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Entries in Doha Film Institute (2)

Monday
Nov262012

For the Love of Film in Doha

I have just returned from Doha, having attended the Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF). Energy and enthusiasm suffused the city, which seemed to have been wrapped in its celebration of film.

Photo credit: Doha Film Institute

Of course, I expected the abundantly funded festival to exude lavishness and glamor, but what I didn’t expect and what has driven me to post a day after my return is the community engagement, which manifested in ways that surprised and delighted me.

Museum of Islamic Art. Photo credit: riy

This year’s edition was held in three locations: the Museum of Islamic Art, an architectural marvel I unfortunately did not have the time to visit; Katara cultural village, which houses the Doha Film Institute, the organization behind DTFF; and Souq Waqef, a century-old shopping district that has recently been restored and expanded to include restaurants and fashionable boutique hotels wherein the festival guests stayed. Yet, physical signifiers of the festival—signs, posters, and billboards, some enormous—were strategically positioned throughout the capital city.

Souq Waqef. Photo credit: Jan Smith

The festival boasted much that I’ve encountered in other festivals: film screenings, Q&A sessions with filmmakers, panel discussions, workshops, award ceremonies, red carpet events, and, of course, parties. What really impressed me, however, was the engagement of youth in the festival. Beside supporting and celebrating many young local filmmakers in the “Made in Qatar” competition, the festival presented Family Days, a four-day program of family focused events aiming not only to expose kids to art, including film, but also to have them participate in creative workshops, including photography and filmmaking. All non-screening Family Days programs were free of charge. Family Days also presented free screenings of two wonderful films which long ago had me in memorable weeping sessions--E.T. and Cinema Paradiso--both of which were screened in the stupendous, beachside Sony Open-Air Cinema within Katara.

Sony Open-Air Cinema. Photo credit: Ayman Itani

The festival cultivated a youth reporter core, dubbed the DFI Kids Access Reporting Team, which covered red carpet events, proudly displaying their press badges as they interviewed guests then reporting on such events on the festival website—charming!

Katara. Photo credit: Karen Blumberg Ultimately, it was my encounters with young DTFF volunteers and guest service providers that left the deepest impression. One morning, I was heading to Katara for a meeting and thought to catch the festival shuttle bus. As I boarded, I asked the driver about going there and was told that it would take an hour. “That’s too long,” I responded, before turning to see a teenage boy, in festival T-shirt and badge, who had followed with “That’s too late for me too.” The transportation coordinator at this station (like most, in his early twenties), upon checking my credentials, availed me a car within the festival’s transportation fleet. When the car arrived, I asked the transportation coordinator if it would be OK if the teen came along, which he appreciated, as did my new companion.

On the way, I asked my companion what he was doing for the festival. I could sense the enthusiasm in his voice as he conveyed that he was in a hurry to get to Katara because he was volunteering in a Family Days event.

Next day, after spending a couple of hours watching films in a room designated for press viewing, at independent stations, of films exhibited in the festival, I walked over to the room supervisor, a woman in her early twenties. I handed her back the DVD of Rafea: Solar Mama as I poured praise over the irresistible documentary film, to which she said that she hadn’t seen it, but that she thought the winner of the Best Documentary Filmmaker Award In the Shadow of a Man was a really special, moving film. She then emphatically encouraged me to see it when I had the chance. She wasn’t just checking out DVDs; she was a film enthusiast.

And she wasn’t the only twenty-something female film enthusiast that I encountered in the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. Indeed, nothing has warmed my heart in attending DTFF more than this evident vitality among young people involved in one capacity or another in the festival. I was readily convinced that the Doha Film Institute was earnest and determined in its proclamation that it aimed to fashion a community centered international film festival. Many large events claim to be community based, few have struck me as such as much as DTFF—well done.

Friday
Jun222012

Black Gold (2011): More Like Feculent Brown

Black Gold (2011)

Cinema Arabiata regulars will have noted that the blog has discussed films that I have deemed worthy of celebration or at least of viewing and consideration. Indeed, since I don’t get paid to do this and considering the related time commitment I had resolved to focus on films that have at least drawn me in, even when faulty in one way or another.

