DFI announces the 29 recipients of their 2023 Spring Grants cycles in Cannes

And we sat down with the Institute’s management to find out more.
DFI announces the 29 recipients of their 2023 Spring Grants cycles in Cannes

Sitting down with the team from the Doha Film Institute is enough to renew this film lover’s passion for cinema — even in Cannes where securing tickets has been a disaster and the pouring rain outside as we chat isn’t helping the mood.

But Elia Suleiman, the Institute’s artistic advisor, Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, the Chief Executive Officer of DFI and Hanaa Issa, Director of film programmes and funding and Qumra deputy director hold a special place in the heart of all who know and love cinema in and from the Region.

At this year’s Festival de Cannes there are a record 13 films which have benefited from the DFI’s relentless commitment to cinema in one form or another, as we recently featured here, including three In Competition and four in Un Certain Regard.

It’s an easy chat that we sit together on an early Friday morning, touching upon ticketing woes, which Suleiman jokes he doesn’t have. “I ask for a ticket and I get it,” he chimes in, as we leaf through an international trade’s headline about the disaster of the ticketing system at this year’s festival on the Croisette. But we also talk, more importantly, about the new Spring 2023 grantees, which the DFI announced earlier today. They include projects from Qatar of course, but also Algeria, Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of Congo (a first for the DFI), Ecuador, Egypt, Lebanon, Mongolia, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sudan and Tunisia.

Suleiman touches upon the role he holds at the DFI and how that has evolved in the ten-plus years he’s been there. For those who haven’t experienced the growth first hand, Suleiman has been vital in creating a movement in cinema during this past decade, which we are witnessing the results of here in Cannes, with a record number of films from the MENA. “I didn’t create the movement,” he shrugs off the compliment, “I think filmmakers are inspired by other filmmakers, so I think it’s normal and what I personally feel is a kind of pride that I don’t spill out, from ten years ago to now, suddenly there is something running completely without my involvement.” He jokes, “I’m a little bit of a decor,” about his role and continues, more seriously, “I think once the mill has started to turn, it just becomes organic, self sufficient, self energizing — I’m not picking filmmakers but I look at it happening.” What Suleiman admits to focusing on in Cannes is reconnecting with his friends who are filmmakers, “it’s good to remember who I know, for the Masters,” the Qumra guests who give masterclasses that inspire and energize future generations of filmmakers during the industry event every spring.  

I ask Alremaihi about the long term, what I call ‘slow and steady wins the race’ vision of the Institute, which has become something people are noticing, especially now when comparing it with other, newer and more flashy organizations in the Gulf.

“This is the second time I get this question, and I feel like nobody asked us this question before,” Alremaihi says, adding that this lavishness shown in recent years, away from the DFI reminds people of the stereotypes the West holds of the Arab world. “If you put one next to the other, it looks so different,” she continues “but we’ve been doing this for more than ten years and no one has ever asked before, why are you doing it like this, why is this the approach you are taking?”

The ‘like this’ that Alremaihi refers to includes an Institute that is active year round with various labs, including a fantastic Doc Lab with Cambodian documentary film director Rithy Panh, which has changed the landscape of documentary projects in the Region; Ajyal, a youth film festival every fall that teaches both audiences and filmmakers how to relate more directly with each other and help create a varied cinema landscape everyone is happy with; and Qumra, the extraordinary, one-of-a-kind industry incubator which is both a great tool for filmmakers to connect with festivals and sales agents, but also a finishing schools of sorts, from a financial as well as a creative point of view given by the industry mentors -- professionals who range from Chilean editor Sebastian Sepulveda (Jackie, Spencer) to Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha and beyond.

“We love cinema and we believe in cinema, and this is apparent from the projects we choose and the people we surround ourselves with,” Alremaihi says, “we come from a genuine place and we really really want to help cinema around the world — this is what we chose to do, this is very normal for us and it’s rewarding both personally and professionally for each one of us.”

When I mention big festivals with even bigger red carpets, Alremaihi intelligently points out, those “are never sustainable, we’ve done the flashy red carpets and it’s never longterm." Three defunct Emirati film festivals later, and more around the Region I know just what she means.

As a personal aside, whenever I feel my passion for cinema faltering, all I have to do is turn to the DFI for inspiration and refueling.

Issa adds “I think the filmmakers feel the support, the nurturing,” which is vital to a burgeoning project. Her involvement in the Institute is vital, very hands on and, to use her own word, nurturing.

Suleiman’s last words are exactly what this writer needs to hear. “Qumra for me is where things are, not Cannes,” because that’s where the Palestinian auteur gets to mentor filmmakers and watch their projects — although he’s finding that more and more he’s approached throughout the year. It is a price to pay for a man who has and continues to inspire generations with his special work in the 7th art. “Although it’s important to come and see the work’s results here,” in Cannes, he adds.

Recipients in this cycle include 12 women filmmakers and 10 returning grantees along with four projects from Qatar-based talent, underlining the Institute’s commitment to supporting important voices and the continued evolution of independent cinema from the region and beyond.

Following is the compete list of the 2023 Spring Grants recipients:
MENA – Feature Narrative – Development

Kohl & Cardamom (Egypt, Sweden, Qatar) by Fady Atallah is set in a small Egyptian town in the late 1980s, where 14-year-old Abdullah faces a nerve-wracking challenge when he agrees with his father not to cause trouble for five days in return for being able to attend a concert by the then-rising superstar Mohamed Mounir.

