'Outside the Law' to open Doha Tribeca fest

Organizers of fest hoping to shape a model Arab film culture

BEIJING -- Rachid Bouchareb's "Outside the Law," set against the backdrop of the Algerian struggle for independence, will open the second annual Doha Tribeca Film Festival, which runs from Oct. 26-30 in Qatar. Justin Chadwick's "The First Grader," which tells of an elderly Kenyan man's determination to get an education, has been selected for the closing night slot.

The fest line-up, announced Sunday, also includes such titles as Julian Schnabel's "Miral," Stephen Frears' "Tamara Drewe," Aktan Abdykalykov's "The Light Thief," Jeff and Michael Zimbalist's "The Two Escobars," Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy," Randall Wallace's "Secretariat," Jasmila Zbanic 's " the Path," Robert Redford's "The Conspirator" and Ahmed Ahmed's "Just Like Us."

Organizers of the festival are hoping to shape a model Arab film culture at a time when most Persian Gulf moviegoers are teens entranced by Hollywood and Bollywood.

Not an easy task, considering that anecdotal evidence showing "The Hangover" was a recent hit in the emirate of 833,000 mostly Sunni Muslims whose law deems it is illegal to show alcohol or be drunk in public.

So the fest also will proudly screen, debut director Mohammed Al-Ibrahim's short film "Land of Pearls" as one of its 40 premieres.

Al-Ibrahim, 25, chose for his Doha Film Institute workshop project to tell the story of the disappearing Qatari tradition of pearl diving, through a father and son flashback to the 1940s, before independence from Britain in 1971.

"I'm glad people are beginning to use our stories and trying to create social change through them," said Scandar Copti, DFI education director and DTFF programmer.

Copti, a Palestinian who left a career in banking to make films and teach young Arab filmmakers, said Al-Ibrahim showed promise and now works with him in DFI education programs, where the youngest student is 11 and the eldest in his late 40s.

In Qatar, where most exhibitors target young moviegoers with comedy, horror and films about social issues, such as addiction to technology, Copti said, the DFI brings variety to young minds.

"If you give opportunities to watch a diversity of films, this will help build a proper filmmaker with the power to choose his future," said Copti, whose own debut feature, "Ajami," was nominated best foreign-language film at the 2009 Academy Awards and won the Camera d'Or mention d'honneur at Cannes and the best movie award at the Jerusalem Film Festival, among other prizes.

Like the inaugural DTFF in 2009, this year's event will include screenings, panel discussions workshops and an outdoor screening venue able to seat 5,000. The festival will award prizes of $100,000 each for the best Arab filmmaker, the best narrative film and the best documentary, and $10,000 for the best Arab short film.

DFI director Amanda Palmer, who for five years has headed entertainment programming at Qatar's international broadcaster, Al Jazeera English, said DFI and DTFF are breaking new ground in the Persian Gulf.

Both the institute and the festival are parts of the vision of H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa, daughter of Qatar's ruling Emir, that year-round film education, appreciation and film financing help form a sustainable film industry in Qatar, Palmer told THR.

"You couldn't have the arts at this level were it not for the government, but at the same time, DFI is independent, not government-run," said Palmer, an Australian by birth. "This is a big step for the arts in this region."

This is a good thing considering that but one or two films a year were made in Qatar in recent memory, Palmer said. After just one year of work with DFI, however, some 40 Qatari shorts were written, produced, directed, workshopped, shot and, in some cases, even exhibited. "This is a cultural movement," she said.

A writing contest sponsors the winner's trip to Tribeca in New York and DFI connects young filmmakers with various sources for funding, including private grants, government support and the film finance arm of DFI, announced in May without a concrete fund size.

"We're interested in the business of entertainment, but we're not in films to make money, but to create a sustainable culture," Palmer said. "If we can build an industry that helps to export Arab culture, it ticks every box for the government."

Though Qatari movie attendance appears to have gone up threefold in four years, official boxoffice data is tough to come by as few cinemas are locally owned.

There's QCCC, a Qatari invested exhibitor, but most of the 40 screens expected to go up in the next few years are backed by businesses in the neighboring Persian Gulf island state of Bahrain.

To try to bolster local control and improve revenue streams back to the budding Qatari filmmakers at DFI, the institute plans to open an independent cinema in 2011, Palmer said.

-- Gregg Kilday in Los Angeles contributed to this report