Shaima al-Tamimi, a Yemeni-East African visual storyteller, speaks about her recently screened documentary Don’t Get Too Comfortable shown at Ajyal Film Festival.
Shaima al-Tamimi, a Yemeni-East African visual storyteller based in the GCC has navigated this high-wire act to make a living as a storyteller, centring the narratives of those traditionally on the outside into the mainstream. She has explored themes relating to patterns and impacts of migration, identity and culinary culture.
Shaima has a baroque way of talking that is spectacularly aligned to her way with a clashing style of storytelling in one deep, well-done take of high and low, past and present, deep and shallow. Such ability never gets lost in translation on the cinema screen. What’s clear is that these linguistic and thoughtful abilities step from the same creative place where some rather ingenious proclivities ferment.
Through the mediums of photography, film, and writing — and via a deeply-rooted documentary approach — Shaima merges historical and family archives with present-day portraits and visuals to create vivid narratives, offering a unique perspective on the life stories of her subjects. She speaks to FACT about what drives her inspiration and how Ajyal Film Festival plays a role in providing a platform to young filmmakers.
You explore themes like migration, identity and culture via your documentaries. What drives you to this specific genre? What’s your inspiration?
A big part of the work that I do stems from my own reality. I find that one can truthfully tell stories with so much depth and authenticity if they have gone through certain experiences. This is a great chance to take ownership of the narrative when you express it from an insider’s perspective.
Tell us about your background in filmmaking?
My background in filmmaking is very experimental and one that I’ve learned a lot from. As a visual artist, it’s important for me to push boundaries in the various formats of storytelling. This one, with my film, for example, fused different techniques within utilising archival footage, parallax animation techniques and video. It was fun and exciting to work on additionally because I collaborated with Mayar Hamdan, who not only comes from a similar background but also filled in the artistic gaps that enrich my experience in experimentation.
How do you think festivals like Ajyal play a role in providing a platform to young filmmakers?
To start with, it’s always important for local platforms to exist and offer filmmakers the opportunity to share their stories with the community. My experience with Ajyal was actually a lot more endearing than, say, going to the Venice Film Festival [where her film was also shown] purely because I was showcasing my film to an audience that could resonate with topics like migration and dealing with generational trauma from a regional perspective. Venice was amazing, of course, but the audience was different and that also helped open their eyes on what Yemenis and people in a diaspora from war-torn countries go through.
Don’t Get Too Comfortable also won the Bronze Tanit Award at the 32nd edition of Carthage Film Festival, 2021 in Tunis. Tell us about your documentary and how it all came together.
My documentary was actually the result of my fellowship at the Magnum Foundation in 2020. It came together as I was delving deep into the question of ‘how am I going to tell this story truthfully?’ I gave myself a few brainstorming exercises and actually ended up journalling on paper, I wrote pages and pages of what I felt was very heavy to me and that process helped me unpack a lot of emotions and realisations. It organically turned into a film from then on.
As a filmmaker and a storyteller, what’s your creative process?
I work a lot with archival material and memory, that’s usually the first thing I approach in most projects I work on. I find that going to the past for answers or even to ask more questions helps frame how I want to go forward with things.
How do you think the film industry was affected by Covid at large? Did it affect your creative energies?
In my case it actually helped pivot my work to the current format, it allowed for more solitary time to self-reflect and go really deep. It was a bit challenging editing the project remotely, but we worked it out in the end.
What’s next for Shaima Al-Tamimi?
The film is still in its early festival tour stages, so there’s a lot of work to be done with regards to promoting outside. I have a few art commissions lined up as well and have been taking the time to also process everything around me. Alhamdulillah, I am grateful for everything and everyone who supported and cheered me through a difficult time. ✤