While in Berlin attending the Berlinale the Doha Film Institute team announced earlier today the confirmed Qumra 2023 Masters of the annual industry incubator event crucial to the success of first and second-time filmmakers from the Arab world and beyond. Qumra is crucial to the success of cinema from and about the Region and one doesn't have to look further than Berlin to realize that. In fact, there are four DFI supported films screening in the Berlinale program this year. Under the Sky of Damascus (Denmark, Germany, USA, Syria, Qatar) is screening in Panorama and is directed by Heba Khaled, Talal Derki and Ali Wajeeh. The film puts the images and the oppression of Syrian women into context and draws comparisons with Khaled's own story as well as that of Syrian actress Sabah Al Salem.
The Siren (Iran, Qatar) opens this year's Panorama and is a soul-stirring animated gem by Sepideh Farsi. It chronicles the siege of the Iranian city of Abadan during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 seen through the eyes of a boy who seeks to restart an old ship and rescue his family from the horrors. Kash Kash (Lebanon, Germany, Qatar) by Lea Najjar screens in the ‘Guest of Perspective’, marking the film's German premiere. It is told from the perspective of three passionate pigeon fanciers and a young girl struggling to one day let her own birds fly. And Forum title Between Revolutions (Romania, Croatia, Qatar) by Vlad Petri is about a semi-fictional correspondence between two women: one goes to Iran in 1979 to topple the Shah; the other experiences the onerous years of Ceausescu’s Romania.
This year, Qumra returnsan innovative hybrid model with in-person session. This return to Qatar in real life for the mentors and the masters marks the first time since 2019, four years ago to the day. The 2023 edition of Qumra will also witness the unveiling, for those of us who haven't been to Qatar in a while, of the renovated auditorium inside the Museum of Islamic Art, the venue where the Masters classes are held. Most of the mentoring sessions will instead switch from the Souk area, which is where they were held before the pandemic, to Msheireb Downtown Doha, the hub of everything cool and design in the city.
I asked the team about returning to an in-person Qumra, and Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, Chief Executive Officer of the Doha Film Institute pointed out, "it's not like we closed, we still conducted Qumra online during this time," and added, joking "it's the same Qumra, where we go into a lab and mix our secret potions..." World renowned Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, Artistic Advisor to the DFI added, "the only thing is that the last time online, I really had enough and thought I don't want to do this anymore," expressing the kind of frustration we have all felt at virtual events that did more to separate us than unite us in these trying times. In fact, in 2022, the team reminded me that they cancelled the whole Masters aspect of Qumra, because as Suleiman said "you want to stand with them, in the same proximity," or the whole idea of their wisdom imported loses strength. But Suleiman also added that virtual Qumra was "important for the young projects," which is at the heart of the program and DFI's cinematic mission.
Hanaa Issa. Director of Film Funding & Programmes / Strategy & Development, and Qumra Deputy Director explained that coming back to an in person event didn't mean they would let go of the virtual aspect of the program, "we started as an actual in person event and then having gone to virtual in the past few years, we didn't want to lose the advantaged of the online part," she said. "A lot of programs have expanded, we have more guests and the shorts program, and the series program was launched when we started going online," she pointed out, "so that's why it is a hybrid now, we just have to reap the benefits of both formats."
This essential part of Qumra, the morning masterclasses, will this year feature world renowned, award winning names. These, just announced, include multi Academy Award® and BAFTA winning British playwright, screenwriter, and director Sir Christopher Hampton (The Father, Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement); theatre, film and TV veteran Academy Award® winning producer David Parfitt (The Father, Shakespeare in Love, My Week with Marilyn, Loving Vincent); visionary costume designer and four Academy Award® nominee Jacqueline West (Dune, The Revenant, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button); Cannes award veteran Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin, You Were Never Really Here, Ratcatcher); and winner of the Golden Berlin Bear and Silver Berlin Bear Awards, critically acclaimed British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom (The Road to Guantanamo, A Mighty Heart, Welcome to Sarajevo) whose work in human rights and causes near and dear to his heart also provide a record of his exceptional talent, and humanity.
Past Qumra Masters have included Oscar® winning actor Tilda Swinton, Oscar® winning British costume designer Sandy Powell, OBE, Cannes Palme d’Or winning Thai filmmaker and visual artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Oscar® winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, Mexican actor/director/producer Gael Garcia Bernal, Cambodian documentarian Rithy Panh among many more.
What also differs from the last in person edition is the absence of the screenings of Qumra Masters' films in the evening, replaced by screenings of films by past grantees, to show the latest ones what those who came before them achieved thus far.
Alremaihi, said: “We are honored to welcome five exceptional film luminaries who have defined individuality in cinema as our Qumra 2023 Masters. The mentorship these accomplished film professionals provide will be invaluable to the success of the selected filmmakers and their projects. Through our innovative hybrid model, we are able to foster the in-person engagement that is essential to the filmmaking process while offering the opportunity for filmmakers to extend discussions conveniently online. We are excited to advance the work of these emerging talents, and are confident they will follow in the footsteps of earlier Qumra participants who have forged a path to global acclaim. The latest edition of Qumra will continue its presence as a unique and important platform for important voices and compelling stories in Arab and world cinema.”
Famous last words belonged to Suleiman, who added: “The Qumra 2023 Masters are luminaries in world cinema, and bring a unique perspective on filmmaking that will incredibly benefit our filmmakers in their creative journeys. Our 2023 Qumra Masters have established their own distinctive idiom in cinema. They are exceptional filmmakers who present unique insights into their craft and define what it is to continuously elevate the standards of world cinema.”
In the 9th edition of Qumra, the prolific filmmakers will deliver Master Classes to upcoming filmmakers from the region and around the world, providing them with unique creative development and mentorship opportunities. Qumra also provides participants with thorough mentoring programs led by global film industry experts, as well as key business meetings with leading film industry professionals.
Supporting the script-to-screen journey of emerging filmmakers, Qumra 2023 will be held in an innovative hybrid format with in-person events being held from March 10 to 15, and virtual sessions from March 19 to 21.
Over the past eight editions, Qumra has been central to the success of filmmakers from the Arab world and beyond, and in supporting important independent voices in global storytelling. Selected projects, which will be announced shortly, will have access to mentorship and networking sessions with the Qumra Masters as well as the hundreds of industry professionals and experts who will join this year’s Qumra.
More details of Qumra 2023, including the various activities lined up, will be announced soon.
Images courtesy of DFI, Sir Christopher Hampton by © Gerard Philippe Mabillard, all used with permission.