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Cannes ’15: Doha Film Institute’s Spring 2015 Grants Lineup

Cannes '15: Doha Film Institute’s Spring 2015 Grants Lineup

I had the good fortune of spending some time speaking with the CEO of the Doha Film Institute, Fatma Al Remahi, whom I had met previously at the Toronto Film Festival. She is a woman of rare talents and I intend to devote a “Women to Watch” feature on her when I return to Los Angeles. With her this day in Cannes were Khalil Benkirane, Head of Grants and Elia Suleiman, the Palestinian filmmaker known for his wry comedies/ commentaries of the current state of affairs around the Mideast, like “Divine Intervention”, “The Time That Remains”, “Chronicle of a Disappearance”, winner of five major awards, and a segment in the 2012 omnibus, “7 Days in Havana”.

They are here to celebrate being in Cannes with five films that they have invested in and which have won slots in the festival, thus proving how well their grants have worked. Even this past fall in Venice two of their films won prizes, one, “Sivas” from Turkey [its submission for Academy Award nomination] and Germany won the Special Jury Prize and Best Actor Award, and “Theeb” from Jordan [its submission for Academy Award nomination], UAE, Qatar and U.K.

Before going into the films the Doha Film Institute is granting not only with money, but with greater support from the filmmaking community in the Mideast and the larger world, I asked Suleiman how he envisaged his role. His answer was, “with age, as strong passions wind down a bit, one has time and the wish to give back to the young, fresh filmmakers. In the process, you learn from their experience, and your own passion is rekindled by theirs. We all felt the same way at the same time, and the new grants program started very quickly with a wholeness to it.  It offers a way to stay connected and alert. Personally, it gives us a community, helping others and in doing this, we help ourselves. That is why we are here.”

CEO Fatma Al Ramahi added that after five years of curating projects, granting financial aid and co-financing projects, they had come full circle and DFI was now offering filmmakers more in what resembles an ecosystem.

I pointedly asked about the place of women in this “ecosystem” to which Khalil Benkirane replied, “it depends upon the submissions. We preselect some and others are chosen; the decisions are based upon the combination of merit, narrative story, content, relevance and a direction toward a cinema for tomorrow, bringing in a new voice. The last three sessions before this one included more projects by women than men. This last session had less than 50% by women, more like 30%. But we have no quota which we must fill. We are conscious, but chose by merit. Women may be in greater numbers because they offer fresh, new voices. In five years we will see more features by women.

I asked about the presence of USA projects their selection, having noticed a little known incident dramatized in “Houston, We Have a Problem! by Ziga Virc (Slovenia, Germany, Croatia, Qatar) which occurred in March, 1961 when Yugoslavia sold its secret space program to the USA. Two months later, President Kennedy announced that Americans would travel to the Moon.

They pointed out the USA coproduction, “Likhaya” by Aaron and Amanda Kopp (USA, Swaziland, Qatar), a feature doc about some talented orphaned children in Swaziland who create a fictional heroine and send her on a dangerous quest. 

In their first year, 30 projects from the U.S. were submitted by Sundance and none made the cut. Last year saw some strong U.S. docs. This year they saw some real U.S. indies which were submitted by individuals who heard the call. These were indies not influenced by U.S. commercial concerns, by wanting to fill TV slots or other such systemic strictures.

I agree that U.S. filmmakers need to look abroad for more originality and cannot remain U.S.-centric if they want to break the constraints of TV and Hollywood imposed styles.

Since those early years, Sundance itself has changed its direction and expanded its international slate, and U.S. itself has become more multi cultural.

Submissions for the Fall 2015 grants session will open July 18 and close August 1, so act now!

By and large however, topical themes of exile, the aftermath of war, coming of age and the importance of family feature figure prominently in the Institute’s Spring 2015 session of its grants program whose recipients were announced today at the Cannes Film Festival.

Twenty-five projects – comprising 14 narrative feature films, 5 feature documentaries, 1 feature experimental film and 5 short films – will receive funding for development, production or post-production.

This round’s selection also highlights the strength of submissions from first- and second-time feature filmmakers from the MENA region along with a strong group of short films receiving grants, reflecting the Doha Film Institute’s dedication to supporting emerging new talent.

After expanding the grants criteria to include established filmmakers from the MENA region for the category of post-production, this cycle also sees Mai Masri (Palestine) and Merzak Allouache (Algeria) awarded funding for their respective new projects – Masri’s 3000 Nights,” a narrative feature about a newlywed Palestinian schoolteacher who gives birth to her son in an Israeli prison and Allouache’s Madame Courage,” a narrative feature about an unstable and lonely teenager, living in a slum in the suburbs of Mostaganem, Algeria.

Former grantees Leila Hotait Salas (“Crayons of Askalan) and Nejib Belkadhi (‘Bastardo’) are also returning with new projects. Hotait Salas’ narrative feature “Stolen Skies,” is set against the demonstrations in Cairo in 2011 about a women who remembers her Lebanese lover from 30 years ago and Belkadhi’s narrative feature ‘Retina’, is about a Tunisian immigrant forced to return to his country to take care of his autistic son.