Why then review a film as poor as Black Gold. Not many readers will have heard of it, considering that the film has failed to garner festival recognition or box office returns (Non-US gross returns of less than 10% of its $55 million budget, according to IMDBPro). Noting that none of the reviews that have contributed to the film’s tomatometer of 5% had an Arab name attached to it, I thought it worthwhile to lay into the film Arab style.

I was expectedly suspicious about Black Gold when I first read about it. Readers who have seen how Hollywood cinema has depicted Arabs historically would understand why. Moreover, even though Black Gold was being backed, I had learned, by Qatari state arm Doha Film Institute, European actors had been cast so I knew I had “olive face” not to look forward to (not so much it turned out, though the kohl appeared to have been applied with a paint brush). Most worrisome was the novel upon which the screenplay had been based. Written in 1957 by Swiss retired race car driver Hans Ruesch, who had written Top of the World, upon which was based the screenplay to The Savage Innocents, whose conceptions of the lives of the Inuit people seemed drawn from apocryphal 19th century white explorer accounts, I had suspected that the novel upon which Black Gold’s screenplay was based would peddle similar toss. After watching the film, I reluctantly considered as wont reading the operative novel South of the Heart: A Novel of Modern Arabia/The Great Thirst/The Arab, until I soon came upon the following image online and remembered not only that I didn’t do this for a living, but also that I simply couldn’t afford to potentially smash that much furniture.

I don’t wish to dwell on the insolent, insipid plot. It involves a longstanding feud between two Arabian Peninsula monarchs that takes on greater stakes when oil is discovered in a territory that the two had agreed neither would claim. Their offspring get involved: two die, one rises to power and one gets pregnant. At the end of the film, I was eager to ascertain that no camels had been hurt in the making of the picture, but it seems that I couldn’t even console myself with such news.

Black Gold (2011)

How about some gems from the screenplay—their speakers unimportant:

“You were so exotic, like a boy from a book”

“I’ve had myself dressed as a Bedouin girl for you”

 “I thought I’d hate him, but I don’t. He reminds me of a young owl, something very sharp behind all that blinking.”

“All that I know about gold is that it seems to fluctuate in value”

“… And men and women fit together like water and thirst. When they meet they are everything. Alone we are nothing”

Black Gold (2011)Black Gold (2011)

Antonio Banderas (Prince Nesib) outdoes himself. I was certainly surprised that a film funded by the Doha Film Institute would cast a ham as one of the leads. Near perpetually suppressing a smile, he seemed (it’s the paycheck, stupid), while drawling and garbling the ends of his utterances in a Spanish accent, I thought it astute that the markedly more talented Mark Strong (Sultan Amar) had resolved to wince himself through the whole picture. At times while watching, I thought to stop the film to check if Strong had developed dyspepsia during production. I also developed a notion for what Strong could have been thinking about when he shed that heartfelt tear at the end of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, his film following.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Freida Pinto plays Prinse Nesib’s daughter Leyla. Literate (as are all lead characters, which is preposterous for the story’s period of the 1930s or so), willful and bold enough to admonish her father (also preposterous), to dun then expose a stylish two piece negligee for her “night of entry” (as Arabs call it) to her groom Awda (Tahir Rahim, in a rehash of his performance in the superb A Prophet), but not empowered enough to venture out of her “harem” except for a quickie in the curtained backseat of the royal automobile, between the mansion entrance and the gate, as she bids her husband farewell.

Black Gold (2011)

Don’t ask me what the Doha Film Institute was thinking in backing this project. Some have described it as a lost opportunity. I qualify that there was never an opportunity, and audiences can smell rubbish this putrid even when it’s been garishly dressed, which must have been why Warner Bros had decided not to release Black Gold theatrically in the US.

Black Gold is a dish both distasteful and unhealthful. As I digested it, following its completion, I felt bloated and empty at once. If you’ve considered watching it dear readers then do yourselves a favor and make a hearty sayadiya instead.