Doha’s ancient marketplace, Souq Waqif, was fully modernized Saturday night as Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” opened the fourth installment of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, marking its Middle East and North Africa debut.

In the same spot where Bedouin traders once hawked sheep and spices, Nair tred the red carpet along with Robert De Niro, whose “Silver Linings Playbook” will unspool later in the week; Mohsim Hamid, who wrote the novel Nair’s film is based on as well as its screenplay, and Ami Boghani, the script’s co-writer. They were joined by nearly 1,000 Qatari and international guests, who gathered under the blazing spotlights and the newly-refurbished buildings of this ever-striving desert city to toast the largest and most ambitious DTFF yet.

With three additional days of screenings, panels and community events, as well as new leadership and a drive to showcase local talent, execs of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival hope to make 2012 the year that their festival truly puts Qatari movies on the map. Abdulaziz Al-Khater was recently tapped as CEO of the Doha Film Institute, the year-round educational and cultural arm of the festival, and he is taking advantage of his spot at the helm to double-down on initiatives to create a local, sustainable infrastructure to support homegrown filmmakers.

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Of the 87 films in this year’s crop of movies, 19 are Qatari; 15 of those will be making their world debut at the fest, which runs through Nov. 24. All told, they comprise the largest-ever selection of pics competing in the “Made in Qatar” category, where $10,000 is up for grabs.

Fest is also trumpeting the wider region, with 27 films, from nations ranging from Algeria to Syria, in its Arab World competition. Thirty-four countries in all are showing work this week.

At a press conference ahead of the evening’s events, Al Khater said “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” which was made thanks to DFI funding, was an ideal opener. The film “is a remarkable piece of work that talks about cross cultures,” he said.

And the Indian-born, New York-based Nair is delighted to be an ambassador.

“People have been longing for this bridge and dialogue because so often in the U.S. you only get one side of the story,” she said.