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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Ready to Press Play? Qatar’s biggest Ajyal Film Festival returns with exciting new elements


Ajyal Film Festival is back with more in-person activities as Qatar continues to ease Covid-19 restrictions. 

Doha Film Institute is set to launch its ninth edition of Ajyal Film Festival next month, featuring award-winning films and physical activities, in a much-awaited shift from last year’s hybrid format. 

The weeklong 2021 film festival is scheduled to kick-off between 7-13 November with a “diverse mix of virtual and in-person events including film screenings, interactive discussions, multi-media art exhibit, Qatar’s largest pop-culture event Geekdom, and a drive-in cinema as part of a multi-sensory experience for all ages,” DFI said.

Speaking to Doha News, Festival Director and Chief Executive Officer of DFI Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, promised this year’s event will be “special” as organisers are set to expand activities while returning to original in-person formats.

“Events will be on the ground and audiences will have the chance to watch everything in-person, the films in VOX and Katara, the drive-in cinema, Geekdom, Ajyal Tunes and the art museum – these are all things that we can watch and attend together,” she said on Tuesday. 

“I feel this is what makes this year’s festival special because last year most of the activities were online and we weren’t able to gather to celebrate cinema and arts,” Al-Remaihi added.

The seven-day event will showcase 85 films from 44 countries, including a dedicated Made In Qatar session, in addition to a special selection of 31 feature films and 54 shorts by accomplished directors as well as new talents. 

This year, 22 films featured in the programme are by Arab filmmakers, “with 32 helmed by women filmmakers – nearly a third of the programme – highlighting the influential role of female talent,” DFI said.

Some 13 films supported by DFI will also be featured in Ajyal 2021, including “recipients of the Spring/Fall Grants, co-financing, Qatari Film Fund and mentorship through the year-long labs and development workshops.

“This year’s DFI supported films include 1982, And Then They Burn the Sea, Border, Costa Brava, Lebanon, Don’t Get Too Comfortable, Fever Dream, Land of Dreams, Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege Night, Olayan, Orca, School of Hope and Virtual Voice,” the institute confirmed. 

Made In Qatar

The much-anticipated festival will feature the 2021 Made in Qatar programme, in which 10 films that represent the evolution of local talent and storytellers will be showcased.

“This year’s Ajyal Film Festival will open with A Hero (Ghahreman), directed by Academy Award winning filmmaker and DFI collaborator and Qumra Master Asghar Farhadi. The compelling slice of life story, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, will resonate with all. True to his signature style, A Hero is poignant and understated, and the moral dilemma the film unearths demonstrates Farhadi’s unique ability to turn ordinary human situations into cinematic masterpieces,” DFI stated.

In a statement to Doha News, Chief Administrative Officer Abdulla Al-Musallam confirmed that Ajyal 2021 will offer activities in Katara, Sikkat Wadi Msheireb, Lusail and Vox Cinemas Doha Festival City “so people all across Qatar can find offerings close to them.”

“We always seek to offer something special and new because the audience wants to be excited about new things.”

He promised audiences across the country a memorable experience, hoping that in-person activities will be accessible to a much wider capacity when compared to last year.

In a speech during a press conference on Tuesday, Al-Remaihi highlighted that “the past two very eventful years have been full of uncertainty due to the pandemic, and its wide social and economic impact has resulted in a display of the strength of the human spirit.

“The collective crisis has helped us realise the importance of social interaction, and that we are all in it together. Ajyal 2021 reflects our deepened understanding of the world, where we appreciate now more than ever the importance of people coming together for creative expression and community.”

‘Press Play’

The theme of this year is “Press Play” which means “move forward out of pause mode”.

This reflects the two-year period in which the global health crisis forced global lockdowns and halted almost all events and in-person interactions in fear of the overspreading virus. 

“As one of the first film festivals in the world to adapt to a hybrid format last year, Ajyal demonstrated that we have the can-do spirit – and this year, as the world slowly starts to re-open- we continue to represent the innovation and forward thinking of Qatar’s leadership,” she added. 

Read also: ‘Cinema is a Palestinian’s only weapon’: A review of Ajyal’s Audience Award winner, ‘200 Meters’

Tickets are now up for sale with more information available on the DFI website. 

The Made in Qatar selection includes A Lens Under Water; Don’t Get Too Comfortable; Olayan, And Then They Burn the Sea, When Beirut was Beirut, Border, Fever Dream, Kan Fe Nas, Remnants and Virtual Voice.

“Continuing the tradition of one of the most unique cinema presentations, Ajyal Film Festival will present the trans-adapted screening of Oualid Mouaness’ DFI-supported film 1982, to mark the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

“The programme highlights the power of film as a tool for inclusion that transcends physical limitations.”

Ajyal 2021 shed lights on Palestine

Back with a bang, this year’s art exhibition is titled ‘We Will Not Leave’ which takes inspiration from graffiti art by the Palestinian Al-Kurd family who have rallied to save their Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood from Israel.

The phrase was an expression of resistance by twin Al-Kurd siblings who recently gained worldwide acclaim for their activism and resilience in the face of Israeli occupation.

“The multi-media exhibit at Sikkat Wadi Msheireb will bring attention to the everyday struggle of the Palestinian people – through 26 standout expressions by Qatar’s creative community, who have come together in a spirit of solidarity, support and kinship for our Palestinian brother’s and sister’s to present a sensory experience that manifests both the poignant beauty and affecting hardships of their current subjugation,” DFI noted.

Al-Remaihi said DFI aims to showcase Palestine in each edition and this year’s exhibition is in honour of Palestinians who suffered during the 11-day Israeli aggression that saw occupation forces bombard the besieged Gaza Strip with airstrikes.

“We always focus on Palestine in one way or another. You will find there have been many times where we have showcased Palestinian films in the festival,” she noted.

“We wanted for all the events that have been happening this year in Palestine and Sheikh Jarrah to be highlighted. It was very important for us to get in touch with the community, the artistic community there and here from Palestine and from locals to pay homage to them and the sufferings that happened there and to let them know that we are thinking of them.

“To tell them that we want to showcase their art that maybe doesn’t have the chance to travel around the world. It will be here in Qatar for everyone to see from the beginning of the the festival till 18 December,” Al-Remaihi said.

Guidelines and Covid restrictions

Although in-person activities are on the cards this year, Covid-related guidelines will be set in coordination with Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and the Crisis Committee to ensure the delivery of a safe experience.

The event will include virtual and safe in-person elements though DFI stressed measures and guidelines are subject to change before and during the festival in line with public announcements. 

Further details regarding permitted capacity and social distancing will be announced later, Al-Musallam said in a statement. 

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