Nur­tur­ing home­grown tal­ent

Qumra turns the spot­light on Qatari film­mak­ers.

Qatar Today - - CULTURE > DOHA DIARY - By Abigail Mathias

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.”

Re­gional voices

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.”

Film­maker AB­DUL­LAH AL MULLA

The team from Im­age Pro­duc­tions share their ideas with film direc­tor ELIA SULEIMAN.

Film mak­ers dis­cuss their projects with mas­ter film maker

ABDERRAHMAN SISSAKO

The Masters: From bot­tom, Elia Suleiman, Gael Garcia Ber­nale, Cris­tian Mungiu, Da­nis Tanavoic and

Ab­der­ah­man Sissako

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

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