Source: Quinzaine

‘The Orphanage’

Lebanese filmmaker Mounia Akl, Afghan director Shahrbanoo Sadat and Academy Award-nominated Syrian documentarian Feras Fayyad are among the recipients of the Doha Film Institute’s 2019 spring funding round. 

Overall, 37 projects from 28 countries have received fresh grants from the Qatari body, which is one of the only steady sources of financing for independent cinema in the Arab world.

A total of 31 of the projects hail from the Arab world, with two film projects coming from Yemen for the first time.

Two of the grantee films, Sadat’s The Orphanage and Johnny Ma’s To Live, To Sing premiere in Directors’ Fortnight this year, which is proving to be a bumper Cannes in terms of its growing legacy. 

Other features at the festival previously supported by its grant programme include Un Certain Regard titles Adam and Papicha and Critics’ Week selections Abou Leila and The Unknown Saint.

A further six short films made in Qatar will be screened at the Cannes Short Film Corner under the theme ‘Shortcuts to Qatar’. 

The full list of 2019 Spring grants recipients (synopses provided by the DFI)

Feature Narrative – Development: 

  • “A Road to Damascus” (Lebanon, France, Qatar) by Meedo Taha is about a reclusive professor of botany who takes the law into his own hands when he witnesses a politically-driven murder on the road between Beirut and Damascus.
  • “Plum Season” (Morocco, Qatar) by Rim Mejdi follows 16-year-old Nouha as she flees her broken home for the mountains – an experience that triggers an irreversible transformation.

Feature Documentary – Development: 

  • “Do You Love Me” (Lebanon, Germany, Qatar) by Lana Daher is an archive- based documentary that features personal accounts of the generations that grew up during and after the Lebanese Civil War, interwoven with the rise and fall of the musical band Bendaly Family.     
  • “Machtat” (Tunisia, France, Lebanon, Qatar) by Sonia Ben Slama is set in the small Tunisian city of Mahdia. It follows the lives of Fatma, Habiba, Najeh, Ouaffeh, and Naïma – ‘machtat’ wedding musicians who escape the hardship of their daily lives through performance. 
  • “The Body of René” (Syria, Qatar) by Dani Abo Louh introduces 92-year-old Hermine Morel as she lives out her last days. Her relatives discover old letters written by her late husband René from the front line of the Indochina Wars.
  • “The Mother of All Lies” (Morocco, France, Qatar) by Asmae El Moudir paints a portrait of a Moroccan family entangled in a web of lies as a young girl searches to find the truth about her home and country.
  • “Yalla, Baba!” (Lebanon, Belgium, Qatar) by Angie Obeid explores the relationship between Angie and her father Mansour as she takes him on a road trip from Brussels to Beirut – a trip he had made 39 years earlier. 

TV Series – Development:

  • “Faraya” (Lebanon, Qatar) by Nadim Tabet and Mounia Akl tells the story of an inexperienced police officer investigating the death of a maid at a high-end ski resort in Lebanon. His poor judgment triggers a series of violent events.
  • “Heim” (Syria, Lebanon, Germany, Qatar) by Liwaa Yazji is set in a refugee centre in Berlin and explores the psychological impact of escaping war when a murder leads old scars to turn into fresh wounds.

 Feature Narrative – Production:

  • “Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous” (Lebanon, France, Germany, Qatar) by Wissam Charaf is a story about star-crossed lovers Ahmed, a Syrian refugee, and Mehdia, an Ethiopian maid, whose relationship seems impossible in modern-day Beirut.    
  • “Motherhood” (Tunisia, France, Canada, Qatar) by Meryam Joobeur follows a Tunisian mother who seeks to protect her son Malek when he returns home from Syria with a mysterious young wife. When men from the community start vanishing, Salha slowly realises Malek is connected to the disappearances.
  • “Passerby” (Syria, Palestine, Germany, Qatar) by Ameer Fakher Eldin is set in the occupied Golan Heights. The life of Adnan, a 52-year-old farmer, turns to chaos when he encounters Basel, a wounded soldier from the war in Syria.

Feature Documentary – Production:

  • “Al Yarmouk Ghetto” (Syria, Lebanon, Qatar) by Abdallah Al Khateeb is about a group of Palestinian civilian activists from the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus. Their small community faces bombing, displacement, and hunger, but they still find joy in civil work, agriculture, study, music, and theater.
  • “Fouledh” (Tunisia, Qatar) by Mehdi Hmili and Abdallah Chamekh is a phycological study set in Tunisia’s biggest steel factory. Four workers are haunted by the accidental death of a colleague and must find a way to overcome their pain.
  • “Searching for Kikhia” (Libya, UK, Lebanon, Qatar) by Jihan Kikhia looks at a wife’s 19-year search for her missing husband – a former Libyan foreign minister and opposition leader – through the eyes of her daughter.
  • “The Passion According to Andrew” (Lebanon, France, Qatar) by Corine Shawi is an autobiographical story about the director’s experience in a hospital as her father falls seriously ill. As the hospital becomes her new home, she learns more about the human condition and the power of faith.   

