The Making of ‘Coffee Snob’

I want to change the world and I want to tell people about my country. Grimme Institut and Deautche Welle made it happen.

I have always looked to stortyelling as a way to heal hidden wounds, inspire and inform. Whether it is being a citizen journalist, or my life-long passion for photography, communication has been a central theme in my life. I communicate to tell human stories, whether it is conceptualizing a photostory on social justice issues for a media agency or digging up a story on the impact of the US drone war for human rights organiztions. With a few other friends, I co-founded a media collective,SuppotYemen,  where I co-produce short advocacy films. My work has allowed me to share stories from my country in a way that helps my own people move forward.

But this time, I was challenged with doing something different, a transmedia story that asks a vital yet simple question, Do You know the story of the Coffee bean?

Eight of us from various parts of the world sat in a room day after day, working on our stories, there was no time for daydreaming only action. It didn’t take long before we recorded our stories and were well on our way with producing our story and writing up about our experience.

I wanted to create a short film, not simply on something that the media has either talked about or often likes to depicit Yemen as or with, but a story that gives history and depth to my country and creates a feeling of connection. With the hopes that when you see it on the screen you are watching something that brings you directly to Yemen, in visual terms, while also learning a thing or two about something many people in the world obssess over.

I like this kind of visual storytelling because it allowed me to create a story that works across various mediums. It forces you to explore ways in which you can not only think about the visual aspect of things but about the story itself. During the four day training with Grimme Insitute and Deutche Welle I was able to learn the art and craft of transmedia storytelling by focusing on two things, the story and the image.

Though i am used to building storylines, I was challenged with writing my script, since I am used to writing in the style of an outline or an article. But it is the process of creating a trandmedia story, that my belief in the power of both still and moving image was reinvigorated. This workshop, with the mentorship of , Annette Schneider, Guido Kowalski and Maria, from Grimme Institut made me remember the power of transmedia storytelling.

 

 

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What side do we take? what to think about Saudis military intervention?

Here are my thoughts on some questions I see poping up around facebook. Some are seeing this Saudi-led military intervention as the biggest danger and therefore siding with the houthis as a kind of lesser evil. Others see that the Houthis recent takeover of the capital as reason, not only to support military intervention, but to support (or at least not to oppose) military aid to Hadi, either in the form of weapons against the rebels, or drone strikes. But in reality, supporting Hadi is a problem, supporting Ali Saleh is a problem, Supporting Ali Mohsen (And Al-Ahmar family) is a problem, and supporting the Houthis is equally problematic as well.

Those who say yes,  Hadi, may be a horrible president but he was at least heading a state that had a future for Yemen doesn’t know anything Yemen’s history or its politics. To support any of those groups is thoroughly wrong-headed.

Defending Yemen from the armed group – even if we would accept that this rebel group  is just a proxy force fighting for Irani interests – means siding with one wing of imperialism led from Washington against a smaller one led from Russia and Iran. Siding with the Houthis is siding with imperialisms weaker wing. There is nothing remotely anti-imperialist, progressive or revolutionary about that choice.

It is also wrong to support Hadi for numerous reasons, as if he were all about the people. Yes, Hadi tried bringing reforms, but none of these reforms benefited workers and the poor people.

Anger, rooted in social, political and economic grievances  felt by already poor people, is one of the driving forces that led to the outbreak of the Houthi revolt. The protests started in schools, and then to the larger northern area expanding to poor neighborhoods throughout Yemen, in suburbs of the cities where people from a poor rural background lived. It is no accident that Sana’a, only recently became the scene of rebellion; while poor places like the North saw protests from the beginning.

In sum, the houthis nor hadi, nor Ali Abdullah Saleh, nor Islah, should be supported. They must be opposed and rejected totally, and not be given any progressive-sounding apologies.  Whatever side anyone wants to be on, think twice before siding with the groups that are exploiting Yemen by brutal means.

The Sorrow

1523931_726996156981_1504676630_oThe door never knocks.

Still you go to the door,smile into the wind, the breath of those you’ve loved..long dead.

Between the time you woke that morning

and the time when the drone came,

a tired sadness; a nostalgic walk down memory lane

able only to tease you with a weak sting.

You stare off into a distance limned.

between the stones;

between tea, between a cup

and the sound of drones

you have forgotten the sound of joy

They used to write crazy sci-fi stories about moments like this

Yemeni rappers find a voice that echoes traditional styles

20130929-IMG_3001 (Originally posted on The National )

The 20-year-old Yemeni woman is leaning on an old stone wall in front of an ancient door leading to Sana’a’s biggest souk when she suddenly breaks into rhyme.“I put everything on you, I threw everything at you,” she says.“I didn’t trust you or believe you after all we went through, I kept assumin’ and accusin’ that’s why I was losin’.”
AmaniMerchants and customers alike watch her closely. A military officer approaches, moving people away from her and whispering gently: “Don’t worry, do what you need to do.”There were only a few of us familiar with the music of Amani Yahya, a rapper from Al Hodeida who is now based in Sana’a.After a minute of silence, we applauded. But the new style of music and its approach was just too bizarre for the rest of the crowd.