Rabies (Lebanon, Qatar) by Sandra Tabet is about a History professor who obsesses over the unresolved Lebanese civil war while struggling to mend her fragile relationship with her son.

To Bled or Not to Bled (France, Algeria, Qatar) by Azedine Kasri follows Dali, who wants to live the Algerian dream but a chance meeting with a woman changes everything.

MENA – Feature Narrative – Production

A Quarter to Thursday in Algiers (Algeria, France, Belgium, Qatar) by Sofia Djama depicts a risky mission given by three friends disillusioned with the demonstrations that shake the city of Algiers.

Aïcha (Tunisia, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar) by Mehdi M. Barsaoui explores how far one can go to break free from their past.

Aisha Can’t Fly Away Anymore (Egypt, Tunisia, Qatar) by Morad Mostafa is about Aisha, a Somali caregiver living in Cairo, who witnesses the underworld of African migrants’ society and the tension between the different groups.

La mer au loin (France, Qatar) by Saïd Hamich Benlarbi is about 27-year-old Nour who emigrated illegally to Marseille and lives off petty crime with friends leading marginal lives, and partying hard.

MENA – Feature Narrative – Post-Production

Back to Alexandria (Switzerland, France, Qatar) by Tamer Ruggli is about Sue, who returns to Egypt to meet her estranged mother, Fairouz, an eccentric aristocrat. This surprising journey, leading her from Cairo back to Alexandria, allows Sue to become the empowered woman she ought to be.

East of Noon (Egypt, Netherlands, Qatar) by Hala Elkoussy is a fable about musician Abdo, who rebels against his elders, seeking freedom through his art in a confined world outside of time.

Non-MENA – Feature Narrative – Post-Production

Banel & Adama (France, Senegal, Mali, Qatar) by Ramata-Toulaye Sy is set in a small village in northern Senegal, where Banel and Adama's love challenges traditional customs, disrupting their community.

Excursion (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Norway, France, Qatar) by Una Gunjak highlights the contemporary life of a teenage girl whose seemingly little lie leads her into a storm of expectations, condemnation, and social dogmas.

Lost Country (France, Serbia, Luxembourg, Croatia, Qatar) by Vladimir Perišić is about a 15-year-old who must accept the unacceptable—that his mother is an accomplice of the regime’s crimes.

The Women (Germany, Italy, Qatar) by The Maw Naing is about a young Burmese woman who moves to the big city to work in a garment factory to support her family.

Ze (France, Mongolia, Netherlands, Germany, Qatar) by Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir is about a teenage shaman who falls in love with a girl, shattering his fragile existence in modern Mongolia.

MENA – Feature – Experimental/Essay – Development

Tell it to Bridges (Lebanon, Qatar) by Ali Hammoud follows a quest for a forever home which leads to one being lost and the other not entirely found.

MENA – Feature Documentary – Production

I Am One of Them (Poland, Qatar) by Nadim Suleiman is about a Syrian immigrant who shoots a film about a Polish nationalist, and becomes an excuse to bring the two together, setting them out on a faraway trip to discover their identities.

MENA – Feature Documentary – Post-Production

The Language of Fire (Algeria, France, Qatar) by Tarek Sami highlights that while a nomad is free from accountability, immobility must be accounted for.

Non-MENA – Feature Documentary – Post-Production

Ozogoche (Ecuador, Qatar) by Joe Houlberg is about the migration of the Cuviví bird to the Ecuadorian highlands, which ends in collective suicide as they plunge into the Ozogoche Lakes

Rising Up at Night (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Belgium, Germany, Burkina Faso, Qatar) by Nelson Makengo documents how plans to build the largest power plant on the Congo plunge 17 million people into darkness and insecurity.

MENA – TV Series – Development

Dyouf (Guests) (Palestine, Qatar) by Saleh Saadi is about a family of five that runs a guesthouse in their Bedouin village in Occupied Palestine while living in a turmoil of relations, identity, and career.

Halaa’ (Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar) by Amal Al Muftah is an anthology of Middle Eastern crime stories that explores the complex ironies of human morality.

MENA – Web Series – Production

The House That My Mother Built (Sudan, Qatar) by Alyaa Musa introduces eight women from across Sudan as they share their astonishing encounters with the inhabitants of the households they took refuge in during Sudan’s revolution in 2019.

MENA – Shorts – Narrative – Production

Autumn (Qatar) by Aisha Al-Jaidah is a romantic tragedy of the captivity of ambitious thoughts under short roofs.

The Experiment (Qatar) by Abdulla Alhor is set in a prison in a Middle Eastern city where a Qatari researcher must win a promotion challenge to prove that his rehab experiment works.

The Day I Smoked a Cigarette with My Father (Egypt, France, Qatar) by Sameh Alaa is set in 1964, when 12-year-old Alaa and his three siblings prepare to welcome their father who is returning from prison.

MENA – Shorts Documentary – Production

Fast Net Palestine (France, Qatar) by Mohamed Khamkham narrates the story of a Palestinian computer scientist who reconstructs the killing of hundreds of children in Gaza during the summer of 2014 in a video game.

MENA – Shorts – Experimental/Essay – Production

No Reaching Hand (Qatar) by Batla Aldosari follows a young woman through a series of disturbing events as she tries to find her true self.

L’mina (France, Morocco, Qatar) by Rande Maroufi is set in a former mining town in Morocco, which declines in its fortunes until all mining is ceased in 2001.  

The Grocery List (Bahrain, Qatar) by Taqwa Ali is about a young man who rebels against his mother after she rejects a bottle of milk of his choice.

For more information, check out the DFI website.

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