There’s Hollywood, Bollywood and even Nollywood. But in the tiny peninsula of Qatar, there’s no catchy name – nor film industry – to speak of. While the past few years may have seen a whole host of Arab film festivals sprouting up in the region, in places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, nothing to date has reached Qatar.
That’s all set to change after the Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF) rolls into town this month, with a four-day film fest, parties, Hollywood celebrities jetting in for the occasion and, hopefully, the beginnings
of a film industry.
Originally created to help reinvigorate the local economy in Lower Manhattan after the September 11 attacks of 2001, the Tribeca Film Festival has grown into a globally recognised brand with instant impact, a fact that wasn’t lost on Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad, a member of Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family and chair of the Qatar Museums Authority.
Her stint as an intern in the office of New York’s Tribeca Film Festival led to the Qatar Museums Authority signing a partnership last year with Tribeca co-founders Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff.
Nearly a year later, the team behind DTFF hopes the event will have a similar impact; helping to nudge into existence a bona fide film industry in Qatar and the region.
According to Amanda Palmer, the festival’s executive director, Qatar is ready for a cultural revolution. Filmgoers are bored of the American blockbuster repertoire plaguing local cinemas, she says. Aspiring filmmakers are ready to be discovered and nurtured.
Appointed to head the Doha Tribeca Festival by the Sheikha herself, the petite blonde presenter and executive producer at Al Jazeera English emits an infectious energy when she talks about film. She knows her stuff; having worked in the television industry for years. She also serves on Qatar’s Film Committee and her film programme, The Fabulous Picture Show, has already helped to create a sounding board for young Qataris, with open forums discussing films relevant to the Arab world.
Palmer is determined – and well on her way – to ensuring the festival becomes a catalyst for change. But what will it do? How will it differ from other Gulf film events such as the Dubai Film Festival and the Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi? According to Palmer, DTFF will create a platform, a support system and a network for aspiring filmmakers, who are largely ignored by sponsors and distributors.
‘A film festival has to have an international scope, with a long-term objective,’ she says. ‘Our objective is to help these emerging filmmakers who are crying out for support. We don’t want to simply screen their films, or just sign cheques. We are giving them access to incredible people who can help to shape their future; who can mentor them and advise them throughout the process.’
To nurture talent, Palmer enlisted Scandar Copti, an award-winning Palestinian filmmaker, as the community outreach programmer. From a temporary base in Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, his team has been hard at work in the run-up to the festival, organising public screenings of films such as Uberto Pasolini’s Machan, and creating workshops teaching filmmaking techniques to novices, which, to their surprise and delight, have helped to unearth some home-grown talent.
When Time Out Doha stopped by, the team were right in the middle of a cattle call to find new filmmakers, who, under the care and guidance of their new mentors, recently produced their first one-minute films.
Copti, whose film Ajami generated international acclaim, is enthusiastic about the new generation of Arab filmmakers in Qatar. ‘We posted a lot of calls to action on Twitter and Facebook, and we’ve had 25 people
respond already,’ he says. ‘Today I picked seven – they’re just regular people. The youngest is 16 years old and very, very talented. The eldest is in their 30s.’
For Copti, the art to selecting a budding filmmaker is not about looking for instant perfection. First and foremost, filmmakers have to show individuality – the rest can be worked out later.
‘It’s all about the screenplay they write,’ he says. ‘It has to be interesting, not too naive, sophisticated, with a special message. Even when they sent them to me and they weren’t that good, I would email them back and say: “Listen, you have something here – can you work on it and have another look?”’
Copti adds that he’s particularly keen to unearth stories that move away from the clichés in Arab filmmaking, ‘like the terra novellas, Syrian or Egyptian film’.
‘The young generation of Arab filmmakers are much more sophisticated, so we’re trying to look for stuff that has some self-criticism or comedies,’ he says. ‘We had a great comedy with a great punch at the end from one of our young guys. It’s called Johnny Killer.
It’s amazing.” Some of the completed one-minute films are now live on the festival website, which also features a multimedia project called Doha 365 – video content about the city, the culture and the people; be it the art of henna painting, the Filipino expat community or merchants selling wares at Souk Waqif.
‘We wanted to create a website that wasn’t just about the festival, showing that we’re here long-term,’ Palmer says. ‘We wanted to reflect that this is a festival involving people from the local community and involving Qatar.’
Fatma Al Remaihi is one local Qatari woman hired for that reason. ‘She’s part of the original team and she works very closely with us on everything, from programming to film advising, making sure that everything feels like it comes out of Qatar,’ says Palmer.
‘What should we do? What kind of party should we hold? Everything has to be as authentic as possible.’ Fatma, who happily admits she is obsessed by film, says she fired off her CV the minute she heard Tribeca was coming to Doha. Within days of being interviewed, she was on a plane – heading to New York with the team to learn about the Tribeca festival.
‘I have hundreds and hundreds of movies. I had to be involved,’ she told Time Out Doha. ‘It is really wonderful to finally have something like this in Qatar.’
While Qollywood may not have the same ring to it, the future looks bright for Qatar’s film foray, and festivalgoers are in for a treat. While the schedule wasn’t finalised at the time of writing, turn overleaf for a sneak preview.
Doha Tribeca Film Festival takes place from October 29-November 1 at various locations around Doha. For more details, go to the website, www.dohatribecafilm.com, nearer the time.
