In the upcoming drama “The Burdened” (“Al Murhaqoon”), about a family of five faced with a difficult decision, director Amr Gamal readies to tackle the subject that continues to ruffle feathers, and not just in his native Yemen: abortion.
The film, set to be finished in August and based on a true story, was recently named the winner of the Works in Progress Post-Production Development Award at Karlovy Vary Film Festival’s industry section Eastern Promises. It’s produced by Adenium Productions, based in Yemen, and co-produced by Station Films of Sudan.
“This story touched my heart, because it happened to a very close friend of mine,” Gamal tells Variety.
“He plays a big part in the movie, but he doesn’t want to reveal himself. He and his wife, who is also a friend, are just too afraid. They don’t want others to know about what has happened.”
Before the Yemeni Civil War, recounts the helmer, the couple in question already had two children. When they got pregnant again, they initially sought abortion. Conflicted and dispirited by the difficulties they had to face, they ended up having the baby.
“My friend didn’t love that child. He kept calling it a burden,” he says. Gamal co-wrote the film with Mazen Refaat.
“Then his wife got pregnant again and basically that’s where our film starts. This time, they didn’t even think about religion – they just wanted an abortion. This is the story you will see on the screen: the story of them going through all these steps and keeping getting rejected. She had a religious friend who refused to perform the procedure, but she changed her mind in the end. Not everyone is so lucky.
Making abortion illegal will never stop people from doing it, he states. They will just risk their lives.
“This family simply couldn’t afford another child – they were already sinking. It’s not about what’s forbidden and what’s not. It’s about a personal decision to survive. In a way, this dilemma represents the whole Yemen crisis. We have a bigger population now and no future.”
“The Burdened” will be Gamal’s second feature, after 2018’s “10 Days Before the Wedding” – the first film to open commercially in Yemen in the last three decades.
“We rented a wedding hall here in Aden, built a wooden screen and kept showing the film for eight months. The whole city, which also participated in making it, came to see it. If necessary, we will do it again,” he says. Pointing out that despite the lack of proper infrastructure, Yemeni people are still interested in art and are willing to discover it even in “unconventional places.”
Mohsen Alkhalifi, who produces the film alongside Gamal, Amjad Abu Alala and Mohammed Alomda, mentions multiple problems the crew had to face, from lack of electricity to gas shortages.
“Not to mention the hardship of getting funded and financed,” he adds.
“We still believe that cinema is a universal language, however, one that could allow us to break through borders and directly address the world.”
One of the filmmakers’ inspirations was the idea of “sacrifice and survival,” states Alkhalifi.
“In our movie, this family makes a difficult decision to ‘sacrifice’ a new baby in order to go on, but how many other sacrifices need to be made because of the war, for example? Poverty kills more people than bullets.”
Following their win at Karlovy Vary, consisting of post-production services in UPP and Soundsquare, the team is ready to go back to work, looking for international sales and additional financing.
“At the moment, we are fully focused on finishing our project and we are waiting to hear back from film festivals,” says Alkhalifi.
“Making films in a country like ours requires a miracle, and we still need many of them. But we want to tell our untold stories.”