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

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border