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Meet the aspiring female filmmakers capturing unique stories in Qatar

The Short Film Lab Provides aspiring female filmmakers with the knowledge and hands-on filming experience
The Short Film Lab Provides aspiring female filmmakers with the knowledge and hands-on filming experience Copyright Richard Ballan
Copyright Richard Ballan
By Gregory Ward
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In partnership with Media City Qatar

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SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world who are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

The film industry is renowned for being difficult for aspiring filmmakers, especially females, to find opportunities to showcase their talents. In Qatar, the film sector is growing, and many young women are looking for ways to join this fiercely competitive field.

Enter the Short Film Lab, a twelve-week mentorship programme in Doha providing aspiring female filmmakers with theoretical knowledge and hands-on filming experience. Helming the initiative is co-founder Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar (Mohana).

Richard Ballan
The Short Film Lab, provides aspiring female filmmakers with necessary knowledge and hands-on filming experienceRichard Ballan

"We take the participants through from ideas pitching, to writing their first script, to auditioning actors, filming on set, editing, designing their posters and producing their films," the novelist and filmmaker Mohana told Scenes.

Guidance and mentorship

Mohana was once an aspiring filmmaker herself and said a mentor would have been helpful. The grassroots initiative aims to nurture and cultivate the next generation of creatives. The Short Film Lab offers guidance from established filmmakers from The United States of America and the Gulf region.

"Having the right support system can really help motivate you to make a film happen," says Roya Abuhilalah, a participant in the Short Film Lab. Roya found the discussions with the mentors and other participants beneficial. She adds that making a film is a collaborative effort.

Richard Ballan
The Short Film Lab offers guidance from established filmmakers from The United States of America and the Gulf regionRichard Ballan

During the program, the young women met once a week, and each member must produce a short film at most five minutes in length. "Working with only females was actually a lot of fun, and it made it much more comfortable. "I felt like you could share more, and it would be in a safe space," says another Short Film Lab participant Ella Clare Riddle.

'It made me feel accepted.'

Jamie Navarro, an aspiring actress and filmmaker, concurs. "It made me feel accepted, and it made me feel like anything I did was valid," she adds. The participants say they thrived in the all-female setting, giving them a sense of community and support.

Richard Ballan
The filmmaking course helped Roya to make a film which was based on her own real-life experiences with autismRichard Ballan

Roya says that the filmmaking course helped develop her communication and social skills. Her story idea revolved around a little girl with autism based on her own real-life experiences as her younger sister was diagnosed with the disorder. Mohana says scripts are crucial to making a good quality film. "If you don't have a strong script, you don't have a very good project," she says.

Once the participants had prepared and perfected their script, they were given practical filming lessons from Xilin Hong, the program's Head of Production. "I taught the girls basic things, like how to use a camera, how to use lights, how to work with each other and how to handle a very stressful environment," says Xilin.

Richard Ballan
Xilin Hong taught the basics to the girls; using the camera, the light, working with each other and handling a very stressful environmentRichard Ballan

Lights, Camera, Action!

Many participants found the course's practical filming process the most enjoyable part. "I found shooting the film a lot of fun because you could have fun behind the scenes, and it's just so much easier to do," says Ella.

Roya spent this time finalising the look of her film. "The biggest challenge for me was transforming a written idea into a film," says Roya. "I played around with the lighting, the audio; I experimented with different angles. It helped me bring my ideas to life," she says.

Richard Ballan
The most enjoyable parts for Roya were adjusting lighting and the audio for the filmRichard Ballan

At the end of the course, the Short Film Lab holds a screening event where the girls showcase their films to their peers, families, and the wider community. "We had 11 projects come out of the lab, and we've submitted to over 50 festivals and won four or five awards, which is great for them as first-time filmmakers," says Mohana.

'Real power players'

The program has created a supportive community where young women can share their experiences, learn from each other, and receive feedback on their work. Christina Paschyn, the program's co-founder, is eager to see the young women rise to the top of their craft.

Richard Ballan
The Short Film Lab held a screening event where the girls showcased their films to their peers, families, and the wider communityRichard Ballan

"My hope for the future for the girls is for them to go out and become real power players in the filmmaking industry," says Christina.

The success of The Short Film Lab has inspired other young women in Qatar to pursue their filmmaking dreams. By empowering female filmmakers, the lab is helping to create a more diverse film industry that reflects all members of society.

Additional sources • Gregory Ward

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