Doha festival to bow next year

Qatar is joining the Middle East film gold rush.

Execs from the Qatar Museums Authority, the org dedicated to developing cultural initiatives in the country, have inked a deal with Tribeca fest co-founders Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff to launch Tribeca Film Festival Doha in November next year.

Doha is the capital of Qatar, which is the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

The deal was announced in Doha’s new Museum of Islamic Art on Sunday, with De Niro, Rosenthal and Hatkoff all in attendance along with Abdullah Al Najjar, chief exec of the Qatar Museums Authority, and Sheikha Mayassa Al Thani, the chair of the Qatar Museums Authority board of trustees and daughter of the emir of Qatar.

Pact marks the first time Tribeca has linked up with an international partner and is seen as far more than a simple licensing deal. Execs from Tribeca and Qatar will work year-round to help develop a film infrastructure in the Gulf country.

The deal is Qatar’s latest attempt to become a film player.

Earlier this year execs from the Qatar Foundation, which is headed by Sheikha Mouza, wife of the emir, announced it was funding its first feature, the $25 million “Rumi — The Fire of Love,” an English-language biopic about the 13th-century Persian poet and one of the founders of Sufism. Spiritual maven Deepak Chopra is aboard as a script consultant.

The latest deal also is significant for its political context. Tribeca itself was founded in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in an attempt to regenerate the Gotham neighborhoods most directly affected and also to foster cultural dialogue.

“Being here now at this time in history is something very special,” said De Niro. “Special as we all know because of stereotypical misconceptions and misperceptions of our Muslim brothers and sisters in mankind. We have a chance to start altering prejudices and stereotypes by having this festival.”

The timing of the announcement is also notable, coming in the wake of Barack Obama’s historic victory in the U.S. presidential election (negotiations between the two sides have been ongoing for months). Execs in Qatar, which also is the location for the U.S. military’s Central Command in the region, see this as a defining moment in East-West relations.

“The film industry is not so developed in Qatar or some parts of the Middle East, so this festival will serve as a way for people to express themselves and be heard through the instrument of culture,” Sheikha Mayassa told Daily Variety. “We want to give our people access to films and also to be able to make films. It is important for our development.”

Tribeca Film Festival Doha will unspool Nov. 10-14 next year. Fest will feature new work from established filmmakers, as well as debut works. The program will include some 40 films, as well as centerpiece forum the Doha Conversations, which will bring A-list cultural figures to Doha with the goal of fostering discussion.

While the Gulf emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, both a stone’s throw away from Qatar, have already announced themselves on the international film scene with their own high-profile film fests and — in the case of Abu Dhabi — a series of multimillion-dollar financing deals with U.S.-based production banners, Qatar has a lower film profile.

That now looks set to change.

With the country having already turned itself into a TV biz player thanks to Doha-based net Al-Jazeera, Qatari execs are setting their sights on turning the tiny Gulf state into a major film player.

Qatar has mushroomed in size in recent years under the leadership of its highly ambitious Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani. The emir’s wife, Sheikha Mouza, has supported the building of Education City, a project envisioned as a world-class center of learning.

The Tribeca deal is likely to be only the latest step in a process that should eventually see the country emerge as a source of film financing for Middle Eastern and international film producers.

“Ultimately, we will need to finance our young filmmakers but the precise mechanism of how has yet to be decided,” Sheikha Mayassa said. “Once we launch the film festival, I can only assume that we will get a lot of interest from filmmakers. This is our first step. The rest will come in time.”

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