As I learned at this year’s Qumra, held by the Doha Film Institute, the grand dame of French New Wave cinema Agnès Varda was all about finding the stories, the viewpoints that no one else would bother with. The Festival de Cannes, in its poster just unveiled for the 72nd edition of the festival, pays homage to La Varda but also to her indomitable spirit by showing the filmmaker on her first cinematic venture perched high up on a platform, atop the shoulders of a crew technician. She’s is looking to capture that image, that viewpoint which no one else would have even thought about. She is Varda, in all her perfectly humble and adventurous attitude. The same Varda who asked me, to my utter disbelief, if I’d liked her “little film” a few years ago in Cannes.Read More
On my last day in Doha, I spend the afternoon wandering around the Souq Waqif which I learned from a local filmmaker, literally translates as “the stand up souk.” In the olden days, before Qatar turned into the international, cosmopolitan country it is today, the sea would come straight into the alleys of the souk so the merchants had to stand up and pick up their wares during the tides. Thus the name, and actually while I wandered around checking out the shops, having a shawl sewn from a traditional flower fabric by a local tailor while drinking a karak chai (cardamon infused milky tea) and eating a chapatti flat bread filled with zaatar, I felt like I was transported back to those early days of the pearl divers and their haunting songs of the sea.
Doha is special place. I’ll never get tired of saying it. And their annual Qumra event, organized by the Doha Film Institute is sheer cinematic magic. Qumra is a meeting place, a five-days long networking session, a place to pitch, secure financing and ensure a screening chance for film projects. But it is also an occasion to recharge our collective passion for the movies. For journalists, producers and of course filmmakers, the atmosphere at Qumra offers an almost electric energy, a jolt of renewed hope in the future of the 7th art.Read More
When I look at the title of this piece, I feel overwhelmed myself. I mean, it would be pretty wonderful to just hear one of the these two men who are such Maestros in each of their professions give a Masterclass. But when you get them both, within 24 hours of each other, on a stage, talking to the equally wondrous Richard Peña, well, you have cinematic magic.
Or more precisely, what you have is the Doha Film Institute’s annual Qumra event.Read More
It is obvious from the moment one steps on a Qatar Airways aircraft that cinema is important in Doha. I mean, just going through the entertainment system on my particular flight, I found ‘Rebecca’ by Hitchcock, Barry Jenkins’ hauntingly touching and all too true ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, Paul Dano’s intimate portrayal of a family struggling to remain a single nucleus ‘Wildlife’ and even the 2019 Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Green Book’.
Qatar knows good cinema and nowhere is that better understood than in the welcoming arms of the Doha Film Institute.Read More
Ever since its creation in 2010 on the peninsular country of Qatar, the Doha Film Institute has been revolutionizing cinema in the Region. The word “revolution” is never a sign of good things in the Arab world and yet at DFI, they should welcome the term when it comes to describing the work they’ve been doing almost singlehandedly to create and foster a healthy cinema culture in the Arab world. And beyond.Read More
As I flew over to Milan to reach Locarno then by car over the Alps, I watched 'The Gospel According to André' on the plane -- the documentary about the grand fashion figure that is André Leon Talley. It was a perfect way to dive into the Locarno Festival since Talley's life has been all about courage and bold choices and this year's film festival is channeling that spirit exactly.
Also, as a woman I find solace at an event that kicks off with a press release announcing their commitment to sign the Programming Pledge for Parity and Inclusion in Cinema Festivals for parity and equality in the industry. Locarno will be the first festival after Cannes to commit to this pledge. So on August 5th at 9.45 a.m. Marco Solari, Locarno Festival President and Carla Speziali, Locarno Festival Vice President, will gather at the Spazio Forum to publicly and officially sign the initiative by SWAN, the Swiss Women’s Audiovisual Network, a sister movement to the French 5050x2020 campaign that took place on the steps of the Palais this May 2018 during the Cannes Film Festival.Read More
Best selling author R.A. Salvatore once wrote "It is better, I think, to grab at the stars than to sit flustered because you know you cannot reach them." In all they do, and how they unrelentingly and tirelessly support filmmakers, the Doha Film Institute folks prove time and time again that they are grabbing at the stars, not sitting by, flustered.
After having been to Qumra this past spring, I can't imagine the Arab cinema landscape without the presence of DFI. In fact, even after the Dubai International Film Festival called off its 2018 edition, because of DFI's mission I remain hopeful for the future of cinema in and from the Region, and I know I'm not the only one to feel that way.
