The Doha Film Institute is undeniably the one cinematic organization which has succeeded in bringing Arab cinema to the world. But also the world to cinema from the MENA region. Through their funding, they have supported projects from South America, the Far East and Europe, while also encouraging the burgeoning "Made in Qatar" culture of filmmaking and storytelling. Their annual youth film festival Ajyal forms within young audiences a need for the cinema experience while their yearly Qumra industry event has become a pitstop for all filmmakers who count on their way to the top festivals and awards.
But behind all their tangible successes there is a constant mechanism of round the clock hard work and a collective effort which never stops imagining new ways to bring Arab cinema to global audiences. The upcoming 'Qatar Film Days' at this year's SPIEF 21 is the perfect example.
The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum will feature a programme of 14 films from the Arab world, including eight Made in Qatar films, at the Qatar Film Days -- presented by the Doha Film Institute. The film showcase is organised by the Culture Creative Agency and Beat Films under the auspices of the Qatari-Russian Center for Cooperation, to complement Qatar being honoured as ‘Guest Country’ at the global forum. All the 14 films are supported by the Institute during various stages of its production, and the free screenings will be held at Sevkabel Port from June 4-6, 2021.
"The event is being hosted at a very important time when the need to strengthen positive conversations among cultures and communities is even more relevant." Fatma Hassan Alremaihi
Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, Chief Executive Officer of the Doha Film Institute, said: “It is our honour to present Qatar Film Days at SPIEF 21, a cultural initiative that aims to foster cultural exchange and understanding through the medium of cinema. The event is being hosted at a very important time when the need to strengthen positive conversations among cultures and communities is even more relevant. Our partnership with SPIEF 2021 builds on the strong relations we share with the cultural community of Russia. Qatar Film Days will present an inspiring platform for global audiences to engage in meaningful conversations and build cultural dialogue that strengthens human bonds and promotes solidarity.”
Alremaihi will be addressing a panel discussion on the sidelines of SPIEF 2021 on the power of films to promote global cultural codes and build a universal cultural heritage. She explained: “As a medium with universal resonance, film help highlight a deeper understanding of the world we live in. They enable us, as humanity, to realise collective dreams for peace and togetherness, and become a vehicle for positive change. By facilitating dialogue on film and culture through Qatar Film Days, we are also building a stronger understanding of the cultural identity of Qatar and the wider Arab region.”
Qatar Film Days is a cultural initiative that presents contemporary cinema about the Middle East and North Africa to Russian audiences, and the screenings will be complemented by an educational program of talks and discussions with special guests to create dialogue around reimagining geographical and cultural boundaries for a better future. The event builds on the active engagement by Doha with Russian film talent including the special showcase of Russian films as part of the ‘Year of Culture Qatar – Russia 2018’ celebration. The Institute has also welcomed renowned Russian directors such as Aleksandr Sokurov and Andrey Zvyagintsev as its Qumra Masters in addition to screening Russian short films as part of Ajyal Film Festival 2018.
Qatar Film Days will open with DFI Grantee Gaza Mon Amour (Palestine, France, Germany, Portugal, Qatar) on June 4th 2021. Directed by Tarzan and Arab Nasser, the film was screened at the 2020 Venice Film Festival and won the Toronto International Film Festival's NETPAC Prize in 2020. Set in Gaza, it tells the story of a 60-year-old fisherman Issa (Salim Dau, an actor known to TV audiences for his turn in Tyrant), who is secretly in love with Siham (played by the legendary Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass), a woman who works at the market with her daughter Leila.
Another notable DFI Grants recipient to be screened is Nardjes A. (France, Algeria, Germany, Brazil, Qatar, pictured above), a documentary directed by Brazilian-Algerian director Karim Aïnouz. The film follows a day in the life of Nardjes, a young Algerian woman who finds in the protests demanding the resignation of their president also a space to claim what had been promised and stolen from her—her future.
While we look to cinema to go where diplomacy and politics fail, another wonderful must-watch is Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven (France, Qatar, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Palestine) which was co-financed by the Institute. Selected for the Palme d'Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, it won the Jury Special Mention as well as the FIPRESCI Critics' Prize. Having gained rave reviews globally, the film sees Palestinian auteur Suleiman masterfully using his penetrating gaze and expressive body language to distill the soul of Palestine through his travels to the bustling metropolises of Paris and New York.
The Made in Qatar programme, comprised of films by both Qataris and those who call Qatar home, include:
· Gubgub by Nouf Al Sulaiti -- Jawaher sets out to catch crabs to win her father’s approval and while on her quest, she finds herself battling for a catch with Nawaf, a boy who shares her goal.
· Al Tabbab by Khalifa Al-Janahi -- sailors journey to a specific spot in the ocean along with their valuables to make a pearl trade with a sea monster. However, Ali, the captain’s son, is not convinced the trade is fair.
· Stranger by Yasser Mustafa and Christophe Buffet -- the security guard of an abandoned elementary school explores remains of the neighbourhood's past residents, weaving their mysteries into his own narrative. Some of his discoveries remind him of the life he has left behind.
· Voices from the Urbanscape by Shaima Al Tamimi and Maryam Salim -- a presentations of visions of rapid urbanisation in contemporary Doha, through various voices from the community who express their sense of attachment and identity as a result of the city's manic paced growth.
· Sh’hab by Amal Al-Muftah -- set in the old village of Al Wakrah, a mischievous 8-year-old girl would do anything to spend time with her father and older brother at sea. In an effort to keep her home and safe, her mother begins to share with her the most elaborate mythological tales about falling stars.
· Emsahar by Hassan Al-Jahni -- Fatima, a tall and curly haired young girl, sleeps peacefully with her nightlight on, as an old hunchbacked mystical man wakes everyone up for Suhoor. Fatima is woken up by the drums, takes her younger brother and touches the rainbow road.
· Kashta by A.J. Al Thani -- set in the beautiful quiet of the desert, a man teaches his young sons how to track and hunt. Frustration leads to a struggle between the two brothers and their carelessness brings about sudden disaster.
· Fishermen by Obada Yousef Jarbi -- three fishermen run away from the crowded city towers and lights. Every night they take their small boat into the darkness, under the light of the moon, far away from everything that reflects the transformative modernity of the metropolis.
Finally, Qatar Film Days will conclude with the screening of Gianfranco Rosi's Notturno (Italy, France, Germany, Qatar), co-financed by the Institute. Shot over the course of three years between Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Lebanon, Notturno follows different people from near war zones in the Middle East, trying to restart their everyday lives. It is a study of how borders have changed the destiny of people.
For more information on this initiative and other events organized by the Doha Film Institute, check out their website.