Doha Tribeca Film Fest Shines Light on Regional Cinema

Opening-night gala film "Outside the Law"

"It's a great time to be an Arab filmmaker," says Maggie Kim, managing director of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

Film fests in the Gulf region, such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai and DTFF, which is a cultural partnership between the Doha Film Institute and Tribeca Enterprises, have given a huge boost to the Arab cinema movement.

Unlike countries with more established traditions of cinema, where the fests were the natural consequence of a thriving film industry, the Middle East has relied on film festivals to help create an ecosystem that supports filmed entertainment.

"It's true that festivals preceding a culture of cinema is a different way of approaching things, but just look at the results in the region," says Amanda Palmer, executive director of DFI and the fest.

Indeed, Arab filmmakers have never been more prolific. The region's fests provide crucial platforms to showcase local productions and offer much-needed financing for filmmaking through cash awards and film funds, such as the Doha Film Fund (also part of DFI).

In its second year, DTFF, which has positioned itself as the DFI's annual celebration of "all things film," has introduced the Arab Film Competition. The competition will award $100,000 prizes for best Arab film and best Arab filmmaker in addition to a $10,000 prize for best Arab short film.
Ten films will vie for top honors in the competition, four of which are world premieres: 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 films in competition are evocative of the trials, tribulations and bittersweet facets of everyday life in the Arab world," says Palestinian filmmaker Scandar Copti, who is also the DFI Head of Education and a DTFF film programmer.

Last year's inaugural DTFF was attended by Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Ben Kingsley and opened with Mira Nair's Amelia. "The festival was well-received by the Doha community," Palmer says. "There was clearly a hunger for film and film-related activities."

The DTFF program, which has added a day this year, will also include an extensive lineup of fest activities for the community, industry and filmmakers. The festival will move to its new hub, Katara, the Cultural Village, on the eastern coast of Doha, which will host multimedia panel discussions, Q&As with the audience, a special exhibition and a family day. Industry activity will take place at a special pavilion in Katara and will focus on connecting filmmakers with investors.

Doha's community is engaged in year-round film-related activity through the DFI's educational initiatives and film financing programs. "The festival is a culmination of that activity and brings Arab and international cinema to the community," Palmer says.

The fest opens with Outside the Law from French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb (Indigenes). The film, which premiered at Cannes, is an action-thriller set against the backdrop of the Algerian struggle for independence.

The five-day event comes to a close with Justin Chadwick's The First Grader, which tells the true story of an 84-year-old Kenyan who goes back school to learn to read and write.

The programming team expanded this year to include more Arab programmers, such as Egypt's Hani Mroue and Lebanon's Chadi Zeneddine, who worked with Tribeca's Geoffrey Gilmore, David Kwok and Genna Terranova.

"This year's festival is a wonderfully curated program," Kim says. "I believe we have covered the full spectrum of international cinema -- from the world's best known directors to this dynamic new group of Arab storytellers. The team's biggest challenge was in limiting the films."

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