Gulf representation in the short films includes Fahad Al Kuwari’s “One of Them’ from Qatar” and Amal Al-Agroobi’s “Under The Hat”  from the UAE. Qatari feature film, “Sahaab” by Khalifa Abdullah Al Muraikhi marks the first Qatari feature awarded for a production grant and is a project which recently participated in Qumra – the first edition of the Institute’s new industry platform dedicated to the development of first- and second-time filmmakers.

In the feature documentary category, stories from or about Syria and its ongoing civil war and set against a backdrop of political, social and emotional turmoil form the subject matter of several projects selected for grants including Boutheyna Bouslama’s “Seeking The Man With the Camera” (Tunisia, Switzerland, France, Qatar), Ziad Kalthoum’s “Beirut Rooster (Syria, Lebanon, Qatar) and Noura Kevorkian’s “Batata (Lebanon, Qatar).

In the feature narrative category, regional projects from Algeria, Lebanon and Palestine span a variety of genres and cover a range of subject matter such as modern-day life in the Middle East, lost love and immigration; projects include Muhannad Lamin’s “Tin Hinan,” Lidia Terki’s “Paris The White,” Firas Khoury’s “Alam, The Flag” and Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya’s innovative genre film “Film Kteer Kbeer.”

Five projects from outside the MENA region have received funding, including grants for filmmakers from Singapore (‘Apprentice’ by Junfeng Boo) and Slovenia (‘Houston, We Have a Problem’ by Ziga Virc) for the first time.

The new-wave of filmmaking coming out of Argentina, a story of familial secrets between sisters and a moving documentary about orphan children in Swaziland form an eclectic selection of projects chosen from the rest of the world by filmmakers Francisco Varone (“Road To La Paz), Manu Gerosa (“Between Sisters) and Aaron and Amanda Kopp (“Liyana”).

Fatma Al Remaihi, CEO of the Doha Film Institute, said: “Our Spring grantees demonstrate the strength of new work coming from emerging filmmakers with 23 projects awarded to first- and second-time directors and a strong selection of short films by new talents to watch.”

“These grants give support to projects with diverse regional perspectives and genres, underlining the Doha Film Institute’s commitment to the development of innovative new voices in cinema which is also echoed in our recently launched development platform, Qumra.”

“What is Qumra?” I asked and they showed me the recent Screen International Cannes supplement about it. Those of you in Cannes can get it off the trade stands or in the Screen offices. It is no red carpet event, nor is it a series of master classes. It is a regional conference aimed at deepening the conversations of experienced experts and emerging filmmakers. No masterclass or labs replace the personal conversations though there are workshops and grants involved. The grants are not merely monetary; they are grants of support, mentorships and approval which open the way for the filmmakers to optimize their chances to move ahead with their projects toward their intended goals.

It is a question of control often for filmmakers who may be forced to fit an organization’s requirements when they receive funding. In Qumra, they have their own space without an authoritarian producer, although the producer is also invited and is treated well. Because the projects and producers themselves are curated, the producers are committed to committing themselves as it were to the projects. They are not forced to take on projects if they don’t find the one that fits, but they are only invited if they intend to consider the projects seriously for their own portfolio. That filmmakers and producers both come out of Qumra contented is crucial.

“We have funded more than 220 projects through the grants programme since it was established and I am pleased to welcome back some of our grantee alumni who are returning this session with their new films. I am also pleased to introduce in this funding round a new avenue of support for established MENA directors, which reflects an integral part of our mission to support voices from the Arab world.”

Films supported in previous sessions of the grants programme are strongly represented in the Festival de Cannes this year with five grantees making their world premiere in various sections. They are: “Waves ’98” by Elie Dagher (Lebanon, Qatar) competing in the Official Short Film Competition; “Dégradé” by Tarzan and Arab Abunasser (Palestine, France, Qatar) and “Mediterranea” by Jonas Carpignano (Italy, France, Germany, Qatar) in the Critics’ Week sidebar which is dedicated to showcasing innovative works by new filmmakers; ‘”Lambby Yared Zeleke (Ethiopia [its submission for Academy Award nomiination], France, Qatar) in the main world cinema showcase, Un Certain Regard; and “Mustang[France’s submission for Academy Award nomination] by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (Turkey, France, Germany, Qatar) selected for the Directors’ Fortnight.

Submissions for the Fall 2015 grants session will open July 18 and close August 1, so act now!

The fund is primarily for first and second-time filmmakers with the exception of the category of Post-Production which is available to established filmmakers from the MENA region.

For more information about eligibility and submission process visit:

A full directory of past grant recipients is available to view online at:

Doha Film Institute grantees for the Spring 2015 session are:


Feature Narrative

“Seeking the Man with the Camera” by Boutheyna Bouslama (Tunisia, Switzerland, France, Qatar)

An investigative documentary that follows the narrator as she seeks out Seymo, a childhood friend with whom she used to play in the streets of Homs.

“Stolen Skies” by Laila Hotait Salas (Lebanon, Qatar)

Against the backdrop of the demonstrations in Cairo in 2011, a woman wants to remember the Lebanese lover she had 30 years ago – but first she will need to forgive herself.

