The Doha Film Institute continues to build on its ongoing support for emerging and independent voices in cinema with 44 film projects by filmmakers from across the world chosen for its 2022 Spring Grants cycle. This was announced during this year's Cannes Film Festival, where four of the Spring Grants recipients are showcasing their projects, including two in Un Certain Regard. Film projects in the current cycle span from Chile to the Comoros Island, and include 19 projects by female filmmakers and 11 projects from Qatari filmmakers. The DFI can boast more than 650 projects from 74 countries supported to date through what is undoubtedly the region’s longest-serving film development initiative.
With the upcoming FIFA World Cup taking over Qatar for 2022, the film community may have felt like they were asked to step aside in preparation for all the sports activities and the events surrounding the massive football matches. In fact, this year's Qumra was once again held online and was devoid of the beloved masterclasses and talks that make up the event's DNA on any regular year.
But we all know that the past two years have been anything but regular and after cancelling in 2020, holding a full online Qumra event in 2021, this Spring the industry incubator was turned into an online only forum to connect filmmakers with prospective producers, distributors and film festival programmers. As Elia Suleiman points out during our leisurely chat in Cannes, it lacked "those impromptu meetings, bumping into people in the hallways." But being relegated to meetings on Zoom can also be an advantage and Fatma Hassan Alremaihi confirms that, "I think there is more reach, you can have more people, it benefits more people," she says, while Suleiman reminds us that "the connections are different, emotionally it's different, even if in the beginning everyone was excited about working this way," yet what is missing is the humanity. Because, he adds, "when they come to Qumra, physically, they fall in love with the programme."
"Some things will remain online, that cannot just switch off," adds in Hanaa Issa, "for example the Qumra pass which is like an accreditation, they don't have to fly to Qatar and can still watch the masterclasses, the talks and the screenings."
"We cannot ignore what millions of kids are into," says Alremaihi, "we cannot widen the generational gap more and more!"
What is incredibly refreshing about the management of the DFI is that they get the ever changing landscape of cinema and the crafts that are built around it. During the last Ajyal Film Festival held in the fall of 2021, when an overconfident Italian film critic asked Alremaihi about creating a film writing culture around the event, which focuses on younger audiences, she answered swiftly and confidently. "Our kids already do that, they go home from the screenings and vlog about it, or take to social media," she assured the man, and continued on to explain that the younger audiences are reading about films on Twitter, or seeing photos on Instagram and getting their "reviews" on Tik Tok, not on the tired old trades.
I wanted to dig deeper with all three representatives of the DFI and prod them further about this year's partnership between Cannes and Tik Tok. "You're asking the wrong person," jokes Suleiman, but honestly, I can think of no one better to address whether new technology is actually helping develop the filmmakers of tomorrow. "We cannot ignore what millions of kids are into," says Alremaihi, "we cannot widen the generational gap more and more!" Suleiman adds, "well, it's too early to know how it gets incorporated into longer formats, my first crash course on Tik Tok was yesterday, so I cannot really comment on the technology." Of course that is the consensus all around our quartet of over-thirties, but Alremaihi wisely points out that while we may not be the Tik Tok generation, "the next generation is made up of Tik Tok people and we need to prepare at least a place for them to use what they are doing on Tik Tok in the right way, the artistic way that we think is good."
Alremaihi, who is a mother herself, asked her kids what they see on the video platform, apart from other kids dancing around, and they answered her with authority, that they view the news, and stay up to date with what is happening around the world.
"It's evident that diversity is part and parcel of nourishing filmmakers wherever they are, but I think it all goes with the grassrooting of filmmakers in the Region," Suleiman points out.
I ask the trio about the current cycle of projects selected for grants. "We are always looking for good stories, innovative ones and fresh angles, as well as new talents" Alremaihi points out. "There are a lot of Qatari projects this year," adds in Issa, "an unprecedented number, 11 Qatari projects and then additional local projects and we've been discovering a lot of new Qatari talents -- gardening is working, the plants are growing." In fact, we continue to talk in flowering terms when I ask "as a cinematic organization based in the Middle East, you support filmmakers from around the world -- so how does that fit onto the narrative of the DFI?"
"It's evident that diversity is part and parcel of nourishing filmmakers wherever they are, but I think it all goes with the grassrooting of filmmakers in the Region," Suleiman points out. "I don't think you can put borders where filmmaking and filmmakers are concerned, by limiting access in different countries. I think the colouring of the films that are being produces is what really nourishes the filmmakers -- it's not a strategy rather the organic way of making cinema." When I insist that it is different from other organizations in the Gulf, Suleiman, tongue in cheek but also rather seriously points out "we are different from other organizations!"
