More than a week later, the reception hall-turned-cinema is still packed nightly as residents of the southern city of Aden bring their children, friends and neighbours to see Gamal’s “10 Days Before the Wedding“.
The movie, which tells the story of a couple struggling to wed amid war and its aftermath, is Gamal’s debut feature film and one of only a handful of Yemeni productions to come out over the past two decades.
“Our biggest fear was first and foremost that no one would come to see the film,” he said after a screening earlier this month.
“We thought there was no way we’d have a big turnout because everyone is so afraid,” Gamal told AFP.
“10 Days Before the Wedding” centres on the lives of Rasha and Maamoun, two young Yemenis whose wedding day was put on hold in 2015, when Saudi Arabia and its military allies joined the war between Yemen’s government and rebels in an attempt to bolster the army.
The couple’s second attempt to wed, after the conflict calmed in the government bastion of Aden, is complicated by the aftermath of war, including poverty, assassinations and sporadic battles.
“There’s always a parallel war after it’s officially over after the violence has technically ended,” Gamal said of his film.
“And unfortunately so many ambitions, dreams, are destroyed in the face of war across the Arab world.”
The story has struck a chord with Yemenis in Aden, who have packed the makeshift cinema for each of the film’s eight scheduled screenings.
With children and babies in tow, they grab popcorn from a sidewalk concession stand before heading inside for the show, breaking into applause as it comes to an end.
“The film was amazing. It was true to reality, it literally paralleled our lives here in Aden a city that’s really suffering. That’s something that truly deserves to be heard and seen,” said one audience member after a screening.
Another movie-goer, carrying his infant daughter, hailed the film as “indescribable”.
While the movie has proved a local hit, Gamal struggled to secure what he described as “modest” funding for his film, which was cast and shot entirely in wartime Yemen.
The film went ahead with a reported production budget of around $30 000 and without a theatre in which to premier it, as local cinemas have shut down due to budget cuts or damage.
Gamal and his team instead converted a local wedding venue into an improvised theatre, arranging red velvet dining chairs into rows and installing a pull-down projector screen.