Back to IndieWire

Three Filmmakers from Doha in Cannes with Their Shorts

Three Filmmakers from Doha in Cannes with Their Shorts

James Schamus, who was one of the
master teachers at the recent second edition of Doha Film Institute’s Qumra,
says the new filmmakers are the most important and I agree.  Even when I was “new” I knew that and
now that I am “old” I still do.

Qumra is the prime opportunity to
see the new filmmakers of MENA as they create their early works.  Now three are here extending their
visibility and learning more about the international film world.

Qumra’s
second edition in March introduced an intensive workshop during which 10
Qatar-based filmmakers presented their short film projects, currently in
development, to a group of international industry professionals, including
script consultants, producers, lab representatives, programmers and buyers, all
of whom are experts in the short form. Ten shorts is not too few so that the films are
representative of a broad swatch of filmmakers and/ or stories but not too many
for us to get to know all the projects and even the filmmakers on a more
personal, deeper level.

The Qumra Shorts Group Tutorials gave
me the chance to present “The International Festival Circuit”, which sets the
stage for understanding how to present first films and next projects to
film-business executives, possible co-producers, financiers, etc.  My objective was to provide a practical
overview of the key issues to consider in choosing the best festivals and/or
market events that best suit scripts, projects in pre-production, or completed
films. Emerging filmmakers can then create the ideal marketing campaign to
advance their films and further their career while approaching buyers,
distributors and financiers.

All the filmmakers are creating stories
out of issues of identity. Each of the projects is indicative of these young
emerging filmmakers’ intensely personal searches for identity within their
environments.  The transformation
of the personal to the universal is, as we all know,  key to artistic creation.  I was deeply moved by these filmmakers daring to meet the
challenge of every thinking person – young or old — through their choices in
creating works of fiction or documentaries which speak to this issue.  Their honesty in facing themselves in
their society today is brave.

Watch videos
of the short filmmakers here (and other videos of Qumra too).

The Shorts of Qumra

“The World Is Blue”

Amna
Al-Binali, a graduate of Qatar University English Literature and Linguistics
major, directed her first short film, “Doctor’s Office” at the La Fémis Gulf
Summer School in 2015. “The Notebook”, her second short film, had its premiere
at the Ajyal Youth Film Festival in 2015.

How people present themselves in our
society today and how they feel about

it in reality is what this comedy/drama portrays.  A young bride prefers to read a book
rather than attend her own engagement party. The book is the evil object that
prevents her from playing her role and coming out to the stage as a bride.

What Amna said in explanation of this film
reminded me of how our weddings and Bar Mitzvahs and Quinceanera’s work as
well.

“In the film, we see the different parts
women play in society. There are young women lavishly dressed, elderly women
completely covered, little children with little care in the world and pregnant
women. These are the usual sights in a Qatari engagement party.  Because I have been attending quite a
few engagement parties recently, I have been observing how they all go on the
same way, and how everyone acts and reacts the same. They don’t really talk to
each other. They seem to be there only because it’s a social duty. You almost
never feel that you are attending different engagement parties. It made me think
about why these parties repeat themselves over and over. It felt like I was
attending a play. Everyone was acting according to their assigned roles,
whether it’s the bride, the mother of the bride, the cousin of the bride, etc.

The protagonists spends most of the story
trying to finish the book she is reading. Through the narrative, she is trying
to understand the fictional character’s emotional experience. Perhaps it will
help her understand her own.”

She is dealing
with psychological issues within the context of society’s strict adherence to
engagement/ marital rules and customs. 

The issue of identity
plays out with the heroine not wanting to fit the same mold as everyone else,
not satisfied with her sister’s answer that she will understand once she gets
married…what will she understand? 
That she is now to have children who will take up her life?  I admire the heroine for her intense
questioning and wonder how it will be resolved.

“Amer : The Arabian Legend”

Jassim
Al-Rumaihi works as a reporter at Al-Jazeera News Channel, covering news from
Tunisia to Nepal. While studying at Northwestern University in Qatar, he took
several classes in film production. Since then, he has worked on a two short
films, and he is currently working on his third with the support of the Doha
Film Institute. His film “The Palm
Tree
(Qatar, No Dialogue, 2015) was made as a part of a documentary workshop
in just over a week. With the film winning the Made in Qatar – Best Documentary Award at the Ajyal Youth Film Festival
2015
, it is now receiving interest from film festivals and critics.

