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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Local filmmakers lament lack of support from Doha Film Institute

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Amid a recent “realignment” of the Doha Film Institute’s (DFI) objectives, local filmmakers have been criticizing the organization for what they call a lack of support for home-grown talent.

This week, many Qataris and expats have taken to Twitter to air their grievances, under the Twitter hashtag #DFI_fails_again.

The complaints come two months after DFI announced the postponement of its new festival for fledgling film directors, Qumra, and the sacking of some 40 staff members.

Fueling online reaction has been a recently published article criticizing DFI in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

According to that report, which involved interviews with several former staffers, discontent with the organization has been brewing since the appointment of a new Qatari CEO more than a year ago.

The article also referenced allegations of extravagant overspending; alleged nepotism within the organization; and suggestions that DFI had spent too much money financing foreign films, instead of supporting local projects.

On Twitter, many locals appeared to agree with those charges:

(Translation: They cancel the only festival we were depending on as filmmakers in Qatar to showcase our films, while at the same time supporting 29 films, none of which are Qatari.)

(Translation: When will the day come when the creative Qatari individual is looked at as a professional and not an amateur?!)

(Translation: When I went to the Abu Dhabi film festival and witnessed how they invest in local filmmakers, I envied that.)

In a statement sent to Doha News, DFI tackled complaints by saying that in the coming months, it would be announcing details of a new education program to “benefit all levels of filmmakers in Qatar.”

It continued:

“Our participation in international projects is not at the expense of local initiatives. On the contrary, as we extend our reach, we create more opportunities for professional, cultural and creative exchange between our local filmmaking talent and the wider international industry.

It is only by building a community of international filmmakers, including those from Qatar, that we can establish and enhance a viable and dynamic film industry here in Qatar.”

‘Unhappy staff’

Not everyone takes issue with DFI’s local offerings. Speaking to Doha News on condition of anonymity, one ex-employee said that DFI’s workshops are “currently almost 100 percent aimed at Qataris,” with non-Qataris not being picked to participate.

The real issue, she added, is an uncomfortable working environment that affects productivity. She continued:

“Instead, the problem right now is completely down to the new management, and the new staff. None of the new senior managers have anything to do with the film industry – the now current head of film financing used to work in a bank…”

The ex-staffer also echoed the unhappiness among employees described by the Guardian, when bonuses and high salaries were given to new staff, only a short period after a third of the organization was made redundant.

“If you’re going to fire a whole load of people, you can’t just hire lots of new people afterwards, and give them loads of money, after you told the people you cut that the Ministry of Finance said there wasn’t enough money in the budget.

It’s not even about the money, it’s just the fact that people really worked very very hard. People still there regularly work 12 hour day. To what reward? It’s a culture of fear there. It’s not comfortable. “

DFI did not respond to questions about these concerns.

Another former staff member, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that he felt DFI’s public image had suffered after the dismissal of the organization’s digital team:

“It was very sad to see most of my friends who were doing well for the institute let go. The departments were/are struggling after their departure. This is reflected in the slow engagement on their recent social media and email campaigns.”

Independent support

The perception that DFI is not doing enough to support local talent has spurred a group of Qatari artists to set up their own film production house, Innovation Films.

CEO Bassam Yousef Al-Ibrahim told Doha News that his company has “had to pick up the pieces” from DFI, offering financial and logistical support to aspiring filmmakers who have been refused help by the organization.

“We’ve seen that DFI has not supported young talent here, so we have personally taken the responsibility on ourselves. We did this out of our own pockets, to ensure that home-grown talent doesn’t get thrown away.”

The company helped a group of young Qataris produce films which they had hoped to showcase at the DFI’s now-cancelled Qumra festival, he said, adding that they would now need to travel to film festivals in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to showcase their work instead.

Al-Ibrahim added that the appointment of new DFI CEO Abdulaziz Al-Khater, who previously worked for Al Khaliji bank, had brought little obvious change:

“We have spoken to him, and we have seen some minor changes where we see potential for growth, but we haven’t particularly seen any big changes.

Even since the major changes (the cancellation of the festival and recent redundancies) have happened, we’ve had a plethora people walking in asking us for support. We’re asking them why, and they’re telling us they’ve been to DFI and had no response.”

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