The Doha Film Institute is scoring kudos internationally for its inaugural Qumra event dedicated to fostering first and second works from the Arab world and beyond through an innovative formula blending creative workshop and festival elements.

A high-caliber roster of more than 100 industry reps, including Toronto topper Cameron Bailey, Wild Bunch chief Vincent Maraval, New York’s Open City Films founder Jason Kliot, and prominent British indie producer Mike Downey, who descended on Doha March 6-12, are unanimously praising Qumra’s intense six-day succession of pre-scheduled one-on-ones, script consultations, pitching and feedback sessions, and rough-cut screenings, centered around 29 DFI-backed projects, including some from outside the region – plus screenings and classes by masters/mentors – all in a unique intimate setting.

“The creators have been incredibly intelligent in keeping the event small and contained, enthused Kliot whose producer credits include Brian De Palma’s Jordan-shot “Redacted. “The format of the works-in-progress screenings was really impressive.” Kliot revealed plans to get involved in one of the works-in-progress on display, contempo Cairo-set docu “What Comes Around” by Lebanese/Egyptian director Reem Saleh. 

“The DFI is really spending their money well,” said Locarno Film Festival industry office chief Nadia Dresti, noting that Qumra (the Arabic word from which “camera” is believed to come from) gave her the insight to really begin to understand the culture and mindset of the region’s filmmakers. Karlovy Vary International Film Festival chief Karel Och sounded similar note, pointing out that Qumra changed his perception of the Arab film industry by providing access to a range of new projects in development stages. “We’ve been screening Arab films based on what we were seeing at Cannes or Venice – or what was being being submitted to us – which is clearly not enough considering how much exciting stuff has been going on,” Och said.

“It’s such a great opportunity and pleasure to be able to do this,” said Gael Garcia Bernal (pictured), one of the master/mentors. “It’s very special because it’s a combination of many things. It’s like a small seminar, all of us together in a room, and then we all go to master classes in a nice relaxed atmosphere.”

The other Qumra master/mentors where Mauritanian maverick helmer Abderrahmane Sissako (“Timbuktu”); Romanian Palm d’Or winner Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”); Foreign Oscar winner Danis Tanovic (“No Man’s Land”); and Palestinian auteur Elia Suleiman who is also Doha’s artistic adviser and was instrumental in the conception and realization of the event which had a two-year gestation.

“We listened carefully to the needs of emerging filmmakers and designed Qumra to make a difference in their careers by connecting them to the resources they need, both creatively and practically, to move ahead with their work,” said Doha Film Institute, Fatma Al Remaihi.

“We could not be happier with the feedback we have received from the project participants, the Masters and professionals from all sectors of the industry who contributed to the first edition of Qumra – their overwhelming positivity, support and endorsement confirms that we are on the right path.”