She describes her raps as being “about the struggles of women in Yemen, the pains of what some of us go through, and it also reflects my personal experiences of being bullied in school”.

Her appreciation of hip-hop music began when she was a child living in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, with her parents. Her dad introduced her to the rock music he loved. The day she heard Pink Floyd, there was no turning back.

She returned to Yemen in 2010, hit the hip-hop scene the following year and did her first public performance in 2012 at The Basement Cultural Center in Sana’a.

Amani’s dramatic and unconventional lyrics are accompanied with provocative language that she often censors. But despite censorship, she manages to express her feelings, expanding and increasing her reach to the Yemeni audience.

Ever since Yemeni poetry’s rise in the 14th century, many artists have proved themselves to be incredible writers, contributing to the rich Yemeni culture.

But self-expression has not always been so easy and over the years, Yemenis had to master the creative skill of voicing their sentiments, feelings, hopes and struggles in ways that defied the brutal systemic suppression of the Saleh regime.

Over time, Yemeni poets, musicians and artists addressed critical issues of Yemeni society through creativity.

Rap music, with its rhyme and poetic style, fitted perfectly into this rich cultural legacy. So it should come to no surprise that rappers like Amani Yahya found their voices in the underground Yemeni hip-hop music scene.

Methal-3864

The Basement Cultural Center, located near the site of anti-regime protests in 2011, became a place where the simplest and most creative works by young Yemeni artists became reality.

The Basement is adorned with stone walls, big windows and an eclectic mix of artwork, creating for an atmosphere which is both cozy and lavish.

It used to be the Yemeni Knowledge Exchange Forum, which organized cultural and political events twice a week, but was unable to open consistently because of government opposition.

The Basement’s management board said nobody was sure during Saleh’s rule what was and was not allowed.

Something permitted one day being banned the next day, with the result that artists were always in a state of uncertainty and fear.

Now there are events happening at The Basement every Saturday.

At one recent event, Methal Hamadi, 22, sang Sweet Child o’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses – simple but daring in a country where most female Yemeni singers rarely move away from classical Arabic music.

Hamadi, born in Egypt but raised in Al Hodeida, started playing music at the age of eight and now tackles issues like religion, friendship and social justice.

Art and music has always played a key role in Yemeni history and in the self-expression of individuals, even in the midst of dictatorial regimes.

But with Yemen’s rich history of poetic tradition dating back to pre-Islamic times, it seems practical that artists like Yahya and Hamadi are emerging.

The number of musicians is certainly on the rise, and Yemeni society is increasingly appreciating new musical genres.

Yahya and Hamadi are just some of the new young independent female musicians rising and pushing the music scene in Yemen.

Rooj Alwazir is a photographer and writer based in Sana’a

Ammar Basha Shines light on Yemen through Fiction Film

Yemen Today,  September 2013 i

Yemen Today, September 2013 i

(Originally posted in Yemen Today Magazine)

Oceans away from the glamour and pizzazz of Hollywood, in stone-built ground floors decorated with Qumariyah windows (geometric colored pattern windows), some of Yemen’s most promising filmmakers create their films, bring imagination to life and create a world of art. Scattered between bakeries and other residential homes, a young man in a “futa” and a long button down shirt stood in front of a gated door. Ammar Basha, one of Yemen’s finest young filmmakers greeted me in his home.

Ammar has already produced 4 international winning short films, both fiction and documentary winning films such as The Last Hour and Breaking the Silence. Now Ammar is working on a major feature fiction film.

These awards are all the more impressive considering the quality of the competition and the lack of basic facilities, institutions, trained technicians, and the necessary freedoms of movement for a full local film industry to develop in Yemen.

Yemeni filmmaking began in earnest within the cultural, political, and artistic Yemeni revolutions of the 1960s. Early productions came out from southern Yemen, from travelogues and documentaries covering the revolutionaries and their activities. These early works sought to contribute not only to the Yemeni liberation struggle, but also to a political-aesthetic being undertaken globally by a handful of engaged and inspired filmmakers, representing an important passage of artistic communication between the Yemeni revolution and rudiments of the art world.

