From the moment I boarded the Qatar Airways plane in Fiumicino, I realized I was being transported somewhere special. I also knew my journey, as both a film writer and a human being, would be a life changing one.
To begin with, the airline offers Karak chai -- a milky tea infused with cardamom or saffron to taste -- and a choice of films that included 'Murder on the Orient Express', the new version by Kenneth Branagh. Not what I would have gone to the movies to watch it but at 30 thousand feet, flying over lands and bodies of water I'll probably never set foot on or swim through, cup of fragrant tea in hand one's taste adjusts. And I even found myself crying through some of Branagh's Hercule Poirot moments.
"Every imperfection stands out and I see the world as it should be -- it makes most of it unbearable," the mustachioed Belgian sleuth says at the very beginning of his journey, and my eyes welled up with a mixture of tears, longing and joy. Because I was, after all, traveling to the epicenter of films -- the Doha Film Institute's annual Qumra event. It didn't matter all that had come before, in the last few months in particular. This was it and I would finally be a part of it.
Once on the ground, a short five and some hours later, a car whisked me to the Souq Waqif and a hotel right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of it all. A date fair and a pet souk just meters from my front door meant some after dark exploring was in order, and my first evening in Doha included a light meal, followed by at least ten dates I "tasted" at the fair. There are many reasons I love Qatar of course, but one of the most simple ones is how perfectly safe I feel as a woman here.
Oh, and when I open my glass paned window which overlooks one of the roads of the souk, I can smell the scents of spices wafting in from up the block. That's simply magical.
After a leisurely breakfast in the morning, it was then time for a meet and greet at the Museum of Islamic Art. Always a personal favorite, the building has this wonderfully iconic look. It seems like a woman is peering out of the top of it from behind her face mask -- courtesy of legendary architect I. M. Pei.
Legendary were also some of the guests hosted inside the MIA like Qumra Master Tilda Swinton, TIFF's artistic director Cameron Bailey, Elia Suleiman, Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the multi-awarded Gianfranco Rosi and Doha Film Institute's CEO Fatma Al Remaihi who happened to be on everyone's Best Dressed list at this year's Academy Awards.
The first of this year's masterclasses kicked off with Swinton and Bailey who held a wonderfully intimate conversation which just happened to be in front of a packed house. I felt like a secret guest, witnessing something so precious that it required my full attention just so I would not miss a single, valuable word.
I found that Smriti Kiran, the Creative Director of Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival said it best in her Facebook post. She got the spirit of the talk -- not to mention some of the best images and a cool video excerpt.
At the opening night party, which took place in the Souq, on a street covered in carpets with a buffet made up of gourmet food but also local Qatari home cooked fare and was accompanied by the traditional singing of a group of sublime women, I found my lost soul once again. I remembered why I do what I do, what makes it all worth while and how much more work is ahead.
All worth it, for the love of cinema.