Directed by Mira Nair, written by Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan (USA). In English with Arabic subtitles.
As the opening film at this year’s Doha Tribeca Film Festival, Amelia is already stirring up Oscar murmurings. Directed by Mira Nair (best known for Salaam Bombay! and Monsoon Wedding), Amelia is a biopic of the life and disappearance of female pilot Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic, played by Hilary Swank. Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor and Virginia Madsen also star.
Directed and written by Asghar Farhadi (Iran). Qatar premiere. In Persian with English and Arabic subtitles.
After many years living in Germany, Ahmad returns to Iran to hook up with old pals from university for a jaunt to the banks of the Caspian Sea. The eccentric Sepideh decides to play Cupid and brings along Elly, her daughter’s kindergarten teacher, planning to set her up with the recently divorced Ahmad. Everything seems to be going well when an incident occurs and Elly disappears. About Elly won the Silver Bear Award at the 59th International Berlin Film Festival and the Founders Award for Best Narrative.
Directed and written by Dev Benegal (India/USA). Middle Eastern premiere.
In Hindi with English and Arabic subtitles. Vishnu is gripped by the desire to escape his father’s faltering business. His ticket to freedom is an old truck, which he offers to deliver to a museum where it is being sold.
But as he sets off on the journey, he discovers he’s not merely transporting a battered vehicle, but an old touring cinema. Road, Movie follows Vishnu’s journey and the memorable characters he meets along the way. Director Dev Benegal has already won seven international awards, and his were the first Indian films to be distributed to theatrical success by 20th Century Fox.
Assila: Directed by Thamer Al Zedi, written by Fedina Lydia and Itiqal Al Tair (Hungary, UAE, Lebanon, Egypt). World premiere.
Big River Man: Directed by John Maringouin (USA/UK). Middle Eastern premiere.
Bright Star: Directed and written by Jane Campion (UK/Australia). Middle Eastern premiere.
Buried Secrets (Dowaha): Directed and written by Raja Amari (Tunisia/Switzerland/France). Qatar premiere.
Cairo Time: Directed and written by Ruba Nadda (Canada/Ireland). Middle Eastern premiere.
Capitalism: A Love Story Directed by Michael Moore (USA). Qatar premiere.
Coco Before Chanel (Coco avant Chanel): Directed by Anne Fontaine, written by Camille Fontaine (France). Middle Eastern premiere.
An Education: Directed by Lone Scherfig, written by Nick Hornby (UK). Middle Eastern premiere.
The Greatest: Directed and written by Shana Feste (USA). Middle Eastern premiere.
Harry Brown: Directed by Daniel Barber and written by Gary Young (UK). Middle Eastern premiere.
The Informant!: Directed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Scott Z. Burns and Kurt Eichenwald (USA). Qatar premiere.
Kobe Doin’ Work: Directed by Spike Lee (USA). International premiere.
London River: Directed by Rachid Bouchareb, written by Rachid Bouchareb, Olivier Lorelle, and Zoé Galeron (UK/France/Algeria). Middle Eastern premiere.
The Mummy (Al-Momia): Directed by Shadi Abdel Salam (Egypt). Qatar premiere.
No One Knows About Persian Cats (Kasi az gorbehaye irani khabar nadareh): Directed by Bahman Ghobadi, written by Bahman Ghobadi, Roxana Saberi, and Hossein M. Abkenar (Iran). Qatar premiere.
Only When I Dance: Directed by Beadie Finzi (Brazil/UK). Middle Eastern premiere.
Pomegranates and Myrrh (Al Mor wa al Rumman): Directed and written by Najwa Najjar (Palestine). Qatar premiere.
Racing Dreams: Directed by Marshall Curry (USA). Middle Eastern premiere.
Samson and Delilah: Directed and written by Warwick Thornton (Australia). Middle Eastern premiere.
Scheherazade: Tell Me a Story (Ehky ya Scheherazade): Directed by Yousry Nasrallah, written by Wahid Hamed (Egypt).
The September Issue: Directed by R.J. Cutler (USA). Qatar premiere.
A Serious Man: Directed and written by Joel and Ethan Coen (USA). Middle Eastern premiere.
Sin Nombre: Directed and written by Cary Jôji Fukunaga (USA/Mexico). Middle Eastern premiere.
Son of Babylon (Ibn Babil): Directed by Mohamed Al-Daradji, written by Jennifer Norridge and Mohamed Al-Daradji (Iraq/UK/Netherlands/France/Palestine/UAE/Qatar). Qatar premiere.
South of the Border: Directed by Oliver Stone (USA). Middle Eastern premiere.
Team Qatar: Directed by Liz Mermin (UK). Middle Eastern premiere.
The Time That Remains: Directed and written by Elia Suleiman (UK/Italy/Belgium/France). Qatar premiere.
Turtle: An Incredible Journey: Directed by Nick Stringer, written by Melanie Finn (UK/Austria/Germany).
Need to know
FlyDubai flies to Doha from Oct 18. Prices start from Dhs200 single (including taxes).
Where to stay
New Capital Hotel (+974 444 5445). From QR250 single, QR350 double (including tax).
You may or may not be able to purchase a QR100 visa on arrival at Doha Airport. It’s always best to check by visiting www.qatarembassy.net/visa.asp before you go.