactly what this project is about. What Ilham had a lot to share in her interview was her personal and family experience in health, mental health and the overall public health effect of the war in Yemen. Then the team took additional shots and finished for the day.

Late evening Saturday we were informed that our second interviewee was unable to make the interview tomorrow.

So today we had only one interviewee. Yet we finished the same time as we did yesterday with two interviewees. Today's interview was artistic with a local poet. We met early morning at LAC then went to our famous Palm House in Sefton park. There we toured the area and discussed which part of the park will suit our filming today.

Diana, Mohsen, and Ashraf had to be at the comic project earlier and managed to join us in Palm House without serious delay. The weather was so good today as if it coincide with our plan to interview a local poet.

It was unbelievably warm that we have to seek shade. Two weeks ago Cathy sent us a long list of advise to come up with extra layers of clothes and warm boots to avoid being cold while we were filming. Here we're 2 weeks later and it's this warm. It was great for our filming.

The team used the same interview method as of yesterday where everyone asked probe questions when they felt it was appropriate. Then the team had to find suitable place to film the reading of Amina's poem and its connection with the nature and Yemen. She was so passionate about art as the saviour for Yemen misery at the moment and the team was curious to find out what was her magic art in mind to offer for Yemen. This remains to be seen on the documentary film and Amina did her best to provide her magic formulae.

It was time to have lunch break and to discuss what's next. We discussed the visit of the team to introduce themselves to LAAF board members on Tuesday 10th May at 5pm. We also discussed Cathy will be in Liverpool on 21st May if there's additional filming. Otherwise the focus will be on editing. After the lunch, we filmed Amina walking in lodge lane which will hopefully make the connections and her dream that art by the younger generation both here in Liverpool and Yemen will make a big difference in the future.

What is it that makes this team is so unique? I asked a few members of the team a passing question rather than a survey question. I got the response that members love this project because it has a purpose for a whole nation 'Yemen in crisis' and they want to do something about it. But I also heard the social element of it. Members like to be with this team because they support one another, they have a role to play, no one is excluded. They try different things in this project and if it doesn't work so be it.

This is my additional passionate slant about the team, each member of the team is unique. Each one has her/his own strength, each one is passionate about what they do and my observation is that why the members of the team do it so well. What a team, I am proud of you! I am privileged to be part of your team.

It was time to say goodby and the team, 'LAAF Yemeni Young Contemporaries' was as enthusiastic and exited about this project and its final product as ever despite being exhausted after two long days of the weekend.

Week 4

We missed three people today, Mohsen not feeling well, Danah busy with her revision and Ema. Anne joined us in the background with deadline reports to be submitted soon.

So what did Cathy had for the team to look at, understand, plan, make preliminary decisions which bits of the filming to leave and to consider for the final production.

Cathy had already organised the interviews for each individual pieces. This made it easier to look at quickly and Hoover back and forth. We had good laugh at some of the clips which brought nice memories about that particular time of filming and what was happening within and around the team.

Then we looked at audio recorded by the camera and audio recorded externally which showed us how to separate the two and/or excluding the audio from the camera. The quality of external audio recording is considered better than the camera.

We started with the short interview which we considered one of the main characters. This took half the day just to consider which piece goes to level 1,2, and 3. Level 3 at this stage was highly considered to be included in the final production.

What was useful was that team members were able to mark the pieces that was considered good for the film. When we looked at these pieces later on, we were able to decide which piece was worth keeping and which piece had waffle and be without. At this stage the energy level started to go down and it was time for lunch.