Amer : The Arabian Legend” is his third short.

Sent as a
gift to the late Emir of Qatar in the 1980s, Amer seemed like an average
purebred Arabian. After he was taken to the tracks of Umm Qarn to train other
horses, however, he showed his class, changing the face of Arabian horseracing
forever.

Besides
being a champion horse – he won nine of his thirteen starts – Amer is the most
influential stallion in Arabian horseracing history. With a current stud fee of
US $60,000, the grey horse from the deserts of Arabia has sired more than 130
champions. Yet Amer’s extraordinary story is almost unbelievable for many, who
speculate as to the legitimacy of his legacy.

 “Amer” deals with the subject of
identity.  First of all, I had
always heard all great race horses called “Arabian horses” but I had not really
thought about the term.  I find so
many of my preconceptions are brought to consciousnss with my experience in
Doha. I learned that what I have called Arabian is actually a western
definition.  The true Arabian
horse:  Is it built for racing or
for endurance? Amer, a legendary Arabian stallion, is changing the definition
of Arabian horse racing with Europeanized “Arabian” horses encountering the
“upstart” genetically, and perhaps “out of line” horse Amer who most definitely
is Arabian and his mixed progeny. 

“Buqsha”

Director, Fahad Al Obaidly, is a researcher at the National
Museum of Qatar as well as a curator and fashion designer.  He introduced his brand Fahad Al-Obaidly in 2014. He completed
his course in fashion design, specializing in casual menswear, at the Institute
Marangoni. Being an Arab with a European vision of style in fashion greatly
contributes to the philosophy behind his work. Al Obaidly has directed two
short fashion films and directed one short documentary.

I had more time and more occasions to socialize with the film’s producer,
Salwa Al Khalifa, during several activities at Qumra.  She is so outgoing and engaging and her background is unique
as she
is a Sudanese filmmaker whose father moved to Qatar
before she was born and yet she still grapples with what it means to be
Sudanese-Qatari.  She studied Mass
Communication at Qatar University, and obtained a diploma in Documentary
Filmmaking. She has directed a few short films, and has worked as an assistant
director and script supervisor in a number of independent short films in Qatar.

“Buqsha”’s underpinning
is modern day’s greatest philosophic dilemma:  How can we venture into the past to look to the future?  Here Fahad posits the question in terms
of his own his wish to pursue a difficult line of artistic freedom as a
designer which he knows has great import to his society, even though the
society is not exactly eager for him to follow the path he has chosen.

Director-writer
Fahad Al Obaldly and the producer Salwa Al Khalifa are both dealing with their
personal issues of identity in an intense and creative way as seen in their
previous autobiographical films.

Fahad is looking
directly at his grandmother, a weaver of tents who incorporated coded language
into the designs.  Fahad’s
definition of himself is found in this grandmother’s weaving and the sense of
design that weaving brings to societies around the world.  Design is not a trivial modern pursuit;
it reflects society’s need for shelter and for clothing to protect us against
the elements.  And within the
designs is the secret language of the society itself.

Fahad and
Sara Al Obaidly journey around Qatar, capturing the beauty of the Doha
landscapes while exploring the rich diversity of arts and ancestral traditions,
as well as the impact contemporary and traditional culture have on each other.
During their travels, they focus on “sedu” weaving, one of the most important
of Qatari traditional textile crafts. They meet with and interview an expert to
discover and learn the historical background of “sedu” in Qatar. Along the way
they visit artisans and cultural experts, and explore their roles in preserving
and promoting the cultural and ethnic heritage of Qatar.

A treasure trove of talent is also
remaining at home in Qatar but their films will have lives extending beyond in
the coming year.  Here are the others
which we discussed in Qumra.

“Love in the Middle East

I loved this
project.  I was amazed to learn
that Arabic has about 99 words describing different degrees and types of love;
way beyond our English vocabulary. Mostafa Sheshtawy is an emerging filmmaker I
think will become an important interpreter of mores in MENA of interest to the
world today.  His sense of humanity
is very apparent.

