Doha Film Fest returns for second year (Variety)


It may only be the Doha Tribeca Film Festival's second year but this celebration of all things film is slowly beginning to make a mark in a region suddenly awash in fests.

Doho Tribeca will present four world premieres, 30 titles in its World Panorama section and for the first time host two competitions: the Arab Film Competition and Arab Short Film Competition.

For Amanda Palmer, executive director of the Doha Film Institute, it's the festival's expansion and championing of regional filmmakers in 2010 that has made all the difference.

"In our first year, we wanted to create a small festival and to bring attention to Doha as a film destination but also promote world film to our local audience," Palmer says. "To evolve and to show that we are a festival with ambitions, we took the step of creating two new Arab film competitions for features and shorts.

The response from regional filmmakers has been phenomenal, Palmer says.

"When you create a juried Arab film competition at a festival, you have the chance to showcase your film to an international audience, especially with the industry professionals who come to the festival," she says.

Despite its being a debut year for the competition sections, programmers received more than 300 submissions from better than 50 countries. There is no doubt the kudos -- the two Arab Film Competition prizes and the two audience awards each carry a $100,000 prize -- have made a difference.

"These are great prizes," Palmer says. "We know that its very hard to get financing these days, and so the awards can help our filmmakers from getting out of debt to finishing a film or starting a new one. My hope is that our prizes will help the winners to go on and create more."

"The films in our Arab Film Competition are evocative of the trials, tribulations and bittersweet facets of everyday life in the Arab world," says Palestinian director Scandar Copti, one of two Arab programmers this year alongside Lebanese programmer Hania Mroue. "As an Arab filmmaker, I am particularly proud of our four world premieres that will give our international audience an insider's look at modern realities around the region, and help emerging and established filmmakers get the support they deserve," Copti says.

The lineup includes a wide range of films from the Arab diaspora and includes work from seasoned auteurs as well as first-time filmmakers. The world preems include "Grandma, a Thousand Times" by Mahmoud Kaabour, "Hawi" by Ibrahim El Batout, "Man Without a Cellphone" by Sameh Zoabi and "The Mountain" by Ghassan Salhab.

"The Arab Film Comp for me is one of the really exciting parts of the festival," adds Palmer. "To see how these filmmakers make something happen and then see their dreams up there for an international audience."

For Geoffrey Gilmore, chief creative officer of Tribeca Enterprises and one of the fest's programmers, it is the openness and diversity of the lineup that is impressive.

"The distinction at Doha this year is that we've made a commitment to the national and regional focus that extends beyond the parameters of what a festival is," Gilmore says. "Doha Tribeca has to be part of an overall goal that is developing the regional industry."

Gilmore adds that the fest's objectives represent no single agenda.

"We have long-term goals, and that is to make an impact not just locally but worldwide by promoting new stories and creating a gateway to the West for these stories," he says.

New this year will be the Katara cultural village, an open-air cinema and two other state-of-the-art screening rooms.

"My first focus is always the local audience when it comes to the festival and the programming. The local audience is number one," says Palmer.

"I was enormously impressed by the audiences that came out to the festival last year -- it filled us with pride," Gilmore says. "And the range of the films that we are presenting this year I believe will go down very well -- there's edgy independent filmmaking as well as studio projects and an exciting family section. One of our objectives was to promote diversity, and we've accomplished that I think. It's a real course in film appreciation."

Institute not only funds regional filmmakers but raises profile with year-round education programs

When the Doha Film Institute announced its film financing program at Cannes in May, executive director Amanda Palmer was keen to make sure that any announcement was backed up with real projects.

Now, in just six months, the DFI has already invested in and supported six new films.

"Our aim is to invest in 10 new films a year from filmmakers in Qatar and the Arab world, and we have already helped six filmmakers finish their projects," says Palmer, though she won't for the moment elaborate on what they are or how much has been invested in terms of budgets.

Founded in 2010 by H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Doha Film Institute's initiatives include funding film and television productions, year-round teaching and film appreciation programs, as well as the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

"Our strategy at the DFI and in Qatar is that we do not attach figures to our financing," Palmer says. "We do not believe that such announcements will necessarily benefit the projects we are working on or help them to success.

"But I can tell you that our financing model is a very flexible one -- we start as low as $5,000 and go all the way up. Qatar is dedicated to creating a sustainable industry here. It is not grant-based, though some will be straight grants, but we also work with equity and international co-productions. We are still exploring the different ways of financing, as really at the moment there is not a good model (for) film financing in the region."

Key to the DFI's long-term plan to build a sustainable film industry in Qatar are year-round education programs as well as financing all with the aim to spearhead a new wave of Arab filmmaking. The DFI is, however, particularly keen to emphasize that it is interested in international productions too, not only films from the Arab world.

"Co-productions and international projects are a great to way to share the risk, learn about the process and stimulate the film business, so we are really open to projects around the world," says Palmer.

"The aim with the financing of international productions is one that is beyond the business of telling great stories and making great films but about ensuring that local filmmakers here and the regional film industry can benefit," she adds. "So any international productions we do invest in will be contingent on helping to educate local talent and provide experience for that local talent in the international arena."

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