Highlights from this edition of the Doha Film Institute's Qumra event

An upcoming series helmed by Annemarie Jacir, as well as exciting new projects from Ely Dagher, Mahmoud Kaabour and Mounia Akl included
Highlights from this edition of the Doha Film Institute's Qumra event

In these uncertain times only one thing has remained constant: our craving for cinema, television -- anything that has to do with the moving image.

Ever since its inception in 2010 the Doha Film Institute, established by Her Excellency Sheikha Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Hamad Al-Thani, has been helping filmmakers fulfill their cinematic dreams. Through the Ajyal Youth Film Festival held in the winter it helps shape future audiences and creates in them both a yearning for quality entertainment as well as a desire for cinema from all over the world. During Qumra, an event that filmmakers, industry insiders and the press alike await with anticipation each spring, DFI helps to connect projects with co-producers and distributors while providing filmmakers with additional development and post-production funding. This year, due to the pandemic, Qumra was held entirely online and it was a great success. Following are a few of MIME's favourites from this 2021 edition.

Among the projects presented at Qumra this March there were some 15 projects in development, 4 works in progress, 11 features in picture-lock as well as 6 series, both web and TV, in development. In all categories, these included both narrative and documentary projects. There were also 12 short films at various degrees of progress attending from throughout the Arab world and Qatar's own creatives.

"We’ve all felt like we are really at Qumra, not just on Zoom — we felt the Qumra presence and the magic." Fatma Hassan Alremaihi

What were the lessons learned from this strictly online event? MIME wanted to know and we asked the powers that be at the Doha Film Institute. Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, CEO of DFI and Director of Qumra disclosed her thoughts:"As with everyone in the world, things have changed dramatically for us. Even as we are in the comfort of our homes, we’ve seen that nothing can stop our process of dreaming and wanting to change things for the better. I’m really proud of the team and everything they’ve done to make this edition the way it is. We’ve all felt like we are really at Qumra, not just on Zoom — we felt the Qumra presence and the magic." Alremaihi continued, "we’ve seen now that there is more demand for the Masterclasses and the Talks for people to attend. While they were limited to the projects to attend, maybe this will give us ideas on how to create platforms for these Masterclasses to live on, for people to enjoy and learn from the in the future."

"All of these efforts, all of these people, the DFI, digital, Zoom are for one reason only -- to make people dream." Elia Suleiman

Award winning filmmaker Elia Suleiman, DFI's Artistic Advisor, jumped in, "Fatma has been reading my mind, as she was talking I was thinking the same thing... That one word that Fatma just said was exactly what I was thinking. Do not forget that when you start to encourage the pores of inspiration, and when each one of those filmmakers goes, walks, returns home, stays home and starts to “dream,” — to use Fatma’s word — it is this that we are here for essentially. All this cooking, all this terribly hard work that the DFI does is to actually prepare everybody just for one thing — how to inspire the young generation and how to keep them daydreaming. This is metaphysical, not necessarily material, it’s not something we can touch, but all of these efforts, all of these people, the DFI, digital, Zoom are for one reason only, to make people dream. This is a result that is floating and we can only feel." Suleiman clearly pointing to that which is not tangible, the elusive feeling that creates great cinema, the kind that makes us dance up the aisle when we walk out of the theatre, or the words "The End" appear on our devices.

As most of us depended on streaming series to keep us sane during the pandemic, the introduction of web and TV series into the Qumra lineup of projects seemed a natural. So MIME asked Hanaa Issa, Director of Strategy and Development, as well as Qumra's Deputy Director, about the welcomed addition. Issa admitted that at DFI "we’ve been preparing for this for a long time. This path was paved a few years ago and then last year was the first edition that we had a series programme at Qumra. Of course the numbers are increasing and we predict there will be more and more offerings in terms of filmmakers and creatives working in that field. And of course the demand is out there."

French director and writer Claire Denis (pictured above), who held a Masterclass moderated by cinema scholar and former NY Film Festival director Richard Peña also confirmed the importance of the series by confessing "I'm not jealous, I would love to do a sort of French Small Axe," referring to the Steve McQueen 2020 BBC limited TV series based on the real-life experiences of London's West Indian community in the 1970s and '80s. "The Caribbean in Paris are numerous since the '20s," Denis continued, "they have French passports but they are apart," somewhat alienated from the rest of the communities that call Paris home.

Qumra this year depended on technology, such as Eventive for the film screenings, which included Ameen Nayfeh's 200 Meters and Lina Soualem's doc Their Algeria. And Zoom of course, as most industry meetings, Masterclasses, and even a Qumra Talk moderated by yours truly with legendary French photographer Brigitte Lacombe took place online. During her Qumra Talk (pictured below) Lacombe confessed that the two people she would love to photograph most at the moment are Elon Musk and Bill Gates. And that Steven Spielberg named the scientist played by iconic French filmmaker François Truffaut, "Professor Lacombe" after her, in his 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was one of the first film set Brigitte Lacombe visited as a professional photographer and Spielberg "didn't know other French people," Lacombe quipped.

Highly anticipated projects, some of whom we will have to wait a bit longer for than others, include the work-in-progress feature narrative by Lebanese filmmaker Mounia Akl titled Costa Brava Lebanon, produced by Georges Schoucair's Abbout Productions and co-written by Spanish writer Clara Roquet. The film tells the story of a Lebanese family, the Badri, who have foregone toxic and polluted Beirut for the beauty of the mountains, but find the world they escaped encroaching on them when a garbage landfill is built beside their property line.

Another fabulous woman-led project is the series Mornings in Jenin, directed by Annemarie Jacir, co-written by Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace and produced by Alison Sterling's Ignition Films. 

"This is a story that resonates with me because of the insistence that even at the most defeated and desperate moments in our lives, there is hope." Annemarie Jacir

About the project, Jacir wrote, "Mornings in Jenin appealed to me instantly as a Palestinian story told on both an epic and a human scale. But, equally importantly, I was drawn to the story of three siblings, flawed and real, whose lives have been formed by the reality of our existence -- all the cruel moments and the beautiful ones. From the beginning of our exile in 1948, and in each and every country we have ever lived, we have been suffering a collective trauma and a great pain, yet also nurturing a tradition and spirit of revolt. This is a story that resonates with me because of the insistence that even at the most defeated and desperate moments in our lives, there is hope.

From Mahmoud Kabbour, whose 2010 documentary about his beloved grandmother Teta Alf Marra ("Grandma, a Thousand Times") was both a personal and festival favourite, there is a new feature doc in development titled Handala, the Boy Without a Face. In it, Kabbour goes searching for the Palestinian refugee child featured in endless political caricatures and promises to take the audience on "a treasure hunt, emanating from a sketch of a young refugee that has been circulating around the world for over fifty years."

Last but not least, is the latest from Ely Dagher whose previous project Waves '98 won the short film Palme d'Or in Cannes in 2015. His narrative feature The Sea Ahead is in picture lock which means it will be one of the first Qumra projects we will be able to watch, probably at one of the upcoming film festivals in the summer. With this story of a woman who returns to Beirut to find herself both at home and displaced within her city, we could see history repeating itself -- different time, longer length narrative but same festival and similar award. Inshallah.

For more info on the Doha Film Institute, check out their website.

Header image is a still from Mounia Akl's Costa Brava Lebanon, provided by DFI and used with permission.

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