Arab cinema is raising its profile on the international festival circuit and so is the Doha Film Institute, which is supporting 10 films at the Venice fest and market.
The key Qatari incubator and financing source for filmmakers from the Middle East and beyond is repped this year on the Lido by new pics from Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco and also Sudan, Brazil, Serbia and Montenegro. It’s a diverse batch that stands as “testament of our commitment to nurturing young talents in the region” and also to “our focus on supporting world-class cinema from around the world,” says DFI CEO Fatma Al Remaihi.
Al Remaihi is particularly proud that the DFI-supported contingent on the Lido includes Serbian director Mila Turajlic’s “The Other Side of Everything.” The doc, which thrashes out the dissolution of Yugoslavia through the director’s family history, launched last year at Toronto and will be in Venice as a finalist for the European Parliament’s Lux prize that finances EU-wide distribution. It’s one of many DFI-supported works directed by women, which comprise roughly half of recent grantees even though DFI doesn’t have quotas.
Significantly, besides six titles spread around various Venice sections — including two in Horizons — there are three DFI-supported titles at the Venice market.
Iraqi filmmaker Mohanad Hayal’s “Haifa Street,” a drama set against the backdrop of one of the most dangerous locations during the civil war in Baghdad, has been selected for the Final Cut in Venice workshop, which provides post-production support and partnership opportunities to films from Africa and the Arab world.
This year, two DFI-supported projects made the cut for the Venice Production Bridge: Lebanese director Ahmad Ghossein’s feature film debut, “All This Victory,” which is set in a Lebanese village during the final days of the July 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel; and dark comedy “The Unknown Saint,” by Moroccan director Alaa Eddine Aljem, about a young thief who, before being caught by the cops, buries a large sum of money and disguises the site as a tomb only to discover, when he is released from jail, that it has become a holy shrine. These projects will benefit from curated one-on-one meetings with potential co-production partners to hopefully secure the final portion of their financing.
Of course, most of these projects are getting funding from many other sources besides the DFI. But after six pics with the DFI logo screened in Berlin and 11 in Cannes —including competition prizewinners “Capharnaum” and “The Wild Pear Tree” — it’s pretty clear with Venice that the DFI is having what Al Remaihi calls “an exceptional year,” though “we are not in this for the numbers,” she notes.
Hanaa Issa, the DFI’s director of film funding, points out that the rapport with the Lido is particularly strong because “they are open to diversity,” she says. Reps from all sections at Venice have been attending the DFI’s annual Qumra workshop and co-production market.
But while there is no question that the DFI is on a roll when it comes to nurturing local filmmakers, they are still struggling to spawn feature films by Qatari helmers that can travel internationally.
But there is a glimmer of hope: Qatari helmer Jassim Al Rumaihi’s short doc “Amer: An Arabian Legend,” was recently picked up by Japanese distributor Pacific Voice in what is being touted as a key step towards expanding the reach of nascent Qatari filmmaking.
“Amer,” which is about a legendary Arabian race horse, was one of several Qatari works recently showcased at the Sarajevo Film Festival and market, where a whopping 19 DFI-supported titles unspooled, nine in the official selection.