Doha Tribeca Film Festival Boosts Arab Industry

Screen International, November 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Doha Tribeca Film Festival Boosts Arab Industry


Behind its glitzy exterior, the Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF) is providing a genuine platform for Arab film-makers and helping to create a local industry.

The third Doha Tribeca Film Festival, which wrapped this weekend, managed to attract a starry guest list, not to mention hosting a steady stream of glamorous parties and high profile screenings, masterclasses and Q&As.

But there is more to Doha than its glitzy facade.

Thanks to the year round activities of the Doha Film Institute (formed in May 2010), this is now a festival with a clear mission to build a sustainable local film industry and provide a platform for emerging Arab film-makers.

A mission which, if this year's edition was anything to go by, is well under way.

"We will never be Cannes, but if we have a specifity, then we will continue to attract people in the industry. And our specifity is on Arab films," said Lebanese film-maker and festival programmer Chadi Zeneddine, who is currently developing two film projects of his own, a fairytale feature for Disney called Last Of The Storytellers and a coming of age story which he hopes to shoot in 2013.

"The Arab world needs to create a hub where it can film in a comfort zone. We are here to do that and to give Arab film-makers a platform," adds Zeneddine, who neverthless voiced his frustration at the lack of co-operation between the Arab states adding that next year he would "like to see countries being more supportive of each other and discovering the talent of their neighbours."

Certainly, there was a sense that the ongoing rivalry between the three big Middle East festivals - Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha - is only getting fiercer.

When it comes to prize money, Dubai's Muhr Awards, for shorts, documentaries and feature films, offer $600,000, whilst Doha's total awards pot for its Arab Film Competition currently $335,000, with the two main awards, for best Arab narrative feature and documentary, each carrying $100,000 prizes. Abu Dhabi offers a total of $1m across its four competition sections, but this includes international categories as well. All three festivals are working hard to nurture homegrown talent and establish local film-making hubs through their own initiatives, funds and markets.

A tangible example of the DTFF's increased focus on homegrown talent is the decision to extend the Arab Film Competition to include 14 features, split into narrative feature and documentary sections. One encouraging statistic was that 40% of the films in the Arab competition were made by women film-makers, a theme which was carried across the festival, with a panel entitled She Is Film featuring Nadine Labacki and Jasmila Zbanic.

As well as a general focus on Arab film-making, the DFI is taking increasing steps to nurture Qatari film-makers, as was evident through its new Made In Qatar section, which featured 16 short films made by Qatari residents, both professional film-makers and local amateurs.

The DFI also appears to be making serious waves through its education programme headed up by Palestinian film-maker Scandar Copti, whose feature Ajami was nominated for the foreign language Oscar in 2009.

The year round programme of workshops (some of which take place in schools) is open to budding Qatari film-makers of all ages (students currently range from 7-50) and is free, thanks to DFI funding. "It's very important to start them young, because this is how you create a culture," says Copti, who has based himself in Qatar, and who created a special interactive installation for this year's festival. The Harrer Harrer installation is made up of 48 short films based around the Arab Spring and the theme of liberation. The short films came out of a series of workshops across the Arab world, with 16 participants working on every aspect of the film-making process to produce the finished shorts.

So does Copti believe that the recent Arab Spring and the new found freedom that has come with it, will lead to a flowering of Arab cinema? …

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