Doha Film Institute’s Qumra Event Unfolds Against Backdrop Of FIFA World Cup Fan Hotspots
10th March 2023

Three months ago, Doha’s new Downtown Msheireb district was the throbbing heart of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar as one of its main fan zones.

Quiz any local on the street or in its cafes and shops about what it was like, and their faces light up as they recount how packed it was and the magical atmosphere.

Billed as the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project, the pedestrianized neighborhood is now acting as the backdrop to the Doha Film Institute’s annual Qumra talent incubator, alongside the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art (MIA).

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The event, which kicked off on Friday, aims to hothouse 44 film and series projects in various formats and stages of production. All the projects are recipients of the DFI’s generous grant program

The focus is on Middle East and North Africa filmmakers but there are also projects from further afield with professionals hailing from some 50 territories in attendance this year.

Press are working out of the former World Cup VIP suite reserved for the likes of David Beckham during the tournament, while workshops and one-on-one meetings are taking place in the nearby Al-Wadi Hotel, which became a hub for fans thank to two huge screens in its ballroom.

This year marks Qumra’s first physical edition since 2019 with the past three editions moved on line due to the pandemic.

There was an optimistic buzz at the opening meet-and-greet as emerging filmmakers mingled with established names such as the UK director Lynne Ramsay, Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, documentarian Rithy Panh and DFI royal patron,  Sheikha Al Mayassa Al-Thani, who is a driving force behind the Doha’s arts and culture scene.

Directors with projects making the trip include China’s Jianjie Lin, flying in from Beijing with a extracts of his drama Brief History Of A Family, which is post; Belgium-based Congolese visual artist Precy Numbi with sci-fi, fantasy drama Nguya (co-directed with Michiel Robberecht), Palestinian director Ziad Dagher with West Bank-set thriller Weedestine and locally-based filmmaker Meriem Mesraoua with drama The Other Wife.

The relief that these encounters were no longer taking place on Zoom was tangible.

“It’s great to be back in person. You forget how different it is to meet face to face. It makes such a difference to have everyone back in Doha. It’s key,” commented DFI CEO Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, who with her team kept the event going online these past three years.

“We had to do that, but it’s not the same,” she adds.  

Ramsay is among six so-called Qumra Masters who will be giving a Masterclass in the coming days alongside playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton, producer David Parfitt, Dune costume designer Jacqueline West and directors Lynne Ramsay and Michael Winterbottom.

Qumra first launched in 2014 after the DFI decided the Hollywood star-studded, red-carpet events of its early years of existence were not hitting the mark in terms of nurturing local and regional talent, even if they helped put it on the international map.

Over the past eight editions, the event has built a reputation as a place giving emerging filmmakers time and space to learn from masters in the film industry. Films to have participated at the project stage include Cannes Camera d’Or winner Divines, 2019 Un Certain Regard breakout Papicha and ground-breaking Algerian costume drama The Last Queen.

DFI Artistic Director Suleiman who helps curate the Qumra Masters says the event aims to avoid “flashiness” and is led by the needs of the young filmmakers in attendance.

“If you start to put flashiness as a front to gain interest, you lose something, you have to always keep in your mind that there are going to be these young filmmakers,” he told Deadline ahead of the event.

“So, if you have Winterbottom, he’s going to probably say a lot of stuff that may be interesting to these youngsters. That is always at the forefront of our considerations when we decide who we are going to bring.”

The Missing Picture documentarian Panh was a Master in an early Qumra edition and loved it so much he has been coming back every year since.

This year, he is acting as one of the mentors alongside filmmakers Ghassan Salhab, Tala Hadid, Talak Derki and Annemarie Jacir.

Industry professionals giving advice include sales agents Gabor Greiner (Films Boutique) and Aranka Matits (Featurette) and producers Didar Domehri (Godland, Under The Fig Trees) and Dora Bouchoucha (Souad, Dear Son).

We Need To Talk About Kevin and You We Never Really Here director Ramsay kicks off the masterclasses on Saturday.

Deadline is attending Qumra this year and will report back.

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