This year, in fact, in Cannes there are six DFI-supported films. In the main Competition, there are Nadine Labaki's 'Capharnaüm' -- check out my interview with the filmmaker in The National newspaper -- and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 'The Wild Pear Tree'; ''Sofia' by Meryem Benm’Barek and 'Long Day’s Journey Into Night' by Gan Bi are screening in Un Certain Regard; and in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar audiences will find both 'Weldi' by Mohamed Ben Attia and 'The Load' by Ognjen Glavonić. So, if you thought that DFI was only about cinema from MENA think again!Read More
As of my very first steps at this year's Qumra, around the Souq Waqif, spent inside the Date Market fair and eating a bowl of fragrant Moroccan fava bean soup at a nearby restaurant, to my very last moments wandering inside the Hamad International Airport drinking an espresso with a fellow journalist, Doha gave me the very best she has to offer. And that's pretty darn sensational in a country that can count culture, fashion and heritage at the top of its list of priorities.
From the brand new, still partly in construction National Museum of Qatar rising out of the sands, and shaped like a Desert Rose, the crystallized rock that is formed when lighting hits the dunes, to the institution of the Museum of Islamic Art, where most of the Qumra events and masterclasses are held, to the leisurely, harass-free environment of the Souq itself, I felt like I was being coddled in a cocoon of culture and learning, one that would definitely remain with me for months to come.Read More
The great thing about an event like Qumra, the yearly industry meet-up organized by the Doha Film Institute to inspire and connect filmmakers with the world of cinema business, is that one gets to discover wonderful gems. And not only the up and coming filmmakers whose projects were featured in this fourth edition, some of which are definitely heading to Cannes! I also had the leisure to rediscover Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev (‘Leviathan’ and ‘Loveless’ among others) and hear his insight during one of the six masterclasses, and actually uncover ApichatpongWeerasethakul, watch his dreamy work for the first time. And what a wonder that was! As Italian Maestro Gianfranco Rosi admitted to me later, I also remained enchanted by Weerasethakul’s ‘Emerald’ a dreamy look at a rundown motel, featuring flying particles and voiceovers, which I’m still working through and thinking about quite a few days later.Read More
When Oscar-nominated American filmmaker Bennett Miller sat down to give his masterclass during this year's Qumra in Doha, he immediately apologized for his voice. "It doesn't hurt, it just sounds bad," he admitted, about the husky sound that appeared to be a really bad case of laryngitis. Maybe they could stop a bit early, said his moderator, who instead then actually proceeded to go overtime with the talk.
Living on the edge, this idea that the masterclass could be cut short by Miller's loss of voice altogether actually added an extra layer of urgency to everything that the talented, kind, thoughtful and wonderfully candid filmmaker had to say.Read More
The greatness of Qumra, the annual industry event held by the Doha Film Institute to help connect, inspire and encourage filmmakers, lies in its diversity of activities. From the daily working breakfasts with some of the most well-respected festival directors and programmers, sales agents and producers to the Masterclasses with cinema greats, from its Qumra Talks to the networking sessions held each afternoon just around the corner from my hotel, there is a buzz of activity at any given moment and even a non-filmmaker like me can feel the excitement of great cinema in the making.Read More
I know that a Diaries series is meant to go chronologically, yet there are moments when the rules need to be broken.
For me, hearing master photographer and longtime Doha Film Institute collaborator Brigitte Lacombe talk about cinema and fashion from a photographic point of view was one such moment. I could not wait to get home and write about the pleasant afternoon I spent in her company -- along with a theater-full of attendees of this Qumra talk -- and her sister's, video photographer Marian Lacombe.Read More
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.Read More
They say if you want to learn about something, go to the source.
For filmmakers in the Middle East, but also around the world, Elia Suleiman has long been the Oracle, the man with a knowledge to create momentous cinema, cinema that can change the world. Suleiman is the most brilliant source today of modern Arab cinema, the kind that breaks across borders and tears down the divide -- as his frequent trips to international film festivals and award ceremonies have proved.
So I thought, if it works for filmmakers, it could work for me. I shall ask Suleiman about Qumra myself, so I can unravel the mystery of this yearly event held in Qatar, under the auspices of the Doha Film Institute. I mean, the DFI has been very open and forthcoming about their week-long-mentorship-slash-industry-meet-and-greet-slash-film-connection event, but I still hadn't found a fascinating enough explanation of it in the media. One that would hold my attention and really explain the ins and out of Qumra.
Until I met Suleiman, DFI's Artistic Advisor and Hanaa Issa, Deputy Director of Qumra and Director of Strategy and Development at Doha Film Institute during Berlinale. One Sunday morning in Berlin, a leisurely breakfast talk later and now eagerly anticipating the start of Qumra in Doha, I finally understand.Read More
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 for 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 Islamic Art Museum will confirm my words -- and of course, the Emir's family owns some of the fashion world's most beloved brands.Read More