Moroccan director Hicham Lasri, Syrian Venice Lion of the Future winner Soudade Kaadan and Brazil’s Karim Aïnouz are among the latest round of new grantees of the Doha Film Institute (DFI).
The Qatari institute has announced a record 42 projects for its autumn 2019 selection, 35 of which have strong Middle East and North Africa connections.
Prolific director Lasri, whose last work Jahilya screened in the Berlinale Forum in 2018, received backing for his upcoming supernatural TV series Meskoun.
The fantasy drama revolves around a Moroccan man who drowns crossing the Mediterranean on an illegal passage to Europe and then reappears a month later, inhabited by the souls of seven other people who died with him.
The production is lead produced by Lamia Chraibi at La Prod with the support of Egypt’s Film Clinic, Lebanon’s Abbout Productions and Tunisia’s Cinetelefilms.
It is a first foray into the TV series format for Lasri whose other credits include The End, The Sea Is Behind and Starve Your Dog.
Soudade Kaadan has won funding for her next fiction feature Nezouh about a young Syrian girl whose life is opened up to new possibilities after a missile destroys the roof of her house.
Kaadan won Venice’s Lion of the Future award in 2018 for her feature The Day I Lost My Shadow, while her short film Aziza was feted with the grand jury prize at Sundance in 2019.
Indian actor and director Aamir Bashir’s Kashmir-set feature The Winter Within has also won funding. Inspired loosely by the Greek mythological figure of Penelope, it revolves around a woman waiting for her husband to return while she is courted by another man.
Emerging filmmakers receiving support include French-Moroccan director Yassine Qnia, for his second feature Mehdi about a man who invites a woman he is trying to impress back to his mother’s place. Sales on Qnia’s debut feature A Brighter Tomorrow have recently been launched by Wild Bunch.
Other rising directors include Lina Soualem with feature-documentary Their Algeria, which explores themes of exile and separation through the tale of her Algerian immigrant grandparents who divorced after 60 years of marriage but still live close to one another in the same housing estate in France. The project won the Cannes Market’s inaugural $11,000 (€10,000) Docs-in-Progress Award last May.
Other feature documentaries in the selection include Aïnouz’s new work Nardjes A., Algiers, March 2019, following a young political activist involved in Algeria’s ongoing pro-democracy protests. The production was presented at the Final Cut in Venice post-production workshop last September.
Doha also gave support to a trio of MENA-set fiction feature projects in post-production: Iraqi-British filmmaker Maysoon Pachachi’s Another Day In Baghdad, Moroccan filmmaker Ismaël Ferroukhi’s Mica and Italian director Roberto Cremona’s TV Society.
Aside from The Winter Within, other non-MENA projects in the selection include Ukrainian director Alina Gorlova’s feature documentary Between Two Wars about an extended Kurdish family from Syria which is now spread across the world due to the conflict back home, and Mexican director Tatiana Huezo’s drama Noche De Fuego about life in a war-torn town seen through the eyes of three young girls.
The grantees also featured seven projects by Qatari-based filmmakers. These included Dawood Al-Anwari and Ali Al Ansari’s fiction feature 81’, based on the true story of a Qatari youth soccer team that competed at the FIFA Youth World Championships in Australia, and Hend Fakhroo’s Behind Closed Doors, revolving around a six-year-old girl whose life is turned upsidedown by the disappearance and then reappearance of her mother.
“Covering all genres and experimenting with narrative styles, the 2019 Fall Grants recipients are pushing the boundaries of world cinema and adding to its diversity,” said DFI CEO Fatma Hassan Alremaihi. “Each project – from Mexico to India and the Dominican Republic to Romania, tells an important story that is specific to its local context but also universal.”
Hassan Alremaihi emphasised that 20 of the projects are directed by women.
“Many of the stories originate from women filmmakers who represent a powerful creative force in the Arab world and are a testament to the ever-growing talent pool that exists in our region,” she said.
The full list of autumn 2019 Grants Recipients (loglines provided by the DFI)
Feature Narrative – Development:
- in A Dream You Saw A Way to Survive and You Were Full of Joy (Lebanon, Qatar) by Remi Itani follows Layal, a young Lebanese girl, whose pregnancy leaves her feeling increasingly disconnected.
