Nurturing homegrown talent
Qumra turns the spotlight on Qatari filmmakers.
Qatari writer and filmmaker Hend Fakhroo sums up Qumra thus: “Put the best of all festivals and labs and roll them into one sweet baklava, that is Qumra for you.” She was talking about the recently concluded industry event by the Doha Film Institute (DFI) which spanned six days with mentorship labs, master classes and working breakfast sessions.
Twenty nine projects by Qatari, Arab and international filmmakers were selected for the event, offering filmmakers an unprecedented opportunity to network with more than 100 industry delegates from around the world. For the public, it also presented the opportunity to watch films by some of the leading voices in world cinema today, alongside work by emerging talent.
It was also a time for filmmakers attached to the ten Qatari projects in development to participate in individual ‘Meet the Master' mentoring sessions with the likes of actor and director Gael García Bernal, and directors Cristian Mungiu, Abderrahmane Sissako, Elia Suleiman and Danis Tanovic.
Rémi Bonhomme, Programme Manager, Cannes Critics Week, arrived in Doha despite the hectic schedule of screenings at Cannes. He said that ten years ago, films from the Arab world were funded by non-Arabs, which would mean the “the stories are told from a European point of view for a European audience”.
He added that, “Every year, new ways of filmmaking evolve, the trends change year after year in every country, and the only way to know the trends is to meet the filmmakers.”
Close to home
For Abdullah Al Mulla, the most compelling part of the event was that it helped him gain an understanding about the non-creative aspects of filmmaking – a process that tired him and also affected his health. He says, “As a filmmaker I want to focus on my art and the creative side. But, filmmaking is also about the non-creative part. It is about understanding how the industry works, which can be very stressful. For me, that was like a second job.”
The 25-year-old filmmaker has made seven short films to date. He wrote and directed Old Airport Road in 2014, which won an award at the last Ajyal film festival. The film focuses on mental health and how it is handled within a family.
Abdullah grew up in Qatar and says the film's title came naturally: “Simply because as I wrote it, any place I had in mind or visualised was on that road. In fact, half the film was shot there.”
He adds, “I was pleasantly surprised to listen to people's interpretation of the film and what it meant for them.” His current project Green Eyes deals with the topic of internal strife through the life of a coma patient. Through discussions with other filmmakers, Al Mulla was advised to make his stories simple, as opposed tp his usual style which is more abstract. Yet with all the inputs, the final story is the director's own. He says, “I can retain my individuality as a filmmaker while listening to divergent views.”
Al Mulla's co-producer Mohammed described attending a recent Hollywood summit which was a completely different experience from Qumra. “We were meeting executives at big studios like Fox, we still felt like we had to struggle for their attention. There was a distance between us and the executives. Qumra is a closeknit event where people are much more approachable.”
H'aifaa Al Mansour, the director of the ground-breaking film Wadjda, the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, acted as a mentor at the event. He said, “All the projects were carefully selected and there are many projects created by women that deal
with our causes in a wonderful way. These stories are derived from the real life of our society.”
Filmmakers like Hend were fascinated to meet accomplished industry professionals, who are otherwise beyond reach. She said, “Ten years ago, I could not have dreamt to be sitting with the masters here in Doha.” She grew up heavily influenced by her Egyptian grandfather, Mohamed Tawfiq, an acclaimed actor and director.
Her first film, His Name made in 2012, was screened at the Cannes film festival and the River Film festival besides other locations. Her latest project, Parijat, revolves around a Qatari woman's efforts to save her family's third-generation perfume business. She hopes to bridge the gap between Arab films and international audiences. The film involves an international team. “I am working with Caroline Palia, a visual artist and screenwriter from Switzerland, and we are hoping to develop the film into a feature-length screenplay,” she says.
Anxiety and excitement
It was easy to sense the anxiety and excitement of Qatar's first-time filmmakers like Mohamed Al Mahmeed who calls himself “an engineer by day and a filmmaker by night.” A former student of Carnegie Mellon University, his project Superpower is about a Qatari family falling apart as they deal with their son's battle with cancer.
“Paying attention to short films is rare, especially in this region,” adds Meriem Mesraoua whose project Our Time is Running
Out explores what happens to children when they reach puberty. She admits having been influenced by The Lord of the Flies, and has explored the theme of loneliness in her previous film, Coucou. Mesraoua was born in Qatar and raised in France and has worked on Micheal Winterbottom's award-winning film, Trishna.
“The most important aspect of film events is to gain access to people,” said Rashid Abdelhamid, the Palestinian producer of
Dégradé, another project in development. He mentioned that one of the first funding for the film, with an all-women cast and directed by Tarzan and Arab Abunasser, came from Doha. Set in a strife-torn neighbourhood, the film is an attempt, said Abdelhamid, “to prove to myself that I am a human being. People are tired of all the distributing images they see every day from the region; we are attempting to find some humour in the crazy situation.”
Writer and director Shaikha Al Thani, whose feature narrative project Little River is in production, reflected on her experience: “One thing I learnt is that there are so many opportunities available if we just apply ourselves – and I'm proud to be part of Arab cinema moving forward.” Her script is heavily influenced by verses from the Quran, lines from Don Quixote, and the poetry of Jalal Ad-Din Rumi. She says, “I have never felt more passionate about a project with its integral notions of loss, strength and glimpses of hope.”
The team from Image Productions share their ideas with film director ELIA SULEIMAN.
Film makers discuss their projects with master film maker
The Masters: From bottom, Elia Suleiman, Gael Garcia Bernale, Cristian Mungiu, Danis Tanavoic and
The producers of the film Green
Eyes discuss their project with filmmaker Sissako.
Breakfast sessions held at St Regis hotel, during the Qumra festival.
Master GAEL GARCIA BERNALE with Qatari Filmmaker MOHAMED AL HAMADI