"We discovered that we are all the same, that we all have similar stories and may tell them in different ways but we're all the same," states Alremaihi, continuing, "of course we focus on the MENA region as it is our region and we have a mission towards the Region but the interactions and cross cultural exchanges are very beneficial, for everyone." Issa adds that this is a "focus on new talent because we support international projects, of first and second time filmmakers -- so there is that focus on the new talent, the new generation, and while it's small, it allows for the universality of the work and these exchanges." This cross pollination, to continue with the gardening metaphors, allow for international producers to be exposed to MENA talents and the collaborations that come out of that, Issa citing a recent interaction between Japanese producers and Arab filmmakers, all thanks to Qumra.
Films from this cycle selected to screen at Cannes include All The People I’ll Never Be (France, Germany, Belgium, South Korea, Romania, Qatar) by Davy Chou; Harka (Egypt, France, Tunisia, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Qatar) by Lotfy Nathan; and Plan 75 (Japan, France, Philippines, Qatar) by Chie Hayakawa, screening in the Un Certain Regard section, and Cotton Queen (Sudan, Palestine, Germany, France, Qatar) by Suzannah Mirghani, selected for Cannes’ Cinéfondation Atelier.
And the full list of the 2022 DFI Spring Grants recipients is as follows:
MENA – Feature Narrative – Development
- Feet (Qatar) by Mahdi Ali Ali, which pans the camera on two individuals in two respectable careers, one on the stage, a ballerina, and the other on the field, a footballer.
- The Other Wife [working title] (Qatar, France) by Meriem Mesraoua about Salima who is confronted with the fragility of her long-preserved image and adopts extreme measures to save the illusory refuge of her marriage.
- My Father’s Scent (Egypt, Norway, Qatar) by Mohamed Siam, about a father who returns home after a long absence due to his sudden illness and treatment.
- Yunan (Palestine, Germany, Syria, France, Italy, Qatar) by Ameer Fakher Eldin, in which an exiled Syrian author travels to a remote island in Germany to commit suicide.
MENA – Feature Narrative – Production
- Cotton Queen (Sudan, Palestine, Germany, France, Qatar) by Suzannah Mirghani. The film is set in a cotton-farming village in Sudan, where15-year-old Nafisa is forced to negotiate between modernity and tradition in a defiant drive for personal choice.
- Grey Glow (Lebanon, France, Qatar) by Michèle Tyan, about Nayla, who is struggling to keep her family afloat in a Beirut that is sinking.
- Layla in Dreamland (UK, Qatar) by Celine Cotran about Layla, a 60-year-old Syrian refugee and Dreamland Amusement Park cleaner, whose life is turned upside down when she meets a young local boy who teaches her to skateboard.
- The 67th Summer (France, Egypt, Germany, Qatar) by Abu Bakr Shawky, in which a boy—aspiring pianist and avid footballer—starts writing letters to a young girl in another corner of the world.
- The Last Days of R.M. (Algeria, France, Qatar) by Amin Sidi-Boumédiène about R.M., a writer threatened with death in 1990s Algeria. He decides to go into exile in France, in the Parisian suburbs.
MENA – Feature Narrative – Post-Production
- Harka (Egypt, France, Tunisia, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Qatar) by Lotfy Nathan, about Ali, a young Tunisian who dreams of a better life while making a precarious living selling contraband gas.
NON-MENA – Feature Narrative – Post-Production
- 1976 (Chile, Argentina, Qatar) by Manuela Martelli. Set in Chile in 1976, the film is about Carmen, who heads to the beach to supervise her family’s house renovation.
- All The People I’ll Never Be (France, Germany, Belgium, South Korea, Romania, Qatar) by Davy Chou in which Freddie returns for the first time to South Korea—the place of her birth, before she was adopted and raised in France.
- Plan 75 (Japan, France, Philippines, Qatar) by Chie Hayakawa set in a Japan of the near future, where the government program “Plan 75” encourages senior citizens to be voluntarily euthanized.
- Rapture (India, China, Switzerland, Netherlands) by Dominic Megam Sangma, in which the fear of child kidnappers grips a village. At the same time, the church prophesizes the coming of apocalyptic darkness that will last for 80 days.
MENA – Feature Documentary – Development
- Grain of Sand (Morocco, France, Qatar) by Nadja Anane, about Figuig, which was cut in two when France drew the border between Morocco and Algeria.
- Mother Street (Morocco, France) by Benhachem El Mouêtassim Billah, about homeless Moroccan children who flee the streets of Casablanca for the Goutte d’Or slum in Paris, hoping to find a better life.
MENA – Feature Documentary –Production
- Let's Play Soldiers (Yemen, Qatar) by Mariam Al-Dhubhani, in which Nasser, a child-soldier from Yemen tries to find his place in his community, where the ongoing war has forced him to become the guardian of his younger siblings' fate.
- Son of the Streets (Palestine, Poland, Lebanon, Ukraine, Qatar) by Mohammed Almughanni, which follows the life of the Palestinian child Khodor from the age of 14 to 18 as he grows up without ID in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut.