To some people,
love is the pursuit of happiness. Throughout the history of the Arab world,
love has always been one of the most popular subjects of discussion, as we can
see from poetry, literature and folktales. In a series of interviews and
stories, the director, a 28-year-old Arab, explores what love means in the
Middle East – how it is affected by culture and tradition, 
how much it is
influenced by religion, and how it is perceived by different generations.

Filmmaker
and photographer Mostafa Sheshtawy was born in Egypt and raised in Qatar. He
began his film career by documenting the Egyptian revolution in 2011. Since
then, he has worked on various productions in Egypt and Qatar with the Doha
Film Institute, primarily in the camera department. His directorial debut was
the short documentary ‘Immortalizing Memories’, which screened in the Ajyal
Youth Film Festival in 2015. Sheshtawy’s first short narrative film is the
romantic comedy ‘Love Blood Test’ (2015).

“A Ranged Marriage”

Dealing with
society’s arranged marriages, and an unhappy one at that, this is daring and
fantastical . Nora Al-Subai’s multi cultural upbringing — a Qatari born and
raised in France, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon in Computer Science – and her
earlier film “My Hero” which already won for Best Short Film at the Ajyal Youth
Film Festivla and was in Cannes, Clermont-Ferrand and other top festivals was a
very well developed, well produced and well directed story about a little boy
paying for his busy father’s time. 
Her other film, a Middle Eastern Cinderella story for today was also
very well told. She has a sure hand directing and a flair for storytelling.
These two previous films, both of which make comedies out of current societal
issues, bode well for her ability to tell this story. 

She does not tell
her stories in a dark way; instead she uses lightness to illuminate what we
would normally label “dark comedy”. 
In a way this reminds me of “Of Kind Hearts and Coronets” a classic
British comedy of in 1949 dealing with murder in a light-hearted funny way.

Nora Al Subai
says, “I have always been intrigued by the concept of arranged marriages, and
people agreeing to live the rest of their lives with another person simply
because they are “good people” or come from a good family. I wanted to explore
the comical concept of an arranged marriage in which one partner decides that
the best anniversary gift of all would be the death of their spouse. Since she
is in an arranged marriage, however, Sarah finds it difficult to kill her
husband when she realizes she doesn’t know anything about him.

“Qafas”

Mayar Hamdan’s
previous film in live action was about a girl caught cheating in school.  It was funny and whimsical in style,
but is very subversive.  It
reminded me of Todd Solondz’ “Welcome to the Dollhouse”.  Mayar said that people strongly
objected to her film as if she were revealing something that should not be
revealed.  And that is what made it
a brave story to tell.

“Qafas” is toned
down.  It is also to be animated.  Thematically it fits into the issue of
finding one’s true identity when confined within strictures not of one’s own
choosing.  It is the story of a
young man who tries everything to escape the cage in which he is chained. Only
when he realizes that the true obstacle to his release is not the chains, but
rather his outlook on his situation, does he finally become free.

Mayar
Hamdan is a recent graduate of Northwestern University in Qatar, where she
studied Media Industries and Technology, with a concentration in Animation and
Post-Production.

“More Than Two Days”

Ahmed Abdelnaser
was born in Doha. A filmmaker and an editor, he became passionate about cinema
at an early age. After winning two awards for best editing, he became a montage
trainer with Avid. As a lecturer, he taught the art of film editing at the
Aljazeera Media Training Centre. His first film, ‘Children of the Earthquake’
(2007) was shot in Pakistan with the support of Reach Out to Asia. His recent
short film ‘I Exist’ (2014), filmed on the borders of Turkey, won five
international awards for Best Short Film, and participated in more than 30 film
festivals. ‘More Than Two Days’ (2015) was supported by the Film Training and
Development Department of the Doha Film Institute.

Something
has occurred that has cast a shadow on two brothers who are in the prime of
their lives. Between silence, admonition, and a desire to reveal, the film
dives into the implications of what has happened – a conflict that reflects on
their lives, their relationship, and how each of them tries to deal with his
new life. Over two days, the story focuses on the eruption of the conflict they
face, and its weighty influence on the future of each of the brothers.

