With ties to the Tribeca fest in the rearview mirror, Doha Film Institute took time at December’s Ajyal Youth Film Festival to outline its radically reconfigured plans for Qatar’s evolving efforts to foster a local film industry.
The pragmatic new vision in the small petroleum-rich Persian Gulf peninsula is now to lose the glitz, learn from its misguided movie investments, and sever Hollywood ties that don’t serve a specific strategic purpose.
Institute topper Fatma Al-Remaihi told Variety that the DFI and Participant Media recently dissolved the $100 million joint revolving-fund partnership they announced in 2013 at the Berlin fest, a partnership that did not spawn a single title among its planned five-year slate of 12-16 English-language films.
“They are a great company that has great vision, but I think we’ve decided together that we are in a time and place where we’ve been focusing on regional filmmakers and regional projects,” the DFI topper said.
Al-Remaihi pointed out that she looks forward to possibly teaming up with Participant and other companies on single projects like Salma Hayek’s “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” on which Participant and the institute collaborated outside the partnership. “The Prophet” had its Middle East premiere during Ajyal, with producer Hayek making an appearance on the red carpet, and with a delegation that included Emirati animator Mohammed Saeed Harib, who contributed a segment to the portmanteau pic. “For me, that film ticks off all the boxes,” Al-Remaihi noted.
Roughly 450 children and adolescents, some from as far away as Australia, descended on Doha’s Katara Cultural Village to serve as jurors at the Ajyal fest. As the youths immersed themselves in a rich mix of pics, including Damien Chazelle’s Sundance sensation “Whiplash,” which won a prize at Ajyal, Al-Remaihi, who is also the Ajyal chief, announced the configuration of the DFI’s long-gestating Qumra event, which aims to foster first and second works from around the world within a framework that blends workshop and festival elements.
Established in 2010 as Qatar’s year-round industry-building hub, the DFI has had its ups and downs in film financing, backing costly misfires by non-Arab directors, including Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 2011 “Black Gold,” and drawing criticism that it did not focus enough on breeding local talent.
Plans for Qumra had been first announced in May 2013, after the DFI severed ties with Tribeca and scrapped the star-studded Doha-Tribeca fest, saying it would create two events instead: Ajyal and Qumra. Though smaller in scope than originally touted, Qumra aims to become a creative laboratory/production springboard for directors and producers of up to 25 projects, some of them shorts, all of which are already within the DFI fold.
At the fest’s core will be in-depth master classes for young filmmakers to be held by prize-winning global talents. Booked to date are Mauritania’s Abderrahmane Sissako (“Timbuktu”); Romania’s Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”); Bosnia’s Danis Tanovic (“No Man’s Land”); and Iranian actress Leila Hatami (“A Separation”). They will also select some of the titles unspooling, each followed by an onstage Q&A. These screenings will be open to the public. There will be no red carpet.
Participating director-producer teams will get one-on-one meetings and mentoring sessions with selected industry execs and experts. “We want to make sure we match them with the right people — financiers, sales agents, script doctors — whatever a project needs,” Al-Remaihi said.
The DFI also announced a dedicated Qatari film fund, with plans for the first feature to go into production in 2016.
Qumra, set to take place March 6-11 in Doha, will seek to serve projects that are either recipients from its grants program, or of the Qatari fund and other DFI support schemes. Though the DFI grants program has a regional focus, it is open to projects from outside the Middle East and North Africa region. Palestinian director Elia Suleiman (“Divine Intervention”) is DFI’s artistic adviser.
“It’s personal for me,” Suleiman said, commenting on the Qumra concept. “When I was young and wanted help, nobody gave it to me. I knocked on so many doors, and I was looked at like I was crazy.” Besides the idea of monetary help, Suleiman embraces the DFI’s new philosophy. “(We) will include other types of support, advice and ways of trying to inspire filmmakers,” he said.