When Doha Tribeca was dissolved in 2012, the initial conception for Qumra was as a festival focused on the works of first and second-time directors, but that has been abandoned in favour of a hybrid festival/filmmaker lab made up of 25 hand-picked candidates and ‘Masters’ who will impart their wisdom in daily mentoring sessions.
The first four Masters confirmed for Qumra’s inaugural program are Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days”), Danis Tanovic (“No Man’s Land,” Abderrahmane Sissako (“Timbuktu”) and Iranian actress Leila Hatami, star of “A Separation.” At least one, and possibly two or three more Masters will be announced prior to the March 2015 launch.
The 25 candidates, to be chosen by Qumra’s artistic advisor Elia Suleiman and the DFI team headed by Acting CEO Fatma Al Remaihi, will be a mix of emerging Qatari filmmakers, and Middle Eastern and international directors and producers already in the DFI fold through their grant programme. The idea is not to offer further financial support but, says Al Remaihi, “we will be match-making them with financiers, sales agents, script doctors – whatever their projects need right now to progress to the next level.”
If Qumra has turned out to be less ambitious than its original conception, it’s all part of a stripped-back emphasis on local audiences and talent for the DFI following the abrupt termination of the Tribeca partnership two years ago (Al Remaihi also announced the launch of a dedicated Qatari Film Fund during Ajyal). While Ajyal has quickly carved an identity with its emphasis on youth programming, Qumra’s evolution to becoming a boutique event seems to confirm the ongoing contraction of the Gulf region’s festival landscape. Nearby Dubai, for instance, pulled the plug on its festival’s film market only months after it was supersized amid great fanfare last December.
“We were really sad to hear about the dissolving of the Dubai Film Connection,” says Al Remaihi. “It’s been a great initiative that connected so many regional, European and international projects. Our discussions for how Qumra would be formulated were already well ahead before we heard their announcement. If we are able to fill a gap that was created, we will be very happy to do that, although we are not a co-production market. But it’s a beginning and we never know. There will be an evolution for this event until we can get to that best solution.”
Suleiman and Al Remaihi were naturally keen to emphasize the positives of Qumra, which will also feature a public screening series of DFI-funded projects and films curated by the Masters, to be accompanied by talent Q&As. “It’s not not a festival,” insists Suleiman. “The idea behind this is about passion. The idea is to do good, to encourage and to find talent. It’s quite personal to me [because] when I was young and wanted help, nobody gave it to me. It’s about instigating and inspiring these young filmmakers.”
With Ajyal and Qumra both small-scale in international terms, Al Remaihi was asked whether the DFI would consider combining them into a single event in future. “Ajyal is a full-grown festival now,” she said. “It’s dedicated to the local community, but we also wanted to have something for the industry. Mixing them together would shift that focus.”
Qumra will run from 6-11 March, 2015.