Huge local crowds, a little bit of chaos and international stars turned out Thursday night for the official opening of the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Festival in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. The I.M. Pei designed Museum of Islamic Art served as the very impressive backdrop for the festival’s opening night pre-reception and screening of Mira Nair’s “Amelia.” Three-thousand locals along with international guests turned up on the museum’s expansive grounds along the coast, with director Martin Scorsese, Mira Nair, Oscar-nominated actress Patricia Clarkson and others joining the Tribeca Film Festival’s Jane Rosenthal, Craig Hatkoff and Geoff Gilmore for the event. The Americans joined other regional celebs and members of the Qatari royal family in an upstairs VIP area prior to the screening, while other invitees socialized outside in the museum’s beautiful courtyard.
While some watched the screening inside, other invitees joined the locals at an outdoor screening that quickly ran out of seats, prompting some guests to simply give up and head out.
In remarks at a welcome lunch for international guests earlier in the day, the Doha Tribeca Film Festival’s executive director, Amanda Palmer, said part of the goal was to incorporate the community into the new event, which is organized in partnership with Tribeca.
“We wanted to incorporate Qataris in the festival so nobody here would think we’re simply imposing a festival,” said Palmer. She also spoke glowingly of the festival’s educational component and support for emerging filmmakers in the region. Doha-based 24 hour news network, Al Jazeera, has broadcast stories leading up to tonight’s opening, profiling some of the individual filmmakers who are a part of its one minute shorts programs, spotlighting local directors.
And though Nair herself is from out of town, she took up the local mantra under the hot midday sun today, saying, “if we don’t make our own stories, nobody will…”
Former Sundance Film Festival director Geoff Gilmore, who now heads up Tribeca Enterprises, praised the community here saying that he’s experienced festivals in the past that are “insular” from their host city, and he also gave compliments and encouragement to Arab filmmakers, saying the work coming out of the region reminded him of another international cinema, which has long taken its place on world stage.
“This slate speaks to a new generation of Arabic filmmakers… This reminds me of when 20 years ago I traveled to China before the emergence of that country’s filmmakers changed international cinema.”
While the initial response here has been tremendous, if also a bit overwhelming for the local police with busloads of attendees being turned away from the museum entrance, it is also an event that apparently came together quickly. Qatari royal family member Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani worked as an intern for Jane Rosenthal at the Tribeca Film Festival years ago, and she later approached her former boss about doing an event in her home country.
Palmer recalled Thursday, “Sheika Mayassa said she wanted to do a film festival, but she had never told me she did an internship at Tribeca…” Sheika Mayassa later sent Palmer to meet with Tribeca organizers and the two groups partnered. “Five months ago, I would’ve never thought I’d be here,” Palmer added.
The Doha Tribeca Film Festival continues through this Sunday, November 1.
[To see the event’s full slate, click here]