“Kashta”

A father
takes his two sons out on a trip to the desert to go hunting, but the results
are not quite what he was expecting. 
The story has a primal quality as it unfolds in the most beautiful
desert valley. I could see
filmmaker Aj Al-Thani’s fascination with “Star Wars” as she told me when we
spoke.  She and her producer Jaime
Siordia are a unique team to watch.

AJ Al-Thani
is a Qatar-born filmmaker. Her love for movies and moviemaking began at the age
of six when she saw ‘Star Wars’ (1977) in the cinema in 1999. Al-Thani’s
relationship with the Doha Film Institute began in 2010 when she participated
in one of its first film workshops, which opened the door for many local
filmmakers to pursue their passion. For almost six years Al-Thani has been
developing her skills with the help of the Institute. She is now working on her
first professional short film through a grant from the Institute.

Born and
raised in Los Angeles, Jaime Siordia studied photography and cinema before
beginning his film career. Spending several years on numerous sets, he wrote
and produced television pilots and independent films throughout the United
States. After spending a year as an event producer with Film Independent, he
began working for film festivals including the Los Angeles Film Festival,
Sundance and Tribeca, landing in New York where he returned to filmmaking. Now
based in Doha, Siordia has produced films for clients including Qatar Airways,
Vodafone, Barwa Bank and Al Jazeera.

“The Innocent Prisoner”

The story of a man trying to wash away his history of
being a prisoner, determining his destiny by becoming a better person, and
finding himself a place in his own society. ‘The Innocent Prisoner’ reveals
stories of people who were jailed not because they committed a crime or broke
the law, but rather because they were irresponsible or ignorant. When Yassir
kindly took on a business loan taken out by his close friend Fadhil, all seemed
well until his lost his job and was no longer able to make the necessary
payments. Now he faces prison time for helping out his friend. This film asks
why Yassir should face a future of unemployment after his release, and why
society would punish him a second time by not accepting him.

Amina
Ahmed Al Boluchi graduated from Qatar University with a BA in Mass
Communication. She has directed ‘The Pearl of Qatar’s Concert: Abdulrahman
Almanai’ (2013) and her graduation project, ‘Made in Qatar’ (2015). Most
recently, working with the Doha Film Institute, she made ‘To My Mother’ (2015).

“I
believe that everyone deserves a second chance. As such, society should support
those of its members who need its understanding. It is the responsibility of
every individual to help those with whom they share their community, and take
into consideration that there will be always exceptional cases and irregular
circumstances. With that in mind, I think people who experience being
imprisoned deserve special treatment after finishing their years of punishment.
They ought to be treated fairly and should have the rights of getting married
and starting a new life, just like anyone else. I want this film to help those
who have lost their chance to participate fully in their society because of
their background.”

“I Want to Feel What I Feel When I Am Asleep”

In a
post-apocalyptic world, in a ruined city, little of humanity remains. The
residue of a poison has become a drug, which creates the illusion that life is
still beautiful, and that everything is as it was before. The survivors wander
through the rubble as though nothing had ever happened – except one woman.
Unaffected by the poison, she sees the horrors around her. She begins to clean
the streets and the buildings in the hope of recreating the reality that
existed before the catastrophe.

Writer-DirectorAbdullah
Al-Mulla grew up in Qatar until moving abroad to pursue his university studies.
He first became involved in film through the Doha Film Institute, and has
worked on 10 short films to date. He is currently working on his next
screenplay and researching a larger work.

This version of a
dystopian society is dealing with the same dilemma as “The World is Blue”
though the circumstances differ. 
Everyone is totally accepting of a condition of life which the
protagonist finds unacceptable.

It has resonance
today with the ruined cities of Damsascus, Hons, etc. although I cannot say
everyone is walking around thinking all is well; perhaps they are walking
around in a daze; most likely they are struggling to survive, but it still has
resonance. 

And people in the
fine world that has not been destroyed perhaps are the ones in a drugged state
believing all is well in their world…when in fact, it is not, as in “The World
is Blue”.  Again, there is a
resonance with “I Want to Feel”, a surreal synthesis of these two co-existing
worlds. 

 

This Article is related to: News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,