Basha originally started with animation films then moved onto making documentary films because he wanted to make a change “even if it were impossible” he says.  During the 2011 Yemeni revolution Basha began a series called “Days of the Revolution” under a Youtube channel “Thawrat Shabab” with a subtitle “Voice to the Voiceless”. There were many stories to be told, and an increasing number of filmmakers to tell them, and high-quality, lower-cost technology with which we can tell them so although Basha didn’t have all the funding he needed to do a fill on documentary film, he began Thawrat Shabab  “I don’t claim to be the “voice” of the voiceless but [I] created Thawrat Shabab as a platform for those that have been ignored for years to share why they are taking to the streets. I hear their stories. I record and I go back home and deliver it in a way that I know and that’s through film and media. I try to show what needs to be known; a humanitarian agenda rather than political. Being a Yemeni and in the revolution the main kicker for me was that I knew there were stories not being heard by mainstream media, if I wasn’t a filmmaker I might have been a graphic designer I wouldn’t have gone far.”

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Basha ascribes his talents to his time spent studying at the Red Sea Institute for Cinematic Arts in Aqaba, Jordan. “I realized there was a responsibility, that it was more of a calling, not just a way to make money and it wasn’t about being famous either, it was more like telling important stories. If done well, you can affect people.” But Basha does not wish to continue with documentary films “The ideas I have  [for film] are for an international audience not for a typical conservative society which is where our society is right now in Yemen. This is what I’m trying to do with fiction films.” But there is a very special feeling he gets from his “Days of the revolution” videos “They speak from the heart. I don’t play with the editing or coloring or manipulate the videos, I let the people speak from their heart and together we consider the security risks and what can be done with the video. It wasn’t about capturing a “cool” shot, it was about telling a human story and delivering it to the world. With this project, I traveled around and I witnessed the destruction in Sanaa, Aden, Hodeidah, Taiz, Abyan and I delivered their voices.” His Youtube channel is under another name because according to Basha “it serves another purpose.” Basha does not want people to believe that all he can do is advocacy and documentary films. “It felt like a duty because I know how to use a camera and the world needed to know what was going on in Yemen, so when I started filming for the revolution I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do I just wanted to shoot as many videos as I could but while I was editing I realized there was a power in doing one day films, so these videos are people stories and throughout the series you witness the full cycle “the peak of when the everyone was there, then when it got dominated by political parties, and when the tents were forcibly taken out and where people are today.”

Basha views life as his leading mentor and Yemeni filmmakers and the Korean film industry as people and things he is inspired by.  And like any “traditional” director, Basha doesn’t give away his secrets. Instead he conveys his passion for film while providing little information about directors who influenced him along the way. What emerges amid the many wonderful shots of his films is charisma rarely found in Yemeni films, he lives to surprise and amaze others. Film isn’t just a hobby or business to Basha, it’s a way of life and you’ll be lucky if you can join his posse.

What ultimately disappoints about film in Yemen is how little attempt there is to giving rebirth to the film culture that once lived in the heart of this country. There is passing news about films made in Yemen, for instance Ammar says “40 feature films have been made in Hadramout but do you hear about them internationally? No, do you even hear about them in the north [in Sanaa] the capital?” In comparison to Jordan, there is The Royal Film Commission (RFC) which has helped the country establish a film industry and a safety net for independent filmmakers. The RFC has placed laws that protect producers which has in return opened door for filmmakers in terms of gaining international support,  contracts, creating new jobs in the industry and helping with copyright issues. “ There are many problems that independent filmmakers face, for instance, if one of your characters is drinking a coke in one of your scenes, you can’t use the logo without taking clearance from Coca-cola, so when international films from developing countries go to the festivals and Oscars, many times they are pushed out because of small issues like that, it can be logos or soundtracks not cleared or something along those lines happen.” He pauses. “There is a lot to be done. We need to create a cultural center where we can assist Yemenis in their passion so Yemen can play a leading cultural role, it is beneficial not just culturally but economically, regionally and internationally. Right now, this is my personal goal to make a fiction film and to also lobby the government and embassies to make contacts and connections with film companies abroad.”

Nevertheless we are beginning to see a growing number of Yemeni filmmakers and a rise in society’s appreciation to the art and film culture. Ammar Basha’s films capture your attention and stun you with a mastery of humanistic art and fun. He’s a traditional modest man who knows how to reach an audience and direct them into hearing stories of whatever has been ignored and hidden whether fiction or non-fiction. Ammar Basha could be seen as Yemen’s next upcoming fiction film champion, a man who has built his entire life around film.

Winning War Through Racism & Propaganda


HAPPY EID

With all this media hype around the recent terror alert that went out on Tuesday, I felt compelled to write a post. I’m not going to get into the nonsense details of the hype because i believe it’s completely dramatized.. so if your interested about that nonsense, go google it. Instead it’s 3 a.m. and i can’t sleep and  i decided to share some quick thoughts.

