Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, CEO of DFI: "Being inclusive, will only help enhance what we have"

The Chief Executive Officer of the Doha Film Institute (DFI) and Ajyal Festival Director talks about building a sustainable and long lasting cinematic legacy in Qatar -- and her wise words should be a lesson to every film organisation around the world.
Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, CEO of DFI: "Being inclusive, will only help enhance what we have"

The Doha Film Institute is an independent, not-for-profit cultural organisation established in 2010 by Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani to support the growth of the local film community in Qatar. Since its inception, DFI has grown to include a yearly film festival, Ajyal, geared towards encouraging younger audiences, as well as Qumra, an industry event which also once a year brings together talent, producers and media from around the world.

All for the love of cinema.

During this year's ninth edition of Ajyal, which took place fully in person -- despite countless health protocols and safety measured that had to be respected by local audiences and international visitors alike in Doha -- we sat down with DFI's CEO Fatma Hassan Alremaihi for a fascinating chat, one that explains fully the great success the cinematic organisation has been enjoying in the past decade. And here's to looking forward to the next ten years of making great world cinema -- and beyond.

Oh, and not to be forgotten, Alremaihi is also a fashion icon, representing the best in modest fashion around the world and highlighting the beauty of Qatari designers, as a standard of beauty to be followed by anyone wishing to look great.

I wanted to ask you, where are we now? In the birth of Qatari cinema, which you’ve been a witness to it from the very beginning. Are we close to having a feature length film, a success that can travel and win prizes, from a Qatari filmmaker?

I have to say first that I’m very proud of our filmmakers and their short films and we’ve seen the jump that has happened in the last few years in the type of films and production value. It’s all been the result of a lot of background work with the filmmakers and I feel very strongly that we are very close. There are so many scripts in development, there are so many filmmakers that are working on their third, fourth scripts and the work continues. People may not know, they come to the festival and think this is what we do… But year round there is so much happening. A lot of these feature film scripts have been in Qumra for a few times so they have been in the works. So I’m very confident it will happen soon and faster than people think — but still we are a young industry. Our filmmakers are just starting their careers and while I’m the one who most wants to see these films happen, I’m not rushing any of them. They will do it when they are ready. I’m ready to provide for them all the means, to help them achieve that goal but I’ll never rush them to do something they are not yet ready to do. 

It’s coming but we will need some time.

I’ve been coming to Ajyal for a few years and this year the 'Made in Qatar' programme really blew it out of the water! What do you think has made it so that the production value, the way they are telling their stories, the way they are expressing what is inside them, has turned into such a global way of making films?

It’s just creating the right environment, putting the right elements together. Even us as an institute we started from nothing, we are all learning. Year after year, we built this network around us and we are very confident that they can take us to the next level — and they took our filmmakers to the next level. Some of these filmmakers [in the MiQ programme] worked with filmmakers like Rithy Panh, who comes for seven week in Doha and basically destroys filmmakers and builds them up again to bring out these stories the way they tell them. And these are the type of people that we encourage to come and work with us. The relationships, the networks, Qumra, there are so many elements, it’s very complicated and intricate the way we do things but the results is now obvious to people. As I said, it’s a lot of work behind the scenes and it will only get better because we are, also as an institute, growing and maturing. We know who to work with, who not to work with — so it’s only going to get better. 

In this edition of the film festival, there is also an emphasis on music. How is that happening? 

We think of the festival as an arts incubator, basically. It started from the first year with pop culture, when we started the anime exhibition. It continued over the years with art exhibitions, different themes every year and we’ve gathered the young community. And then it started also with the music as a natural, organic development. The beautiful thing about all of these elements is that it’s not the Institute that does it, it is that community of pop culture, that community of artists, that community of musicians, they are the ones who are leading it and the festival is there only to provide them with a platform. 

It grows organically and it’s very very popular, like the Ajyal tunes. From the beginning we said we didn’t want to bring professionals. We want our talent, the hidden talent, and for people to recognize them. That’s what the festival has been doing, even with films — with Made in Qatar and some of the Arab films, we want people to recognize the talent that we have in every type of art, not just film.

Do you think this music production will also lead to the soundtrack of films?

Of course, if you think of people like Dana Al Fardan who started at an early age in music and now she is doing scores for films, this is what we want to encourage. We want more people like that in Doha, so this is the best way to give them confidence, give them experience and lead them that way. 

What really sets you apart in the Region is that you also support world cinema. There were a few films in Cannes and Venice, and Locarno this year that were from South America, from Eastern Europe, which the DFI supported. What drives you to extend the support not only to MENA filmmakers but also other international projects?

We knew from the very beginning that we cannot do things by ourselves. If we isolate ourselves nobody will know us, nobody will understand us — it’s the wrong way of doing things. Being inclusive, having all of these voices from around the world, it will only help enhance what we have. It will only help our filmmakers to be better and to be exposed to everyone. These films are very important to us, because they bring a lot of knowledge and experience to our filmmakers but they also bring the international industry with them, to see our filmmakers, and see our projects. So it’s a two way street and it’s been really beneficial to our local filmmakers, our Arab filmmakers, to sit with them in Qumra, to talk about their projects. How do they do things over there, what is different. Some of them face similar problems and have similar challenges and they can talk to each other on how to solve problems when it comes to filmmaking. 

For us it’s really important and we know it’s not just the Arab Region which needs support, there are so many countries around the world which lack the funding and support in the film industry. We want to also help and support them, as these are really important stories. 

Header photo of Alremaihi by Brigitte Lacombe for DFI.

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