Qatar is the couture state of the Arab world. They watched and learned from the mistakes of all the other Gulf countries that were declared as states before them, and then Qatar set about to reinvent how we view culture, fashion, art and film. You can't watch an award ceremony these days without the presence of the Doha Film Institute in the credits of at least one of the films nominated, the Museum Authority of the peninsular state has assembled and created, and is set to unveil more beauty than my eyes can hold -- just a visit to the Museum of Islamic Art will confirm my words -- and of course, the Emir's family owns some of the fashion world's most beloved brands.
So it's no surprise I'm almost literally jumping out of my skin in anticipation of my first Qumra event -- an annual mentorship program and meet up of the who's-who of the film world in Doha, which will run this year from March 9th to the 15th.
For this edition Qumra will bring together five Masters and one last minute surprise addition -- hint, it's that golden beauty featured above in the photo. These six stars of their crafts will mentor and encourage an impressive line-up of projects that run the gamut from feature narratives in development, to documentaries in picture lock and an impressive program of shorts from Qatari filmmakers.
The Masters are quite interesting to me this year, maybe because the mentorships will be an assortment of advice that will include world filmmakers, a costume designer, a Hollywood director and an actress who cannot be placed in any box, at any time. Perhaps Tilda Swinton can only described as one of the most fantastical women to walk among us today.
Italian director Gianfranco Rosi is the only filmmaker to have ever won a Berlinale Golden Bear for a documentary 'Fuocoammare' ('Fire at Sea') which was also nominated for an Oscar in 2017. Thai filmmaker and visual artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul is so multi-awarded, being a Cannes darling and having premiered his films in Venice as well, that an introduction may seem superfluous. But just in case, his 'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives', was the winner of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or in 2010. Russian director and writer Andrey Zvyagintsev just won a Cezar award for his latest oeuvre 'Loveless' and won the Golden Globes Best Foreign Language award in 2015 with 'Leviathan'.
Then there is costume designer Sandy Powell OBE (yes, she's been bestowed with an Order of the British Empire as well as three Oscar for her work on 'The Young Victoria', 'Shakespeare in Love' and 'The Aviator') and American filmmaker Bennett Miller who won the Palme d'Or in Cannes in 2014 for 'Foxcatcher', the Golden Bear at Berlinale in 2006 for 'Capote' and my heart, because that last title starring the magnificent Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, covering the story of the Kansas massacre of a family, truly has never left me. It burrows deep in my soul as one of the most outstanding performance of the great, late American actor.
I was warned by a journalist friend, and frequent attendee, that Qumra would have one last trick up its sleeve, announced just before the start of the weeklong event and in fact, he was right. When the announcement that Tilda Swinton had joined the program as a Master came through, I was delighted and very pleasantly surprised. I mean, I can see how perfectly she fits as a voice in this line-up of greatness from the film world, and her iconic elegance lends itself to the style image of Qatar, and yet having an actress of her caliber to conduct masterclasses and mentor filmmakers is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that should be cherished. I hope all the filmmakers, writers and producers of the projects participating in this edition realize how lucky they are!
Stay tuned to this blog for some Qumra Diaries in the next week as well as an exclusive interview with filmmaking legend Elia Suleiman, Doha Film Institute's Artistic Advisor and Hanaa Issa, Director of Qumra and Director of Strategy and Development for the Doha Film Institute.