There is this falsified narrative that terrorism has taken over Yemen, as though all the people living in Yemen are either part of al Qaeda or support Al Qaeda. The lack of analysis in many of these claims  reflect a huge problem.  They are not only short-sighted but racist. Yemenis  more than Americans want to get rid of Al Qaeda, but the difference between the US government and the Yemeni people is that we, Yemenis, also acknowledge drones as being an act of “terrorism”. The difference between them and us, is that we believe we can  have  security without US drones and we believe we can have stability without  injustice.

We must interrupt the dominant narrative presented in the international media about Yemen. We must challenge the narrative of Al Qaeda, extremism , and the normalization of  terror in Yemen. This narrative has been successful in sustaining public support for the US’s continuous illegal assassination, killings, imprisonment, and various forms of  unconstitutional programs. But thanks to our history and whistleblowers  we know all too well how our government  really works, and so we must be very skeptical with whatever comes out of the White House and  hold our government accountable, not let them instill fear in us to get away with their racist imperialistic wars .  If we allow  the elites to frame our understanding of threats they will   blame it onto a  group they have terrified us with . For the past decade its been al Qaeda and unfortunately because of the tragic events of September 11 it has been very easy and convenient for the U.S. to  sell their war and justify their illegal programs such as the NSA and Drones to  the American public. And all the while, Yemenis, on whom the Yemeni government depends heavily on, are “othered” by the US government with their drone program with public support by the Yemeni government . Many Yemenis are labeled  militant for being brown, male and 16 years old,  and are forced to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at them at any moment. Sometimes they are assassinated and murdered in the name of counter-terrorism . For those of you reading, I challenge you to get to know  the real Yemen. To make an effort to meet a Yemeni and learn their story. To the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a:  Thanks for closing, you weren’t very friendly to my Yemeni people,  please take your Drones with you. Thanks.

Activism culture

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My organizing and activism is a big chunk of who I am. But a couple of months ago I made the conscious decision to take a  step back and reflect on some of my experiences.

 I realized that as much as I loved organizing, the spaces I often found myself in  were pretty unhealthy and energy-draining. Too often I felt I couldn’t speak my mind. Forced to just listen to words being thrown out like “solidarity” “collectivism” and sometimes “imperialism” to feel good about themselves. Kind of like those moments when “radical” activists spit out some Angela Davis and Bell Hooks quotes at you and talk so fabulously about how a new world is really possible, a world totally post-anti-capitalist and post everything else.. but forget to mention how they’re totally not putting any of the theories into practice into their own daily lives, because you know the struggle is real sometimes and they just can’t.  And then there’s this  weird dominate culture  in some of these spaces, where people feel they have to prove themsevles because “radical” expectations are  high. So they start doing stupid shit, making everyone else feel unsafe and uncomfortable and then you find the community just  turning inward on itself, picking each other apart for people making well-intentioned innocent stupid mistakes. I’ve seen it happen,  especially during occupy. That was the worst.  But I’m sure it’s something that has always happened. So anyway with time,  all the evidence started adding up, and i began to realize that some of these  spaces were just not  right  for me.

But It was hard to admit. I was in those spaces because they were my friends and so I never saw it as problematic . Being surrounded with like-minded awesome folks, even when you’re still sort of feeling uncomfortable and not fully yourself was completely worth blinding yourself to it.  I wasn’t ready and willing to acknowledge that sometimes the culture around activism could be toxic…It was not until I came back from Yemen that I had the opportunity to reflect. It was then that I  realized that I wasnt really me anymore.  I was stressed, angry and couldn’t let go of things. I know that being angry is fine and that it can actually be a big part of why people are working towards social change, (as it certainly  served as a motivator for me.) But not when your angry ALL the time. Angry at every little small and big thing. When it’s gotten to that point, anger can take a toll on you mentally and physically, and picking and choosing my battles is something that I was struggling with (and still am) . I can’t afford to be angry all the time and when I am, I seriously just cannot handle myself.  I realized that this powerful and predominant attitude of constant aggression that I  witnessed and experienced  was getting to me and it was something that really began contributing heavily to my anxiety. But I also realize the importance of recognizing, pinpointing and calling out  when  a person’s experience is being minimized and marginalized,  or  when you see any kind of oppressive behavior.  I think tit’s important to do  but I also believe it’s ‘s important to sometimes ask yourself some questions before reacting immediately because  sometimes we can say things out of fierce protectiveness and end up contributing to what we’re fighting against which has definitely happened to me ( admitting it is hard and really never fun). But it’s the truth and it’s something I need to acknowledge so I can learn. (Thanks Atiaf and Afro)

That being said, no matter how stressful activism can be, it’s not something I can ever just drop and separate from my life..  I’m trying to learn how to balance better and  choose my spaces wisely, even if it means messing up and starting all over again. For now, I’m a little anti-social but I recognize it’s a process and that’s something I’m okay with…but if you’re interested in having honest conversations about how we can bridge the gap between theory and practice and how we can reconcile our own hypocrisies as organizers & activists, holler! 🙂