- The Return of The Jerboas (Algeria, France, Qatar) by Amira Géhanne Khalfallah is set in the year 2000, forty years after the explosion of the nuclear bomb ‘Gerboise Bleue’ in the Sahara, when a young doctor lands in a village inhabited by the blind.
- Vanishing (Lebanon, Qatar) by Lucien Bourjeily tells the story of single mother Rita, who juggles family and work when the disappearance of her domestic worker draws her into an investigative journey with unexpected consequences.
- 81’ (Qatar) by Dawood Al-Anwari, Ali Al Ansari is based on a true story about the underdog Qatari youth team’s historic splash at the ‘81 FIFA Youth World Championships in Australia.
Feature Documentary – Development:
- The Flower Men (Yemen, Qatar) by Yousra Ishaq tells the story of an ancient Yemeni tribe that is split by a bitter war threatening their homeland.
- Handala, The Boy Without A Face (Lebanon, Germany, Qatar) by Mahmoud Kaabour follows a treasure hunt based on a sketch of a young refugee that has been circulating around the world for over fifty years.
- The Voice of The Wild (Algeria, Qatar) by Dalel Ziour mixes images of daily life in the Sahara, personal archives and stories to recount the story of the Tuareg people and the history of one of the most influential bands of Tuareg blues of all time—Tinariwen.
TV Series – Development:
- Meskoun (Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, Qatar) by Hicham Lasri is the mysterious story of Lotfi, who drowns during an illegal emigration attempt only to reappear a month later, buoyed by the souls of the seven people that drowned alongside him.
- Al Zubara (Qatar) by Hamad Al Mansouri is a futuristic take on Qatar where Jassim Mohammed sets out to avenge his brother’s murder.
- Life of Abdulla (Qatar) by Abdulla Al-Abdulla follows Abdulla through every dramatic moment as he pushes himself and his team to develop a high-end fragrance line worth of securing shelf space among the best boutique brands in the world.
Feature Narrative – Production:
- Mehdi (Morocco, France, Qatar) by Yassine Qnia is Mehdi’s story, who tries to make his relationship work by inviting Sarah to come back to his mother’s place.
- In Soudade Kaadan’s Nezouh (Syria, Lebanon, France, Qatar) a bomb falls on Zeina’s house only to open a window to a new life.
- Omar La Fraise (Algeria, France, Qatar) by Elias Belkedar is about a crook on the run in the streets of Algeria.
- Queens (Morocco, France, Qatar) by Yasmine Benkiran follows 23-year-old Zineb, who escapes from prison in the hopes of giving her child a brighter future, and kidnaps her daughter and another hostage on a perilous road trip that flourishes into a deep friendship.
- In Behind Closed Doors (Qatar) by Hend Fakhroo, six-year-old Leila wakes up one day to find her mother gone. After weeks of struggle, her small family settles into an emotional equilibrium, only to have the mother suddenly return.
Feature Documentary – Production:
- Kashkash (Lebanon, Germany, Qatar) by Lea Najjar explores how the age-old Kash Hamam game of the Levant connects people of all religious sects and political views.
- The People (Morocco, Algeria, France, Qatar) by Rahma Benhamou El Madani is a picture of contemporary Algerian youth and their questions, mirroring those of protagonist and writer Kateb Yacine.
Feature Narrative – Post-Production:
- Another Day in Baghdad (Iraq, UK, France, Germany, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar) by Maysoon Pachachi follows Sara and her neighbours, who search for a thread of their existence in a middle-class district of Baghdad that is marked by war.
- Mica (Morocco, France, Qatar) by Ismaël Ferroukhi is about an errand boy in Casablanca, who gets noticed and taken on by an ex-tennis champion.
- TV Society (Lebanon, Qatar) by Robert Cremona is about the public uproar resulting from the Arabic version of an international dating TV show.
- Liborio (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Qatar) by Fernando Martinez Sosa follows a Dominican peasant, who disappears in a hurricane and returns as a prophet. His community grows until something changes with the country invaded by the US Marines.
