The fifth edition of Qatar’s youth-focused film festival Ajyal wrapped on Monday (Dec 4) with its organisers, the Doha Film Institute (DFI), declaring the event a success in spite of the ongoing political and economic blockade of the tiny Gulf state in the backdrop.
The festival took place Nov 29-Dec 4 in Doha’s Katara Cultural Village, screening 103 films from 43 countries including Irish director Nora Twomey’s animated feature The Breadwinner and feature animation Loving Vincent.
More than 550 local and international jurors aged between eight- and 21-years-old, and divided into age-specific juries, participated in the competition screenings.
It was unclear how Ajyal would be impacted by the ongoing blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt, on charges that it funds terrorist organisations. The blockade has restricted travel and trade in and out of the territory via land, sea and air.
DFI CEO Fatma Al Remaihi said that the festival had gone ahead as planned, and that organisers had been determined to make this year’s event a success.
“Everyone had expectations about how the festival would go this year. We’ve been working as hard as we do every year to make it the best it can be for the filmmakers, children and their families who are attending,” said Al Remaihi.
“We showed the largest number of films ever. So, the blockade did not impact us there. We also had more 1,100 applications for the children and youth juries,” she added.
“The only thing that really changed is that we used to have jurors from the countries involved in the blockade and this year these jurors did not have the opportunity to be here with us, which is very unfortunate. We’d love in the future for everyone to be included. Ajyal is an inclusive festival that welcomes children from all over the world, who watch these great films together and make great friendships.”
Director guests attending with their films included Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela (Loving Vincent), Tala Hadid (House in the Fields), Asghar Ali (Disappearance), Faruk Sabanovic (Birds Like Us) and Aaron and Amanda Kopp (Liyana).
Canadian actress Saraa Chowdary, who voiced the lead character of Parvana in The Breadwinner, also hit the red carpet to the delight of the young autograph hunters. Other actors attending included Maze Runner star Kaya Scodelario and US actress Sophia Bush.
Al Remaihi said she felt Ajyal has settled into its founding aim of being a serious film festival for children, teenagers and young adults, combining entertainment – such as a ‘blue carpet’ screening of The Smurfs to mark the 60th anniversary of their creation - with more meaningful discussion on social and political issues impacting the world today.
“The juries have been inspired and they have been inspiring us with their questions. A lot of the filmmakers have commented on how original and intelligent the questions were,” said Al Remaihi.
Alongside the international competition screenings and sidebar focused on the fledgling local, filmmaking community, the festival also organised a special exhibition, entitled leBlockade, showcasing Qatari artistic works reacting to the sanctions, ranging from traditional paintings and sculptures to short films and multimedia works.
“It has been a huge hit. A lot of the works have already been shown on the internet but we wanted to exhibit them to document this part of our history,” said Al Remaihi.
She suggested that the sanctions had bolstered Qatar’s fledgling home-grown cinema scene, as youngsters turned to filmmaking to express how they felt about the sanctions.
“Not only has the blockade brought everyone together and created this sense of unity. It has also unleashed all of this talent that was kind of hidden before.”
The winners of the fifth edition of Ajyal will be announced later on Monday.