LOS ANGELES, March 17, (RTRS): The Doha Film Institute’s innovative Qumra workshop wrapped its fourth edition Thursday on an upbeat note, reiterating its support for new voices in Arab cinema and its determination to overcome obstacles posed by tiny Qatar’s diplomatic rift with several Arab countries.
While executives and directors from Egypt and the Gulf nations were noticeably absent, the event – which blends mentoring, co-production market, and festival elements – was attended by a top roster of about 200 international film professionals, including reps from Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia.
Despite the air and sea blockade imposed on Qatar since last June by some of its neighbors, the Doha Film Institute, which is a key financing source for Middle Eastern cinema, has not changed its grants policy. Its funding faucet is still open to all, but the diplomatic crisis is preventing some Arab filmmakers from making use of it.
Qatar has officially been shunned by its largest neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which accuse it of supporting extremist groups in the region. Qatar denies the allegation. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also unhappy with Qatar’s close relationship with Turkey and Iran, the latter of which shares a massive offshore gas field with Qatar. The UAE has made it illegal for filmmakers to receive funding from Qatar.
“The opportunity is still there for everyone,” Doha Film Institute CEO Fatma Al Remaihi said of her organization’s funding programs. “But unfortunately, some directors will not be able to benefit from it….And that’s a shame for the industry, because support sources are very slim.”
Al Remaihi cited an unidentified Egyptian project that had been awarded funding from the institute but that “could not take the grant” for fear of repercussions back home. Egypt is the Arab world’s cinematic powerhouse and has had a substantial presence at Qumra in past editions.
There are other Arab projects, however, including at least one feature from Saudi Arabia, that have opted to remain within the Doha Film Institute’s fold.
Politics did not seem to mar the mood during the six days of carefully curated one-on-one meetings, script consultations, pitching and feedback sessions, and rough-cut screenings. They revolved around 34 institute-backed projects, mostly from first- and second-time directors, some of whom from outside the Middle East. There were also master classes held in the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art by Tilda Swinton, Bennett Miller, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Sandy Powell and Gianfranco Rosi, all of whom were on hand to provide feedback on specific projects. The creative director of Qumra is Palestinian auteur Elia Suleiman.
Significantly, three of the features in development stage at Qumra were by young Qatari directors who have been incorporating the country’s current situation in their work.
Khalifa Abdulla Al-Thani, who works in the Doha Film Institute’s development department, said he recently shot two mockumentary-style shorts for which he created a character called The Fabricator, “who puts out lies, and people hire him to do that.” They take their cue from the fake news story that, in late May 2017, helped trigger the diplomatic crisis. Someone allegedly hacked into the state-run Qatar News Agency and posted a report on its website falsely attributing comments to Qatar’s emir that called Iran a “superpower,” lauded Hamas and speculated that Donald Trump might not last long as US president. These were then immediately aired on the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV channel.
Al-Thani’s feature film project at Qumra is “The Voice of Amirah,” a female empowerment drama “about the importance of education in Qatar from the perspective of a young girl in the year 1976,” he said.
Arab features in advanced production stages included Tunisian director Mohamed Ben Attila’s “Weldi,” about a Tunisian father coming to terms with his son joining ISIS; Lebanese love-in-wartime romance “1982,” by first-time director Oualid Mouaness; Sudanese director’s Hajooj Kuka’s “A Kasha,” an offbeat romance set against the backdrop of Sudan’s civil war; and Moroccan director Meryem Benm’Barek’s Casablanca-set “Sofia,” about a young woman in a traditional family who, while having dinner with her siblings, suddenly discovers she is about to give birth.
Footage from these titles, some of which are likely to surface at Cannes, screened at Qumra for high-caliber acquisition execs such as Netflix global content buyer Funa Maduka and MUBI’s V.P. of Content Bobby Allen.
The Arabic word “qumra” is believed to be the origin of the word “camera.”
LOS ANGELES: Women dominated at the Guadalajara Festival this year with Jimena Montemayor taking home the Premio Mezcal for best director and best Mexican film with her fantasy-laced family drama “Wind Traces” (“Restos de Viento”) at the 33rd festival edition that wrapped March 16.
Made with a predominantly female crew, including highly-rated director of photography Maria Secco, editor Ana Laura Castro and art director Alisarine Ducolomb, Montemayor’s win is ever more significant given the surge of women in Mexico’s film industry. “Wind Traces” also grabbed the Fipresci Int’l Critics Prize.
Starring Argentina’s Dolores Fonzi (“Paulina”), the drama turns on a woman and her two children struggling to process the father’s death, with the son embracing the fantasy figure of a paternal monster.
Another femme filmmaker, Colombia’s Laura Mora, snagged the Best Ibero-American Fiction Feature Prize, with her gripping debut, “Killing …” (“Matar a …”), about a young woman out to avenge her father’s murder. Inspired by Mora’s own experience, the co-production between Colombia’s 64-A Films and Argentina’s AZ Films has garnered multiple festival awards since its world premiere at Toronto, with Latido Films handling world sales.
Giovanni Rodriguez, who plays the hitman, won the Mayahuel Best Actor prize for his magnetic performance in “Killing ….” He shares the prize with Mexico’s Luis Gerardo Mendez whose measured performance takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride in the darkly humorous “Time Share” (“Tiempo Compartido”), winner of the World Cinema Special Jury Prize for screenwriting at Sundance.
Praised by the jury for her “delicate work with her cast and the precision of her camera settings, which surprised with every shot,” Argentina’s Anahi Berneri snagged the Best Ibero-American Director award for her fifth feature, “Alanis.”
“Alanis,” a 2017 San Sebastian Silver Seashell director and actress (Sofia Gala) winner, tracks a young mother who turns to street prostitution to survive. When her business is shut down, she turns to her aunt’s fashion store in a seedy, multi-racial neighborhood where she tries to reclaim her dignity. Sofia Gala Castiglione took home the actress prize for her “bold and genuine” performance in “Alanis.”
The Premio Maguey, which focuses on films with LGBTQ beats, saw its best picture Maguey award to Felipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon’s “Hard Paint” (“Tinta Bruta”), already a Berlinale Panorama player, for their portrait of the final blooming of an abashed gay online performance artist, thanks to a love relationship, set in a Porto Alegre knowingly portrayed by the directorial duo.