- Lonely Rock (Argentina, Mexico, UK, Qatar) by Alejandro TelémacoTarraf is set deep inside the Argentinian highlands where a native llama herder follows the traces of an invisible puma that is threatening his livestock.
- Tatiana Huezo’s Noche De Fuego (Mexico, Germany, Brazil, Qatar) shines a light on life in a war-town town, seen through the eyes of three young girls on the path to adolescence.
- The Winter Within (India, France, Qatar) by Aamir Bashir captures a romantic crossroad, when Nargis faces a new beginning with Yaseen – just when her husband returns.
Feature Documentary – Post-Production:
- Their Algeria (Algeria, France, Qatar) by Lina Soualem recounts a longstanding journey of exile and separation found within an Algerian immigrant home in France.
- The Disqualified (Tunisia, France, Qatar) by Hamza Ouni follows a 37-year-old man from a poor neighbourhood in Tunis, who dreams of being a professional actor.
- Mothers (Morocco, France, Qatar) by Myriam Bakir is a portrait of the daily life of the founder of the ‘Oum al Banine’ (Mother of Children) association, which takes in and defends single mothers in Morocco.
- School of Hope (Morocco, Finland, France, USA, Qatar) by Mohamed El Aboudi fuses the story of a nomad tribe struggling to obtain education for their children, a young teacher and the government’s indifference.
- In Karim Aïnouz’s Nardjes A., Algiers, March 2019 (Algeria, Brazil, France, Germany, Qatar) a popular pacifist insurgency gradually develops into revolution in Algeria.
- Alina Gorlova’s Between Two Wars (Ukraine, Latvia, Germany, Qatar) tells the story of a big Kurdish family from Syria, who is spread across the world due to the impacts of war.
- Dea Gjinovci ‘s Wake Up on Mars (Switzerland, France, Qatar) follows a ten-year-old Roma boy living in Sweden, who struggles to come to terms with the mysterious Resignation Syndrome that has put his two sisters into a coma.
- A Rifle and A Bag (India, Romania, Italy, Qatar) co-directed by Cristina Hanes, Isabella Rinaldi, and Arya Rothe is about a young Indian couple fighting for their children’s future
Feature Experimental or Essay – Post-Production:
- An Unusual Summer (Palestine, Germany, Qatar) by Kamal Aljafari explores how the filmmaker’s father captures an absurd choreography of characters and events with his camera – creating a snapshot of the repetitions and routines that make up their daily lives
- Azedine Kasri’s Boussa (The Kiss) (Algeria, France, Qatar) is a colourful social comedy, staging the absurd that can sometimes prevail in Eastern societies.
- Just Like boys! (Tunisia, Qatar) by Amel Guellaty follows Eya and Sofia, who use their grocery run to embark on an adventure into the forbidden woods.
- A Young Girl at A Window (Qatar) by Mahdi Ali Ali is about a French novice actress, struggling for a career break during the yellow vest demonstrations.
- In Nadia Alkhater’s This Is Not A Drill (Qatar) a young pregnant couple is torn by a fateful decision in the wake of a radioactive blast.
- Hope (Qatar) by Abdulla Al Jananhi follows the journey of newborn baby sea turtle Aqua, who overcomes his disability to leave the nest and explore the deep blue sea.
- The Unlucky Hamster (Qatar, Indonesia) by Abdulaziz Khashabi is about Fluffy, a cute little hamster who just can’t catch a break! Every day he patiently waits in his cage at the pet store for someone to pick him.
Short Documentary or Experimental:
- Children and War in Yemen: Child Soldiers (Yemen, Qatar) by Mariam Al-Dhubhani is the impactful story of two siblings, who are recruited as child soldiers in the south of Yemen.
- The Air and The Worlds (Egypt, Qatar) by Rana Fouad is a contemplative journey that follows the musings of mute poet ‘This Person’.
- The Dragon Blood Island (Yemen, USA, Qatar) by Sufian Abulohom depicts the effects of war on Socotra, a remote Yemeni Island.