“Tin Hinan” by Muhannad Lamin (Libya, Qatar)

A mythical coming-of-age tale in which a young girl is forced to travel into the Sahara to find a new home, ‘Tin Hinan’ depicts the struggle for identity in the midst of a revolution.


Feature Narrative

“1982”  by Oualid Mouaness (Lebanon, Qatar)

When 11-year-old Wissam decides to tell a classmate that he loves her, his will is challenged, his courage falters and an impending war threatens to separate them permanently.

“Alam, The Flag” by Firas Khoury (Palestine, France, Qatar)

Tamer, a young Palestinian high-school student, takes part in the mysterious Operation Flag mission on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day celebrations – a day of mourning for Palestinians.

“Paris the White” by Lidia Terki (Algeria, France, Qatar)

Aicha, a woman of 70, leaves her village in Algeria for the first time to go to Paris in search of her husband, who has not contacted her in years.

“Retina” by Nejib Belkadhi (Tunisia, Qatar)

Lotfi, a Tunisian immigrant who lives in France, is forced to return to his homeland to take care of his autistic child.

“Sahaab” by Khalifa Abdullah Al Muraikhi (Qatar)

When Nasser and his friends are lost in the desert, struggling to retrieve their falcon, their search turns out to be a deadly journey.

Short Narrative

“Aya” by Moufida Fedhila (Tunisia, France, Qatar)

‘Aya’ is a story about faith in God and in humanity, and of making changes and sacrifices in order to save one’s soul.

“The Boss” by Rzgar Huseein Ahmed (Iraq, Qatar)

A group of boys decides to select a boss from among themselves. Then the boss becomes the group’s dictator.

“One of Them” by Fahad Al Kuwari (Qatar)

Khalid finds himself in an enigmatic situation when he suddenly develops immunity to religious advocacy.

“Under the Hat” by Amal Al-Agroobi (United Arab Emirates, Qatar)

A mosque’s mu’athen loses his voice and looks for a replacement in his neighbor – the young vocalist in a heavy metal band.

Feature Documentary

“Batata” by Noura Kevorkian (Lebanon, Qatar)

While war rages back home, a family of Syrian potato farmers works the fields in neighboring Lebanon.

“Ghosts Hunting” by Raed Andoni (Palestine, France, Qatar)

Director Raed Andoni assembles an eclectic group of Palestinian ex-prisoners to rebuild the Israeli investigation centre in which they were imprisoned – a place they never in fact saw, because they were always blindfolded.

Short Experimental or Essay

“The Most Pretty Dudes” by Mohammad Dibo (Syria, Qatar)

In Homs, a city destroyed by war, two embattled groups negotiate to ensure their safe escape from the building they are both trapped in.


Feature Narrative

“3000 Nights” by Mai Masri (Palestine, France, Jordan, Lebanon, UAE, Qatar)

A recently wed Palestinian schoolteacher gives birth in an Israeli prison, where she fights to protect her son, survive and maintain hope.

“Apprentice” by Junfeng Boo (Singapore, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Qatar)

Aiman, a corrections officer, is transferred to a high-security prison. There, he befriends Rahim, who, it turns out, is chief executioner. Can Aiman overcome his conscience and become Rahim’s apprentice?

“Film Kteer Kbeer” by Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya (Lebanon, Qatar)

Intending to smuggle the amphetamine Captagon to Iraq in film canisters, a small-time Lebanese drug-dealer transforms himself into a film producer and, with the help of an underrated filmmaker, slyly manipulates public opinion.

“Houston, We Have a Problem!” by Ziga Virc (Slovenia, Germany, Croatia, Qatar)

In March, 1961, Yugoslavia sold its secret space programme to the USA. Two months later, President Kennedy announced that Americans would travel to the Moon.

“Madame Courage” by Merzak Allouache (Algeria, France, Qatar)

Omar, an unstable and lonely teenager, lives in a slum in the suburbs of Mostaganem.

“Road to La Paz” by Francisco Varone (Argentina, The Netherlands, Germany, Qatar)

Sebastián is hired to take Jahlil, a Muslim retiree, on the most important mission of his life. What begins as an inconvenient trip turns out to be a life-changing adventure.

Feature Documentary

“Beirut Rooster” by Ziad Kalthoum (Syria, Lebanon, Qatar)

While Syrian workers rebuild Lebanon, a country ruined by a lengthy civil war, their hometowns in Syria are destroyed during the brutal conflict there. Who will rebuild their houses?

“Between Sisters” by Manu Gerosa (Italy, Qatar)

Before life runs out, Ornella decides to confront her aging sister Teresa with a painful untold story – one that might change their close bond forever.

“Likhaya”  by Aaron and Amanda Kopp (USA, Swaziland, Qatar)

In Swaziland, some talented orphaned children create a fictional heroine and send her on a dangerous quest.

Feature Experimental or Essay

“In My Head, A Roundabout” by Lahcene Ferhani (Algeria, France, Qatar)

In the Ruisseau District of Algiers, workers and animals come together for a last dance of death: the city’s main slaughterhouse is about to close forever.

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