 Feature Experimental or Essay – Production:

  • “Firefly in The Darkness of Time” (Algeria, France, Qatar) by Djamel Kerkar explores national myths and heroes, and how they evolved throughout the history of Algeria.
  • “Watch Before Deletion” (Egypt, Germany, Qatar) by Mohammad Shawky Hassan examines gender and censorship in the Arab world. During a radio show about the life of an Arab music icon, a listener calls in and refers to an unknown, sensational film about the musician.

Web Series – Production:

  • “Kawkabani” (Qatar) by Hossein Heydar and Amal Alshammari is an animation series that tells story of an alien who never misses a World Cup.

Feature Narrative – Post-Production:

  • “A Son” (Tunisia, France, Lebanon, Qatar) by Mehdi Barsaoui is about a wealthy Tunisian family who are ambushed in their car by an armed group. It doesn’t take long for some buried family truths to resurface.
  • “Headed South” (Algeria, France, Qatar) by Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche looks at Algeria’s decent into civil war through the eyes of a hospital doctor, who receives death threats when his journalist brother-in-law is murdered.
  • “The Woodman” (Iraq, Qatar) by Koutaiba Al-Janabi is about a woodman on the run from malevolent forces that can be heard but not seen. He finds refuge in a friendship with a woman that owns an isolated house.           
  • “The Names of The Flowers” (Canada, USA, Bolivia, Qatar) by Bahman Tavoosi takes place as Bolivia celebrates the 50th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death. Julia, an old countryside teacher, shares her story about her personal experience with him.
  • “The Orphanage” (Afghanistan, Denmark, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Qatar) by Shahrbanoo Sadat follows a group of Afghani children who escape reality through Bollywood movies as the Mujahideen approach their orphanage. 
  • “To Live to Sing” (China, France, Qatar) by Johnny Ma is about a hot-tempered Sichuan opera troupe manager. Faced with the demolition of her theatre, she must find her troupe a new home.

Feature Documentary – Post-Production:

  • “After A Revolution” (Italy, Libya, UK, Qatar) by Giovanni Buccomino was filmed over six years. It tells the intimate story of a brother and sister who struggle to re-build their lives after fighting on opposite sides of the Libyan revolution.
  • “It Comes by Night” (Philippines, France, Norway, Qatar) by Alyx Ayn Arumpac follows the lives of people affected by killings in Manila set into motion by president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
  • “Merry Christmas, Yiwu” (Serbia, Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, Qatar) by Mladen Kovacevic follows the lives of workers in Yiwu, where 60% of all Christmas decorations in the world are made although the city’s inhabitants are not Christian.
  • “The Cave” (Syria, Denmark, USA, Qatar) by Feras Fayyad is set in the Syrian Civil War as a group of female doctors establish a subterranean hospital to save victims of chemical and conventional weapons.
  • “The Kingdom of Malika” (Algeria, France, Qatar) by Hassen Ferhani introduces us to Malika, who runs a restaurant for truckers and occasional tourists on the Trans-Sahara Highway that connects Algeria to Mali.

Feature Experimental or Essay – Post-Production:

  • “Temporarily” (Syria, Germany, Qatar) by Reham Alkassar Reham is about a Syrian student’s search for a new home in Berlin after she is kicked out of her apartment when she cannot pay rent.


  • “Hope” (Qatar) by Abdulla Al Jananhi is about a new-born baby sea turtle. Unhappy with a disability he is born with, he leaves his nest and journeys to the sea.
  • In “J’ai Le Cafard” (Kuwait, Qatar), by Maysaa Almumin, 42-year-old Maryam develops a relationship with a cockroach in her demanding corporate office, which becomes a saving grace and cause for angst.
  • “The Present” (Palestine, Qatar) by Farah Nabulsi follows Yusef and his daughter, who are on a quest through the West Bank to buy a wedding anniversary gift for his wife.
  • Sameh Morsy’s “Sixteen” (Egypt, France, Qatar) introduces 16-year-old Adam, who must hide behind a burqa when he is out in the streets of Cairo, for a reason only he knows.
  • “This Is Not a Drill” (Qatar) by Nadia Al Khater tells the story of a young, pregnant couple who face a life-or-death decision in the wake of a radioactive blast.
  • Yemini director Mariam Al-Dhubhani’s “In the Middle” (Yemen, Qatar) highlights young soldiers stuck in the middle of the ongoing civil war in Yemen who are forced to take up arms.