The Ajyal Film Festival has been showing off Qatar's local and regional films for nine years. Discover how the country’s film industry has changed to encourage more women and young talent to join the thriving sector.
For the 9th year in a row, Qatar is celebrating the best local and regional films at the Ajyal Film Festival. Due to COVID-19, the event again returns in a hybrid format with online and in-person screenings, but with 85 productions from 44 countries, it is still delivering boundary-pushing content.
Spotlight on new talent
Arab filmmakers from across the region are the brains behind half of what’s on offer and almost a third are directed by women. Yemeni filmmaker, Shaima Al-Tamimi’s, 'Don’t Get Too Comfortable', for example, is a personal story about her attempt to process continuous generational uprooting by connecting with her grandfather. Her film is featured in 'The Made in Qatar' section which also highlights homegrown talent like Khalifa Al-Thani, whose short film 'Border', is about a Middle Eastern man trying to get through airport security in a dystopian future. It addresses very current issues.
The Doha Film Institute which runs Ajyal has made its name as a hub for nurturing young talent and cinematic voices. CEO, Fatma Al Remaihi, says it's important as an establishing industry in Qatar to focus on the young generation because she believes the country cannot move forward without their support as filmmakers, but also as audiences. Certainly what makes this festival so different are the jurors who range in age from eight to 25 and have the final say on the best films.
Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi’s, 'A Hero' opened the festival. Lead actor, Amir Jadidi, says he considers Farhadi one of the greatest directors in the world and has learnt from his moral values and ethics.
Desert scenes inspiring creativity
Qatar may be a small country but there are still numerous locations inspiring creativity. Film City in the desert area of Brouq, also known as the Zekreet Peninsula, is about an hour’s drive away from the capital. It was specially built for an Arabic television series and features an unusual rock formation.
The surrounding area is now a nature reserve for animals protected by a team of environmental specialists, but for filmmakers the attraction still provides inspiration.
Emerging industry talent
Northwestern University in Qatar is also dedicated to motivating media professionals and new moviemakers. Students get the hands-on experience they need to hone their skills there.
Their professors are industry professionals who share their real-world knowledge and expertise like award-winning director, Professor João Queiroga, whose latest film 'Digging for Life' tells the story of a man who finds himself trapped digging for diamonds in Angola. He says he enjoys blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction and often encourages his students to be brave, bold, and authentic.
Nadia Al-Khater also believes that people might be surprised by the number of women making inroads in the region. She’s working on her second short film, in close collaboration with established producer Justin Kramer. He's a mentor to new talent in the region and says "I think over time, they're starting to find their voices here and really understand their perspectives with unique stories."
With stories that connect identity, history and culture, the work of young filmmakers in Qatar is certainly worth watching.