Ajyal Festival Doha Kids

Bader Al-Amari is only 10 years old, but he insists he’s already a pro when it comes to judging cinema. His brother Hamad Al-Amari, a standup comic and television personality with a devoted following here in this tiny, wealthy Gulf nation, has taught him not to fidget or look away from the screen, even if he’s eating popcorn or drinking soda, which he likes to do when watching a movie.

Bader’s skills came in handy when he served on the all-youth jury at Doha’s inaugural Ajyal Youth Film Festival, sponsored by the Doha Film Institute. More than 360 local children took part in the jury, watching a total of 42 films over the five-days of the Nov. 26-30 fest, as well as joining in workshops and filmmaking forums.

Kids were divided into three age groups: mohaq (8-12 years); hilal (ages 13-17) and — no relation to the juror — bader (ages 18-21). DFI modeled the festival after the youth-centric Giffoni Film Festival in Italy.

Giorgia Scaturro, who coordinated this year’s juries, says the idea is to foster an appreciation of film among the nation’s youth. “It’s an acknowledgement of this generation of young people,” she says, “so they can grow up and possibly become filmmakers themselves.”

Despite the fact that DFI has, since its 2010 inception, been furiously working to grow a local film industry in Qatar, nearly all the young jurors interviewed last week in Doha listed Disney, Pixar and Hollywood blockbusters as their movies of choice. Yet instilling a passion for film, and getting youth exposed to cinema early on, may well prove fruitful for the future of Qatari filmmaking.

“I watch more films in English,” admits 13-year-old juror Ayah Al-Ansari. “I don’t watch Arabic movies unless (they’re) for school or something.” Ayah and her sister, Sana, both jurors in the hilal group, list “A Walk to Remember” among their favorite films, and say they have been making movies at home for years.

Sana, 16, hopes to be a director when she grows up. For her, the Ajyal fest proves filmmaking can be an option in Qatar. “I would love to stay here to show the world that films can be made anywhere,” she says.

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