Sudanese-set drama You Will Die At Twenty continued its award-winning run at the 7th Ajyal Film Festival in Doha (Nov 18-23), picking up the audience award. It also scored a Qatari theatrical release via the Doha Film Institute (DFI).
The debut feature of Dubai-born Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala world premiered at Venice, where it won the Lion of the Future prize, before playing in the Contemporary World Cinema section in Toronto.
Following the fastest sell-out screenings in Ajyal’s history, Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, festival director and chief executive officer of the DFI, announced that the DFI would be releasing You Will Die At Twenty in Qatar in the next two weeks.
The decision to release the film commercially is an attempt by the DFI to boost audiences for films outside of Hollywood, Bollywood and Egyptian productions. The DFI has had success in recent years in funding films that have played at international film festivals and won significant prizes. Nonetheless, Alremaihi told Screen that securing distribution for DFI-backed projects to play in the commercial sector in Qatar is still a major hurdle to overcome.
To tackle this, the DFI put on a screening every month, and are occasionally combining with a more extensive release, as they are doing with You Will Die At Twenty.
The sell-out screenings are a sign of the success of this year’s event, which this year screened films in commercial cinemas, Novo and Vox, for the first time. A challenge for the DFI was in subtitling the films, which all played in original language versions, with both Arabic and English subtitles, as the theatres generally would only subtitle into one or another.
Ayjal is the largest film festival in the Middle East aimed at young audiences, with young people serving as jurors. The event was started to help create an appetite for independent films at an early age.
The audience is split into age groups, under 8, 8-12, 13-17 and 18-21. This year Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, Gossip Girl star Chace Crawford and Salah bin Ghanim Al Ali, Minister of Culture and Sports in Qatar, all took part in Meet the Talent Sessions.
The youngest group of jurors, aged between 8-12 chose Oualid Mouaness’ Beirut set school drama 1982 as best film.
The middle group of jurors aged between 13-17 gave their top prize to The Farewell, Lulu Wang’s popular tale of a second-generation immigrant who attends a fake wedding in China.
The final age group, saw a group of 18-21-year-olds award their best feature award to the harrowing Syrian documentary For Sama directed by Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts.
The year there were 450 young jury members, mostly made up of Qataris but with some from Armenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Italy, Iraq, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mozambique, Oman, Palestine, Turkey, Tunisia and the United Kingdom. The festival provides a percentage reimbursement of the flight ticket and also hosts those who have successfully navigated the increasingly competitive application process.
The festival has expanded hugely in the past five years since I last attended, and now features an exciting programme in a buzzing atmosphere that at times felt like a more youthful version of Berlinale Talents.
Another arm of Ajyal is the promotion of Qatari films. There is a jury of more established industry figures for the ’Made In Qatar’ award. This year the panel was comprised of Sundanese filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala, British actor Kris Hitchen (Sorry We Missed You) and Qatari architect and urbanist Fatma Al Sahlawi.
The two winners of the special jury award were both supported by the DFI, Mayar Hamdan’s Qatari-Jordanian film Beit Byoot, set in a dolls house, and Abdulaziz Mohammed Khashabi nightmarish animation The Unlucky Hamster. Abbas Riaz won the Abdulaziz Jassim Award for best performance for his turn as a Pakistani taxi-driver in End Of The Road. The best documentary award went to In The Middle by Mariam Al-Dubhan, which follows a soldier in Yemen, and the best narrative award went to Dimitri Yuri for Falling Leaves.