Sand, Sun and Strength: Doha TFF
by E. Nina Rothe
So most who know me on this blog also know all about my passion for Hindi cinema. But my love for world cinema doesn't stop only at the Indian subcontinent, or at the few films trickling out of Pakistan - BTW check out Ramchand Pakistani and Khuda Ke Liye if you have yet to
discover the magic of Pakistani cinema. Indeed, my often unmentioned obsession is also Arab cinema, or films from the Middle East. As different from their Bollywood and Hollywood counterparts as they can get, Arab filmmakers are undeniably a force to be reckoned with and their winning journey has only just begun. IF...
IF, indeed, is my key word for Arab cinema at the moment. Full of reservation, fear and frustration I say IF they can pull it together and avoid the pitfalls of Indian cinema (which doesn't need to appeal to the West, with their healthy homegrown audience of nearly a billion people!) IF they can start out broadminded and not coming onto the scene with a large chip on their shoulder. IF they accept that outsiders making films in the Arab world are just as worthy of supporting as their own portrayal of the Arab struggle. IF they can accept the support of Westerners who understand their plight and not view us as some of us view them these days, with mistrust... Only then, as Kipling wrote in his gorgeous poem titled, you guessed it, IF:"Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it", my beloved Middle Eastern cinema!
I'm writing this from the Doha Tribeca Film Festival where I've gotten amazing interviews,
seen beautiful films, cried at personal stories and watched huge amounts of money being thrown around in the name of creating the groundwork for magical Arab cinema to come. Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Geoff Gilmore have shined throughout this festival, as they do in NYC for the Tribeca Film Festival, but at times the Doha Film Institute, the main organization behind DTFF, seemed to drop the ball... Chuck it simply to the growing pains of a festival that is just one year old and has only recently moved into its new home at the Katara Festival Village.
Ultimately, great films will speak for themselves. Miral writer and screenwriter Rula Jebreal's work - her film, her book, her story - is so moving, beautiful and full of courage, that I will let Julian Schnabel's gorgeous film speak for itself. Watch it whenever and however you can, it's a masterpiece! His own courage as a NY Jewish man telling the real-life story of a
Palestinian woman and the support system of family, mentors and friends who make her a winner in life should have been rewarded at Doha TFF with an opening night presentation of Miral. Just as being 20 is not a pre-requisite of being beautiful, so being an Arab should not be the required ethnicity for understanding the plight of this magical, fascinating world. Schnabel's brilliant casting of my personal favorite actor Alexander Siddig as Miral's father and even the talented Freida Pinto - of Slumdog Millionaire fame - make the film. He so deeply understands the nuances of Arab filmmaking, I was moved to tears and love during the Doha TFF screening of Miral.
TFF programming director Geoff Gilmore said on the red carpet for Miral that Arab cinema is just about where Chinese cinema was in 1991, which means that it will take time for it to catch up to today's idea of professional filmmaking. Great, big-budget film projects are announced every day in the Qatari papers and on press releases from DFI, but how many of them will actually be made and even more importantly,
will reach an audience outside the Gulf countries and the Middle East? And there is an underlying cultural obstacle that young filmmakers and actors face within their Arab families when deciding to join the cinematic community.
So, only time will tell and I hope the world will still be interested in Middle Eastern cinema by then. Me, I'm a sucker for romantic stories, struggles and family themes, therefore I'm stuck on Arab films for life...
Katara Opera House image by Adrian Haddad, Miral images courtesy of the filmmaker