What is the inspiration behind the Ajyal Youth Film Festival?
We’ve done four editions of the festival now and one of our most popular segments was always the family days, family films, family activations. It just makes sense for us because if we want to build an industry in Qatar we have to work with people from a very early age. It’s the best way to capture their interest and work with them as they’re the future filmmakers, the future film lovers, film goers, film critics.
They’re looking for it as well because we’re only used to one kind of cinema in the region and we’re offering different kinds from around the globe and we’re offering them not just films but a whole experience of meeting others their age from all over the world. Ajyal means generations and we’re working on the next generation of this industry.
So there are kids from Qatar and from around the world going to be involved? How?
We’ll have mostly kids from Qatar but we’ll fly people over and jurors from all over the world. Last year we had nine jurors and this year we’re aiming to have 20 jurors from ten different countries. We’re hoping with the programme every year it will grow more and we’ll have more jurors registering to come to Doha.
The competition and the jurors are the heart of the festival. We’re looking to recruit 600 of them between the ages of eight and 21 and they’re our main jury, they’re doing the hard work. Everyone else is enjoying the festival but they have to watch films, do workshops and they get to vote in the end. I want to encourage people to enroll in that programme because it is a life changing experience for most of them. It needs a lot of commitment but by the end of the five days they will notice, and even parents will notice the change in their kids. Anyone who is based in Qatar can join as long they’re interested.
Does the idea of growing an industry from within have anything to do with your break from Tribeca?
No I don’t think that has anything to do with it. We worked with Tribeca for four years, we’ve established great things together and that was a great chapter of our movement toward the industry. Now we’re looking into more grassroots experiences. We did it for four years now, we have our foot on the ground, we can engage more people locally and also keep that international interest happening at the same time. I think it’s going to be a great experience and everyone is looking forward to it, especially the kids.
What can the general public expect?
Our main target is kids from eight until 21 but when you talk about these segments you cannot ignore their families, the parents, their teachers. It’s an important segment because filmmakers in the children’s sector are having a hard time making their films. They don’t find enough support to tell their stories and especially filmmakers in the region telling children’s stories – that’s even harder to find. This is our main target, to engage all of these groups within that festival and to try and work with them in different ways. We want to work with the industry itself to find more ways to make original content from the region, develop the content around children and work with the kids, their families and their teachers to try to bring to the surface different issues they go through.
How different will this be to the Qumra festival next March?
It is different in ways and similar in ways but we like to think of Ajyal as grooming our next generation to Qumra. Qumra is more focused on emerging talent so it’s more technical and for industry professionals; first and second time filmmakers, emerging talents and working with them on different projects and the competition.
For us in Ajyal, the way we see it is, we’re preparing these generations year-round through film appreciation, through film workshops, through film activations around the festival and this will take them into the next level of professional filmmaking.
How are you retaining that international flavour in ajyal?
We have so many things that are still international, whether it is the films, workshops, panels, industry guests. It is local in spirit but global in action.
The theme for this year is anime. How will this concept be incorporated?
We’ve decided that every year we will have a theme in the festival. It’s more of a marketing theme as not all of the films will be anime. We have all sorts of films from all over the world in different genres and different sections but the theme will be the cherry on top of the cake for us.
We’ve discovered anime enthusiasts everywhere in Doha. We have five Qatari anime enthusiasts doing volunteer work and doing an anime exhibition in the festival. Anime has had a big influence on us because we all grow up watching it, each in their own language. For us it was all dubbed in Arabic but we still remember all of these cartoons that we watched.
Funnily enough and shockingly for me, I didn’t carry on watching them, but these anime enthusiasts still watch them today and they’re up to date with everything happening in that pop culture. They even speak Japanese some of them!
When we chose this theme we never expected the impact it would have and hopefully with the festival coming closer and closer it will have more of an impact.
What are your hopes for the future of the Qatari film industry?
I’m hoping that people will get excited about it just because it’s really an outlet for people to tell their stories and we really need to do that nowadays.
There are so many things happening around the world about this region and it’s misinterpreted in so many ways.
I think the only way we can change it is for us to have a voice.
This is a medium where we can actually show people where we live, what we do, what kind of aspirations we have, what kind of dreams and that we’re similar to everyone else in the world. We have the same issues.
I’m hoping that people will embrace that and they will use it as a tool to change things within their lives and within their society in a better way.