Qatar Goes to the Movies

Antonio Banderas on the red carpet at the Doha Tribeca Fim Festival 2011

The Doha Film Institute (DFI) offers a wide array of programming—from the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, which just had its third run in October—to training in filmmaking, film financing, and educational programmes about film culture for residents of Qatar.

Established in 2010, the DFI has already emerged as a key player in film production, education, and culture in the Middle East and an incubator of local filmmaking talent.

[inset_left]The DFI has its own design and production units[/inset_left]The Institute defines its mission as serving both the particular needs of Qatar and encouraging film as a medium of expression in the Middle East and beyond: “DFI is dedicated to film appreciation, education, and building a dynamic film industry in Qatar that focuses on nurturing regional storytellers while being entirely global in its scope… DFI serves as an all-encompassing film hub in Doha, as well as a resource for the region and the rest of the world. We firmly believe in the power of film to change hearts and minds, and our motto reflects the sentiment that film is life.”

The DFI also hosts events without a focus on film per se, but that aim to strengthen Doha’s cultural programming and provide a platform for creativity and exchange. These include the forthcoming 2012 TEDx Summit. The Institute is located within the Katara Cultural Village, which offers a mix of cultural programs including music, theatre, fashion, art, craftmaking, and design.

The DFI has its own design and production units which help Middle Eastern filmmakers bring a range of media to life including film as well as web based programming, radio, and television.

The openness of the Institute is evident in the diversity of programming it embraces. It has offered comedy workshops open to children, teenagers, and adults, storytelling workshops, and classes on improvisation and movement. In December of 2011 it played a role in bringing Kevin Spacey to Doha for two performances of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Qatar National Convention Centre. It has also entered into partnership with the Kevin Spacey Foundation to offer two theatre workshops in local Qatari schools.

“Harrer, Harrer” was a 7-day storytelling workshop held last April in which participants told stories about the different revolutions taking place across the Middle East. Each participant created a one-minute film set in a particular location, telling the story of the Arab revolutions from the vantage points of cities across the Middle East from Tunis to Cairo to Marrakech and Amman.

Highlights from this year’s recent Doha Film Festival, held in October, include Luc Besson’s The Lady about the Burmese democracy and human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi, a series of Arab shorts exploring love, absence, miracles, and longing, The Artist – a paean to a bygone Hollywood era of silent films, the documentaries Yearning (Tawq), about the limitations, desires, and struggles of Syrian women in Damascus seeking greater freedom, Vol Special, about a Swiss detention centre which tells the stories of six migrants waiting between hope and despair for granting of asylum status, Mama Africa, about the late musician Miriam Makeba, and ¡Vivan las Antipodas!, which explores the cultures, languages, people, and landscapes of four locations at opposite ends of the earth: Entre Rios, Argentina and Shanghai, China, Hawaii, and a small village in Botswana.

Interactive events included a conversation with Morgan Spurlock, Director of Super-Size Me, a dialogue with actor Antonio Banderas, and conversations amongst major female filmmakers about the place of women in the film world and the extent to which they are welcomed and respected as equals, and the opportunities and challenges facing women as filmmakers and film industry professionals.

In recent years the Gulf region’s commitment to developing film culture has been demonstrated by the massive growth in organizations, programs, and funding for film production, education, and distribution. Although the Doha Film Institute is younger than its peers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it has quickly shown itself to be capable of contributing to, supporting, and sharing film in Qatar, with the broader Middle East region, and with the world at large.

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