Sheikha Prohaska-Alatas and Khadija Al Salami met in Paris fifteen years ago. And it feels like the film, directed by the Yemenite documentary director, is the result of this long friendship. « I am Nojoom, age 10 and divorced » won the first Prize at the Dubaï film festival on December 16, 2014. It is based on a book published in France by Michel Lafon and subsequently in the US by Three Rivers Press (Crown).
This is the life of a young girl brought up in the countryside in Yemen and forced to marry at 10 for financial reasons. It is also the story of the director, Khadija, who managed to go to school as well as work in a local television after a judge granted her a divorce. The result is this beautiful and strong fiction film, which was shown at the Institut du Monde Arabe, IMA, in the presence of French minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, former Culture minister Jack Lang and Bettina Muscheidt, who is European ambassador to Yemen.
The line was already long an hour before the screening started and the 420 seat auditorium was filled within minutes. Latecomers invaded the aisles and the fireman on duty had trouble finding seats for the many VIPs who had not reserved…
The emotion was high when the little Nojoom sold her engagement ring to buy a pretty pink doll, which she tried to take along when she was married off to a peasant, twenty years older. Her mean mother in law (brilliantly acted by Munirah Alatas), her primitive and violent husband, her poor and helpless father, all make up for a fascinating film on education and fight against illiteracy and ignorance. When she first comes down from the mountains (beautiful scenery and amazing yemenite architecture) to Sana’a, she describes the road as « a long black carpet » to her dear brother Sami, who is sent as a servant to Saudi Arabia. She wants a white dress for her wedding but is only handed a dark brown one, brought by the fiancé.
The film is gripping and so beautiful that one feels guilty to enjoy the traditional costumes and sceneries so much, while tragic events are taking place. The main theme, forced weddings of prepubescent girls, is a cause that the director Khadija has been fighting for thirty years. She was herself a young bride and sought divorce at 11.
Thanks to a human and understanding judge, played by Adnan Alkhaden, the young Nojoom manages to get a trial and she is defended by a beautiful Yemenite, Washington based, political writer, Samaa Alhamdani…
Divorce and school will be her salvation and all lead to making documentaries. The film never falls into sentimentalism. It is esthetically perfect and noone in the room left without being shaken.
When asked about promulgating a law on marriage in Yemen, Khadija said that, three years ago, while she was shooting the film, the minister of justice had just married a 13 year old ! “The shooting was hell” she says,” it was incredibly dangerous and difficult for material reasons, sometimes electricity failed on location or the villagers expelled us because they did not like what we were shooting.” She had to keep the rape scene for the last day for secrecy reasons, and never gave the whole script to read to her actors in case someone lost it.
The recent war in Yemen prevented a screening of the film there. She had planned to take it to every little village around the country. Some of the actors could not travel to Paris because of the war.
But now that she has this film to take around the world, there is hope. And we are all waiting for it to be distributed in Europe and in the US.
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