“Cinema in Qatar is entering a new wave”

Clockwise from left: Khalil Benkirane; Antoine Waked; Qatari filmmaker Hamida Issa; and Vinay Shukla

Doha: Filmmakers attending Qumra, the annual incubator event of the Doha Film Institute (DFI), said Qatar’s film industry is entering a new wave.

During an online press briefing held on Tuesday between the filmmakers of Feature Narratives in Post Production, filmmaker Khalil Benkirane, who is also responsible for grants at DFI, said there was a huge change in cinema in Qatar. and that was just the beginning.

He said the Institute has seen many Qatari talents approach them and benefited from labs and workshops. “We now see many short films [granted and funded by DFI] in various festivals around the world. Benkirane said “there are a lot of eyes on Qatar and its filmmakers”.

His film with Afef Ben Mahmoud, entitled “Backstage”, tells the story of Aïda, a member of a Tunisian contemporary dance troupe on tour in Morocco, provoked during a performance. Her life and stage partner Hedi, who injures her on stage, setting off a series of events during a long night through a forest, on her way to the nearby village doctor.

Qumra’s development director, Antoine Waked, agrees with Benkirane: “I’ve spoken a lot with the filmmakers and seen the different projects over the years, and I feel like we’re on a big shift in the landscape of Arab cinema.

“And now I see a new generation and they (the filmmakers) grew up in the 1980s and 1990s and they saw different films, and I feel like these films also contaminate the Arabic content that they want to share with the world, and it creates something quite unique in my opinion that really needs to attract funding and co-producers and I hope that’s what happens, and Qumra is placed exactly for that.

Qatari filmmaker Hamida Issa hopes her feature ‘Places of the Soul’, the first of its kind in the country, will be “the start of a new wave of feature films to be released in Qatar”.

“I have been a filmmaker since the birth of the film industry here in Qatar. I feel like I grew up with the film industry here and that reflected my personal journey as well. The fact that this is the first feature film to come out of Qatar is a big pressure but also an honor and I hope to make everyone proud. It’s been existential, it’s been emotional, but it’s also been rewarding.

“Places of the Soul” is a seven-year-old film in the making. It follows Issa on a trip to Antarctica with an environmental and leadership expedition. The beauty and heartbreaking realities of the world’s most untouched nature was a hugely life changing experience. This leads him to explore Qatar from a renewed angle, in search of the sustainability of its cultural history and the roots of its identity.

Meanwhile, Indian filmmaker Vinay Shukla, best known for his film ‘An Insignificant Man’, said cinema has been tough over the past two years as the world battles COVID-19.

His film “While We Watched” has been in the works for three and a half years and was selected under Qumra Feature Narratives Post Production.

His latest film is about journalism, offering an intimate portrait of the front lines of truth in India.