Fest Traveler: Doha Tribeca Film Festival

It’s been three years since the Doha Tribeca Film Festival launched and while it may be the youngest of the emerging fests in the Middle East, it’s certainly ramping up activity at a startling pace.

The five-day fest, which begins Oct. 25, came out of a deal with Tribeca co-founders Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff and is the brainchild of Sheikha Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, daughter of the emir of Qatar and chair of the country’s Museums Authority Board of Trustees.

And while the fest attracts industryites from all corners of the globe, including De Niro, Salma Hayek, Kevin Spacey, Rachid Bouchareb, Freida Pinto and Julian Schnabel, its regional mandate is to educate and build a Qatari film community and biz.

Amanda Palmer, exec director of the Doha Film Institute — the umbrella org that houses Qatar’s film initiatives, including the fest — says the event is a “very important platform” that segues into the larger mission of DFI.

“This festival is not just about showcasing major international films. We’re always mindful of our local culture and we never wanted this festival to feel like it was just something that you watch. From the beginning we’ve had a strong core of nationals and locals working on this in every facet.”

Fest, she says, is a culmination of the yearlong activities going on at a local and international level at the institute.

“We knew there wasn’t a strong film industry culture in Qatar. They have a great tradition of storytelling but not through the moving image as of yet.”

This, says Palmer, is why educating the locals has been paramount. “We knew that we had to provide a school, training and tools to understand the art behind the scenes and during the festival we program a lot of workshops that mirror what we do educationally throughout the rest of the year.” DFI has trained more than 700 people in its education workshops.

But what’s interesting about this fest, based in a tiny Gulf state with a population of just 3 million, is it’s putting its money where its mouth is, reflecting the fact that Qatar is emerging as a potential Mideast film hub.

Fest opens with Qatar’s first international co-production, the $55 million “Black Gold,” starring Antonio Banderas and Frieda Pinto, which the DFI made with Gaul’s Quinta Communications.

Pic, helmed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, follows the rivalry of two emirs against the backdrop of 1930s Arab states at the peak of the oil boom.

Battle scenes were shot in Qatar’s desert dunes of Mesaieed and Shamal, using local and regional crew.

But the international co-productions and co-financing don’t stop there: DFI recently boarded “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” toplining Kate Hudson, Keifer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber. Mira Nair helms the thriller, an adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s tome about an educated Pakistani man’s eventual disenchantment with the U.S.

Nair’s project is DFI’s first financing and production involvement in an independent arthouse feature. It underscores DFI’s goal to foster creativity and storytelling by supporting key indie pics from international filmmakers. Pic also continues DFI’s relationship with Nair, who premiered her “Amelia” at the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Festival in 2009. She is one of DFI’s valued cultural partners via her Maisha Film Lab, which has invited several young Arab filmmakers to join East African students in training.

Palmer says the most inspiring changes she’s seen in the past three years are not only the uptick of production in the region but also the growing number of women coming into the biz.

“In two years here, I hadn’t met one woman who had made a film. In a little more than a year, we now have 66 women who are directing and producing films that they’ve screened.”

Palmer adds, “Because of the Arab Spring, production is changing throughout the region and it’s changing because of government and mindset.

“The revolution isn’t over. It’s definitely happening right now and certain stalwarts are losing their power and so production is shifting and the independent film community is rising.”

HIGHLIGHTS

Opener

Doha Tribeca Film Festival will open on Oct. 25 with the world preem of “Black Gold,” helmed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and based on Hans Reusch’s “The Great Thirst.”

Pic reps Qatar’s first international co-production.

The Doha Film Institute co-produced the pic with Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications so its world preem is a fitting one reflective of the region’s ramped up activities.

MENA preems

Other highlights this year include eight world preems and Middle East North African (MENA) premieres of Michel Hazanavicius’ black and white silent pic “The Artist,” German-Turkish pic “Almanya” and Luc Besson’s “The Lady,” which toplines Michelle Yeoh and closes the fest on Oct. 29. Nadine Labaki’s “Where Do We Go Now” will have its Gulf preem at the fest.

Besson will be in attendance at the fest as will composer James Horner (“Titanic,” “Avatar”), who is scoring “Black Gold.” Horner will be doing a panel for the audience.

Social networking

New this year will be an entire corner dedicated to social media, opened up to exploring the advancements in the sector and its possibilities.

And this year’s Arab Film Competition has been expanded and will see 14 features and docus fight for two grants of $100,000 each.

“The Arab Spring means there will be an increasing focus on emerging filmmakers and local filmmakers as well,” says DFI topper Amanda Palmer. “Part of our responsibility is taking chances and new talent and this year 40% of films are from women in the Arab Competition — it’s really going to change and transform a lot of people’s expectations.”

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