MENA – Feature Documentary – Post-Production
- Behind Closed Doors (Morocco, Qatar) by Yakout Elhababi, a portrait of a farming family living in the most marginalized region of Morocco, the Rif mountains, where livelihood comes exclusively from growing cannabis.
- Qatar Stars (USA, Qatar) by Danielle Beverly, set in a girls' rhythmic gymnastics school in Doha led by a former Russian gymnast, which provides a space for empowerment and freedom.
- Jump the Wall (Morocco, Qatar) by Mohamed Zineddaine, a video diary in which the filmmaker explores the universal theme of the border.
NON-MENA – Feature Documentary – Post-Production
- After the Bridge (Italy, France, Qatar) by Marzia Toscano, about Valeria Collina, an Italian woman who converted to Islam, who returns to live in Italy after twenty years in Morocco.
- Between Revolutions (Romania, Iran, Croatia, Qatar) by Vlad Petri, in which two former university classmates and friends, one Iranian and one Romanian, are writing letters to each other.
- Polaris (France, Greenland, Qatar) by Ainara Vera, about Hayat, an expert sailor in the Arctic, who navigates far from humans and her destructive family past in France.
MENA – Shorts Narratives – Development
- Autumn (Qatar, Iran) by Aisha Al-Jaidah, which is a romantic narrative of ambitious thought under short roofs.
- Harakat! (Qatar) by Nadia Al-Khater about a teenager and her cousin, who try to film cool tricks at the local skate park.
- Lost in a Desert (Qatar) by Mohammed Al-Heidous, in which a journey to the desert sees a group of photographers face challenges during their photoshoot.
- Odd Town! (Qatar) by Mohammed Abdulaziz Fakhroo, about a young man who is asked to pick up something from a person and enter an old mud town but have difficulties leaving.
- What Brings You Here (Qatar) by Abdulla Ahmad Alemadi, about a young man who wakes up with a call that he received an unknown violation.
MENA – Shorts Narratives – Production
- Habibi and I in Eden (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) by Sara Mesfer in which 20-year-old Sara battles tremendous turmoil to keep a secret that could cost her life.
- Chikha (Morocco, Qatar) by Zahoua Raji and Ayoub Layoussifi, about Fatine, a young girl of 17, who lives with her mother, Nadia who is a “chikha” (singer and dancer of “Aïta”, popular Moroccan music) in Azemmour, Morocco.
- How the Sea Became Salty (Egypt, Germany, Qatar) by Maysoon El-Massry, about Yara, who is leaving Egypt for good. On her way to the airport, she hails a taxi driven by Murad, who brings up all the questions she had been trying to avoid.
- Seven Mountains and Seven Seas (France, Lebanon, Qatar) by Noel Keserwany and Gaia Alari, about Tamar, an old man, who lies sick in bed in his neat European apartment with memories of traumatic events he endured in his hometown in south Lebanon.
- The Last Tears of Eissa (Egypt, France, Qatar) by Morad Mostafa, about Eissa, a 17-year-old Sudanese boy, who is on a quest to collect money in the city of Cairo in order to flee the country with his loved ones.
- The Unique Girl (Morocco, France, Egypt, Qatar) by Zakaria Nouri, about Farida, a 20-year-old Moroccan girl, who faces a situation that will change her life on her wedding night.
- Sanad (Qatar) by Noor Al-Nasr about Jassim who is forced to make a stop at a campsite after learning about his estranged brother Ali’s wild behaviour.
- Zanatany - When Soulless Shrouds Whispers Comoros, Belgium, France, Qatar) by Hachimiya Ahamada, is a historical drama revealing the Slaughter of Majunga in December 1976 (Madagascar).
MENA – Shorts Documentary – Production
- The Last Days with Eliane (Tunisia, Qatar) by Mehdi Hajri, a look at the director’s maternal grandmother who died of Alzheimer's disease two years ago.
MENA – Shorts Narratives – Post-Production
- A Simple Cut (Qatar) by Maha Al-Jefairi about a young girl who goes to ridiculous lengths to hide her haircut from her overbearing mother.
- Kinship (Qatar) by Ali Al-Hajri (pictured in the header) in which a shadow emerges with the birth of his new born and Khalid must come face-to-face with his past.
- Mary (Qatar) by Abdulaziz Khashabi and Abdulla Al-Janahi, about a 65-year-old housewife who lives with her beloved 70-year-old husband, Robert, and their lazy cat.
MENA- TV Series- Development
- Status Quo (Lebanon, Qatar) by Gilbert Karam, in which three schoolmates find themselves in big trouble after mistakenly kidnapping the son of a corrupt politician during the Lebanese revolution.
- Yassmine/Jasmine (Morocco, USA, Qatar) by Yossera Bouchtia, about a grieving daughter who starts to contend with haunting visitations from her doppelganger.
MENA- Web Series- Production
- Art and Movement (Sudan, Qatar) by Marwa Mohamed Ahmed, which presents art movements that were started across the African and Arab world and have now paved the way for some cultural icons.