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If men and women in Yemen could switch roles…

Yemeni writer and filmmaker Sawsan Al-Areeqe taking questions after the cinématheque screening.
Yemeni writer and filmmaker Sawsan Al-Areeqe taking questions after the cinématheque screening.
“Living in a closed society is problematic for men, but for women it’s a killer,” Sawsan Al-Areeqe  told the audience after Wednesday night’s screening of her two short films, Prohibited and Photo. The screening, held on the University of Iowa campus, was part of the International Writing Program’s Cinématheque film series, curated and presented by IWP fall residents. “Women in Yemen are just now beginning to get the rights to pursue education and work outside the home,” said Al-Areeqe, a poet and filmmaker, and the IWP’s first-ever resident from Yemen.

An audience of about fifty IWP writers, UI students, and Iowa City community members, including several Yemenis, assembled to watch the short films, which use humor to expose serious social and political issues such as censorship and gender discrimination in Yemeni society.

“It’s very theatrical. With no dialogue, the glimpse of flesh, of a hand, becomes at once suggestive and subversive—and also funny. The desire to control and suppress is very potent,” commented Irish poet and playwright Martin Dyar after viewing Photo, which portrays a Yemeni family in the process of posing for a family portrait. 

Lili Mendoza (Panama) reads to a packed audience of nearly 100 people at Prairie Lights Bookstore.
Lili Mendoza (Panama) reads to a packed audience of nearly 100 people at Prairie Lights Bookstore.
“The long nose of politics is always sniffing me out,” Al-Areeqe commented privately, after the screening. “But I’m not interested in being political. I’m interested in making people question.”

“I’m from Yemen and I’m happy for my eight-year-old daughter who has never been to Yemen, to learn,” said community member Hakeem Almabrazi, who attended the screening with his wife and daughter.

IWP writers take a moment to pose for a group photo during a mixer organized with Univ. of Iowa MFA students (croquet, anyone?)
IWP writers take a moment to pose for a group photo during a mixer organized with Univ. of Iowa MFA students (croquet, anyone?)
 “I agree with a lot of what you’ve said, but the women in my family were sent abroad to be educated; my sister is a lawyer. Why don’t you also show the other side of Yemen?” asked another Yemeni in the audience.

 “What you’re speaking about is the minority,” Al-Areeqe responded. “I want to show the majority. I want to show the negative cultural effects on men as well as women. I’d like it if men and women in Yemen could switch roles, so men could see what it is like to be a woman in Yemen,” she said, sparking a supportive round of applause from the audience.

Sridala Swami (India) shows off her harvest during a visit to Wilson's Apple Orchard.
Sridala Swami (India) shows off her harvest during a visit to Wilson's Apple Orchard.
The lively conversation served as a perfect transition to the feature film of the evening, the 2006 soccer/gender comedy Offside, from Iranian director Jaafar Panahi, selected by the Canadian/Egyptian novelist and playwright Karim Alrawi.  Alrawi rounded out the evening  by putting the film in the context of the surge and international success of Iranian cinema, taking up among other topics the paradoxical role of censorship in that success.   

The film screening was just one event in an action-packed week, which  included the first Sunday Prairie Lights reading, a visit to the beach at Lake MacBride, and a tractor tour of Wilson’s Apple Orchard, where the residents picked (and sampled) local apples.

Writers watched bronco-riding, barrel racing and other events from the stands at the Tri-State Rodeo.
Writers watched bronco-riding, barrel racing and other events from the stands at the Tri-State Rodeo.
Thursday night, twenty residents traveled to nearby Fort Madison, Iowa to attend the 66th Annual Tri-State Rodeo, complete with bull riding, barrel racing, and deep-friend Oreos.  “A bizarre, surreal, but ultimately entertaining, experience,” tweeted Bahraini writer Ali Al-Saeed from the stands.

As for the fried Oreos, an Iowa specialty: “First bite: heaven. Last bite: ugh!” joked Craig Cliff of New Zealand.

Deep fried Oreo cookies, an Iowa favorite.
Deep fried Oreo cookies, an Iowa favorite.
Public IWP events for the coming week include Wednesday, 7pm  IWP Cinematheque with a screening of the films Post Love and 12 Storeys (Singapore) presented by Amanda Lee Koe, who also co-directed the first film.  Then on Friday, September 13th at 5pm Kim Kyung Uk and Kim Seoryung (both of South Korea) give a reading at Shambaugh House (430 N. Clinton Street).  We’ll round out the week with a reading by Rodrigo Blanco Calderón (Venezuela) and Patrícia Portela (Portugal) at Prairie Lights Bookstore, this Sunday, September 15th at 4pm. Visit IWP’s website calendar for complete listings of upcoming residency events.
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