TV pressure Yemen cinemas out of business

Numbers of cinema goers have dwindled and security remains a concern

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Yemen’s economy is recovering from the political turmoil which surrounded the overthrow of authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011.

While the currency has stabilized, inflation has dropped and some businessmen have resumed investing, many fear that the curtains have drawn on the world of cinema.

More and more cinemas are closing for business in Sanaa and Aden, as customer numbers have dwindled and security remains a concern.

Industry experts say competition from satellite television channels that show films regularly have also affected the general public's view of cinema as a form of preferred entertainment.

Sanaa resident, Mohammad Hamza, says a proliferation of social media and television has overtaken film screenings as favorite family activity for many Yemenis.

“New media channels like Facebook and satellite [television] have led to the reality that people have abandoned cinema theatres. They consider the message of cinema limited and requiring effort to go to such a place. Today things have become more easily accessible and easily available at hand, so that you can watch whatever you want with friends at home,” said Hamza.

Mansoor Aghbri who is the chief of the public institute for theatre and cinema in Sanaa says a lack of interest and funding by government bodies and other investors is to blame for the decline of cinema.

Aghbri bemoans that Yemen cannot mark a place for itself as a hub for culture, saying arts have suffered through poor promotion.

“Do you know that here in the north and the south, at this present time, we don't have a theatre, we don't have one, and this is something insulting and shameful,” Aghbri told Reuters TV.

Journalist and film critic Ali Salem says cinema goers view theatres as a form of entertainment rather than an art form.

“During the 80s and 70s cinema was a form of passion for people far more than it being a part of their culture or general consciousness,” said Salem.

Television director Ibrahim al-Abidh maintains there may still be some hope for the world of cinema and theatre in Yemen. Al-Abidh hopes that cinema could be saved with the formation of a new institute that takes responsibility for promotion of the arts, funding and budget allocation.

“If an administration is set up that manages developments in all domains, like the arts and so on, we expect to have a new Yemen in the future years that holds all the hopes and dreams of our youth,” said al-Abidh.

During the 1950’s and 60’s there were around 49 cinemas in the country, now only a few remain.

But despite the decline in cinemas, Yemenis are hopeful that their cinematic dreams aren't all lost, with a film made in Yemen by Yemeni filmmaker Sara Ishaq recently shortlisted for an Oscar nomination.

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