Ajyal Youth Film Festival Steps Into Doha Spotlight

Qatar’s new youth-skewing Ajyal Fest moves into the slot that was abandoned by the Doha Tribeca event

the hero and the message

The Doha Film Institute’s inaugural Ajyal Youth Film Festival will unspool Nov. 26, with “The Wind Rises,” Hiyao Miyazaki’s dream-like animated feature about an airplane designer. Execs of the nascent fest say the critically acclaimed Japanese film reps their goals perfectly.

“With everything we do, the sky is the limit. There are no borders,” says Fatma Al-Remaihi, who took over the reins as fest director from last year’s head, DFI CEO Abdulaziz Al-Khater.

It’s a gutsy choice for Qatar’s newest festival, which runs Nov. 26-30, in the slot previously held by the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. That fest was retired this year after DFI and Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Institute parted ways.

DFI Tribeca brought high-profile pics and Western festival know-how to Qatar, and it was the gloss under which the Doha Film Institute established year-round programs focused on education, training and the cinematic arts, all aimed at boosting the region’s entertainment sector.

The new festival is modeled on Italy’s youth-skewing Giffoni fest, with which it has a partnership. It’s targeted at auds aged 8 to 21, with young people judging the festival’s films.

Despite the shift, there is still a strong focus on local works. The centerpiece of Ajyal is the Made in Qatar section of the fest, a holdover from the old Doha Tribeca event, which will showcase 11 films made either by Qatari nationals or those who call Qatar home.

The section, focused on nurturing homegrown talent and boosting emerging filmmakers, will include the winners of two DFI film competitions — a 48-hour Family Film Challenge, in which teams produce a five-minute short using a prop and catchphrase, and a 7-Day Filmmaking Challenge, which aims to teach the process of creating short films, from concept through execution, in a week’s time. Made in Qatar also will feature a screening of “The Hero and the Message,” a production of Al Rayyan TV, which tells the story of a pair of time-traveling Qatari siblings. The Nov. 29 screening will be followed by a Q&A.

Miyazaki’s anime is hugely popular among local Qatari youth. Ajyal has programmed five anime classics, and a number of galleries will exhibit curated displays of local animation work. The fest will also feature workshops on Qatari Japanese traditional games and the history of anime.

Films in competish at Ajyal will be divided into three segments and judged by a jury of hundreds of youth from the region. The youngest jurors, ages 8 to 12, will decide the fate of seven shorts in the Mohaq (or New Moon) category. In the Hilal (or Crescent) competish, teens 13-17 will judge six shorts and four features. Contenders hail from Belgium, Colombia, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Jordan, the Netherlands, the Palestinian territories and the UAE, and will include “When I Saw You,” the 2012 drama from Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir.

A final section, the Bader (or Full Moon) group, will be evaluated by jurors 18-21. This group is made up of four features and eight shorts, including Barmak Akram’s Afghanistan-France co-production “Wajma (An Afghan Love Story),” American George Tillman Jr.’s “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete” and Chang Rong-ji’s “Touch of Light,” from Hong Kong and Taiwan, about the unlikely relationship of a country boy and a city girl.

Also on tap: a special-screenings section as well as an industry forum designed to bring local and international media experts together to discuss children’s programming. A family weekend Nov. 29 and 30, packed with free events and interactive filmmaking tools, will cap the fest.