Qumra, an annual series of workshops and masterclasses organized by the Doha Film Institute, prides itself as a venue that encourages film makers from the MENA region, as well as from other parts of the world. Directors and producers come to the event to develop their stories into feature and documentary films, and to also get help with access to distributing networks. A number of filmmakers are returning participants, eager to share the development of their project with their colleagues and mentors in Doha. As this year the event took place once again online, due to the ongoing pandemic, on 20th March participants of the Qumra workshops met with local and international journalists on Zoom sessions to discuss their work. The sessions were dedicated to Projects from Qatar, and the talent showcased was as multicultural as you can expect.
One interesting film discussed at the Q&A was Abu Fanoos, a short feature project by Amira Abujbara and Horia El Hadad (pictured above). El Hadad is one of those filmmakers who have returned to Doha: previously she has attended DFI’s Scriptwriting for Beginners and Short Script Lab. The makers of Abu Fanoos have chosen a djinn story for their project, and in the interview, they emphasized how this djinn, who misleads travellers in the desert with its light (fanoos), has a presence in several Arab cultures. In that sense it is the sort of project Qumra excels in: finding Qatari stories that have resonances in the wider region and the world. The story centres on a grandfather and a grandson on a road trip. Intergenerational stories are very popular with Qatari filmmakers, both because of the way the country has changed in the last few decades but also because many Qataris have roots elsewhere in the region. A djinn that appears in the dark of the desert and leads people astray, a siren of the sands, if you will, works perfectly as a metaphor for false, shiny promises, particularly in a country that is so geared towards the future. And this is why time and again Qatari filmmakers make this interaction between the past and present their primary focus, indeed, even calling their autumn film festival Ajyal – "generations."
The intergenerational communication problems take another dark turn in Ali Alhajri’s film Kinship, in which a younger father fails to connect with his new-born son. When asked what kind of possibilities a genre like horror opens up, Alhajri says it allows the storyteller to represent the internal conflict of the characters more effectively on screen. Horror is the genre both Kinship and Abu Fanoos is advertised under, but the way the projects develop may yet show a more varied style of narrative of surrealism and metaphors.
Many people from the region call Doha home, and Qumra has encouraged Yemeni filmmakers from its early days. This year’s Qatari talent includes one of the many hyphenated names, Qatari-Yemeni Mariam Al-Dhubhani, with her project Let’s Play Soldiers. In the Q&A Al-Dhubhani said she felt the responsibility of the diaspora to tell the stories about their homeland. The 'Projects from Qatar' section also has films that have collaborations from the wider world, as in Qatar Stars which follows the fortunes of a rhythmic gymnastics team in Doha. The director of the project is the American Danielle Beverly who has teamed up with the Bahraini-Qatari producer Jawaher AlMoawda. In the Q&A Beverly explained how the pandemic and the postponements of tournaments effected the girls’ performance, and how some of them passed the age of the ‘girls’ team’ putting them in a strange state of limbo. It appears that like all good documentaries, the conditions of its production will be a significant part of Qatar Stars by the time it comes out of post-production.
While the projects supported by Qumra showcase Qatari multiculturalism, one film is about how being welcomed into Qatari society naturally has some rules and regulations. The film A Proposal is about a Qatari man who tries to get permission to marry his American fiancée by going through an interview with a ‘marriage council’. In the Q&A the Georgetown educated director Nadia al-Khater was questioned as to the ‘message’ of the film, and she insisted that the film was not offering ‘a message’ and that the critics and the audience should let themselves be simply entertained by it. Because the region expects much from the DFI, its projects, like Qumra, are seen as vehicles for bringing about social and cultural change, but as participants and the DFI administration reiterate every time they are asked, the participants are chosen according to the potential of the project and when they come to Doha, they are encouraged to the realize their own vision rather than meet ‘message’ goals.