* DFI co-financed film ‘It Must Be Heaven’ by Elia Suleiman opens festival
* High-profile dignitaries and celebrities from Arab world and international cinema attend opening gala at Katara
The seventh edition of Ajyal Film Festival, presented by the Doha Film Institute (DFI), marked its opening night at Katara - the Cultural Village on Monday.
The opening night’s red carpet was lined with distinguished guests, senior officials and dignitaries from Qatar and the wider Arab world, DFI board members, as well as celebrities from regional and international cinema.
The Middle East premiere of ‘It Must Be Heaven’ by award-winning Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman marked the opening night of the festival.
Local dignitaries and members of the DFI Board of Trustees in attendance included HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, chairperson of DFI; HE Sheikh Thani bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, member of the DFI Board of Trustees; Nasser bin Ghanem al-Khulaifi, chairman of beIN Media Group and member of the DFI Board of Trustees; Issa bin Mohamed al-Mohannadi, managing director of Barwa Real Estate and vice-chairman of the DFI Board of Directors; and HE Dr Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, Minister of State.
On occasion of the festival’s opening, HE Sheikha Al Mayassa said, “The immense success of the Institute and its impact on our thriving local film industry is the result of the dedication and hard work of our people, our partners and long-term supporters. We share a dream in Qatar National Vision 2030 to provide an international platform that is rooted in our history and culture, while staying connected to modern life.
HE Sheikh Thani bin Hamad al-Thani, HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad al-Thani, Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, Abdulla Jassim al-Mosallam and Ajyal jurors
“This year’s films tell stories across multiple mediums, allowing audiences to experience powerful content. From here, we invite production companies to mentor our youth and contribute to the creation of compelling Arabic content that is of world-class standard.”
Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, festival director and CEO of DFI, noted: “Our 2019 festival theme, ‘Find Film, Find Life’, pays homage to the power of storytelling in illuminating our daily reality and evoking change. For the past decade, the Doha Film Institute has stood at the forefront of authentic content creation and storytelling in the Arab world and beyond. With the support of our leadership, government and private sector entities, and collaborators, we continue to empower genuine voices and create a lasting platform for exchange and development through the arts.”
On the opening night, filmmakers and creative talents from the region and beyond included special guest and actor Chace Crawford, Mohamed El Mustafa and Kris Hitchen. Qatari filmmakers and talents on the red carpet included Salah al-Mulla, Khalifa al-Marri, A J al-Thani, Hamida Issa, Abdulaziz Yousif and Nouf al-Sulaiti, among others.
In line with its overarching theme, Ajyal 2019 opened with the Middle East premiere of ‘It Must Be Heaven’ (France, Canada, Palestine/2019), a satirical comedy of identity, nationality and belonging that follows Suleiman’s personal story of leaving his homeland Palestine for the bustling metropolises of Paris and New York.
The promise of a new life turns into a comedy of errors; however far he travels, from Paris to New York, something always reminds him of home.
“The film says something that is really interesting, there is a moment in the film that tells exactly what I think of today’s hopeless atmosphere in the world and where the young children are coming to actually change things,” Suleiman told reporters at the red-carpet gala.
The film won the Jury Special Mention and the FIPRESCI Critics Award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
Renowned American actor Crawford told reporters that Ajyal’s tapping of young jurors is an opportunity for them to see cinema, short films, and independent films separate from big budget ones.
“It’s nice to keep the independent spirit alive, storytelling at its finest in the way that it is accessible now to make a film,” he said. “It is a storytelling process, which I think is important to introduce the young generation to. It is fun for me to come over to a different culture and experience it.”
The seventh edition of Ajyal marked its official jury opening event recently at Katara, welcoming more than 450 jurors from 45 countries.
Ajyal’s internationally acclaimed jury programme tackles and evaluates films showcased at the festival and discover cinema as a medium of global positive change.
The ‘Made in Qatar’ programme remains a highlight of the festival, which serves as a platform for aspiring filmmakers to showcase their works on a global stage.
This year, Ajyal is also featuring a selection of contemporary short films from up-and-coming Indian directors, in partnership with the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images, to celebrate Qatar-India 2019 Year of Cultur.
The short films, curated by the festival’s programme director Kalpana Nair, offer an insight into modern India and are a testament to the country’s vibrant filmmaking heritage.
Ajyal 2019 will run until November 23.
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