Yemeni Youth Develop Filmmaking Skills to Address Extremism

By Marta Colburn, Jaime Hall, and Shannon Bruder

Little-discussed topics in Yemen are about to see wider dialogue through creative film projects by the country’s youth. Films will address complex issues that can contribute to radicalism—including globalization, anti-Westernism, modernization, alienation, and community disadvantage.

A core group of youth is currently being trained through Camera as Voice, a 12-month program funded by the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and implemented by IREX Europe in collaboration with the Sana’a-based Youth Leadership Development Foundation.

The first workshop prepared the core group—who represented NGOs in five target regions of Sana’a, Ibb, Taiz, Hadramaut, and Aden—to teach peers in their home communities how to produce short films. Over the next several months, these participants will share their knowledge with more than 300 peers who will produce films exploring the critical issues that contribute to youth extremism in Yemen. The films will then be screened in target communities, and the core group will facilitate discussions on the films.

Workshop participants expressed the hope that Camera as Voice will help young people to distinguish between extremism and religious devotion. One female participant noted that most young people do not understand this distinction. “We study a very narrow version of Islam in school which doesn’t allow critical thinking,” she explained. “When we go through troubled times we turn to this very black and white version of the world which makes young people open to such negative perspectives.”

Likewise, a male participant said he hoped the program will allow youth to discuss extremism more openly and raise awareness about its risks. “Few young people have a connection to extremists and have never discussed it openly,” he noted. “When they have no hope of finding a job or getting married, they lack awareness of the dangers of extremism so the simplistic answers about their problems of such ideologies become attractive and very dangerous.”

The participants’ training included sessions from a Jordanian film director on the technical background of film editing creative tools for making small films. The core group is making films as well, to acquire the practical experience needed to assist their peers.

During the other sessions of the workshop, participants developed monitoring and evaluation skills with emphasis on designing questionnaires, carrying out surveys, and leading focus groups for the post-film discussions. Participants practiced leading focus group discussions not only with their fellow trainees but also with other young people who were invited in for practice sessions.

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