Doha Tribeca Film Festival - Full of Eastern promise

New York's hippest festival has a glitzy new sister event in Qatar, where Hollywood royalty such as Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro met the hottest new Arabian talent. Kaleem Aftab reports from the Doha Tribeca Film Festival

Sir Ben Kingsley is sitting on the terrace of the Al Mourjan Restaurant, looking out over the Arabian Gulf. He goes almost unnoticed at the launch of the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Festival, as attendees take in the panoramic views of the IM Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art and skyscrapers sitting atop 15 billion barrels of oil. Under the sweltering blue sky, Mira Nair, whose movie Amelia has been chosen to show first among the 31 films scheduled over the next four days, introduces Martin Scorsese, who is in town to support the World Cinema Foundation restoration of Shadi Abdel Salam's 1969 classic The Mummy.

Swanky? Just a little. Most festivals let you know what time a film is going to start by giving you a free catalogue. Here, the timetable was pre-loaded onto an iPod Touch programmed with alarmed reminders of screening times. Tribeca, which was started by Robert De Niro and his colleagues Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff after September 11, 2001, has risked its reputation as the hippest festival on the block by using its brand to set Doha's festival apart from the Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF), which had its third edition in Abu Dhabi three weeks ago, and the more established Dubai Film Festival in December.

MEIFF in particular seems worried about the new upstart. This year they employed the former artistic director of Tribeca, Peter Scarlet, to head their festival and also tried to raise the level of glitz in Abu Dhabi with the appearances of Hilary Swank and Demi Moore at their opening night event. Bagging the two-time Oscar winner Swank was particularly cunning, given the announcement that Amelia would have its international premier in Doha. That Swank chose to grace MEIFF, where she did not have a movie showing, rather than attend the international premiere of a movie that she not only stars in, but is also credited as an executive producer of, was surprising. But as Rosenthal told me in the lavish tearoom of the Four Seasons hotel, "If you want to come and support your film then that's great, but Tribeca are not about to pay people to come to the festival." Swank should be kicking herself. She missed one of the most spectacular screenings I've ever witnessed.

The opening night festivities took place in the grounds of the Museum of Islamic Art. There were two simultaneous screenings of the film. The one I attended was inside IM Pei's structure, alongside Martin Scorsese and Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al-Thani, the 27-year-old daughter of the Emir of Qatar and the driving force behind creating a film festival in the small state. While the dignitaries sat in the air-conditioned cinema, a free, open-air screening took place, attended by thousands. Nair seemed especially happy that planes could be seen flying over the massive screen as her biopic of Amelia Earhart unfolded.

The festival's refusal to pay appearance fees is remarkably brave in a region where money talks. Instead, cash was apportioned not only to ensure that guests were provided with a good time – desert safaris, boat trips, a gallop around the Royal stables and VIP tickets to the women's tennis were all on offer – but also to establish a programme to encourage the emergence of local filmmakers. The most interesting and best event of the festival was a showcase of one-minute films by nine local Qatari filmmakers under the guidance of Scandar Copti, the co-director of Ajami, which won the Sutherland Trophy for best first film at the London Film Festival last week.

There was excitement, awe and pleasure on the faces of the filmmakers when Scorsese stepped up to comment on the movies. The director said that he thought it was more difficult to make a "one-minute film than a two-hour film" and recounted how he had made his best-known short film, The Big Shave, for an avant-garde film festival in circumstances similar to those faced by these first-time Qatari directors. In the audience was Hany-Abu Assad, the director of the Oscar-nominated Paradise Now, who said that he was a little concerned that the films "seemed to be influenced most greatly by American cinema, with not enough attention being paid to the cinematic tradition of Egypt". Still, the event was such a success that it was repeated two days later, this time with Robert De Niro and the Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas in attendance.

There was so much happening over the course of the packed weekend that it was often difficult to keep up. There was a surprise screening of Spike Jonze's forthcoming art-house movie for kids,Where the Wild Things Are, which also doubled up as the opening of the new IMAX cinema housed in a shopping mall that has been designed to look like Venice. You can even take a gondola ride around it. Who needs the Venice Film Festival?

There were also 11 films from the Arab region showing. Particularly impressive was Asghar Farhadi's About Elly, which won an award at the New York Tribeca in May, and Raja Amari's Buried Secrets.

The actor Patricia Clarkson arrived to support her latest, the cross- cultural drama Cairo Time, which closed the festival. She was hanging out with Scorsese, who directs her in his forthcoming Shutter Island, at the swanky W hotel on the Friday night. Also spotted at the numerous parties over the weekend were Josh Hartnett, Bob Geldof and Cher, who was in town for an awards ceremony for celebrity philanthropists.

The best way to tell if this New York-Doha marriage is ultimately a success or not, will be if it spawns any new Qatar filmmaking talent. For now, though, the signs are good.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing