THE BLOG
12/06/2014 08:37 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Doha Ajyal Diaries: The Islamic Art Museum, Souk Waqif and 'Made in Qatar'

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I love to discover a thread between the real world and the movies. Particularly if that connection pushes humanity to do better and accommodates my ongoing personal agenda to heal and unite, while watching one inspiring film at a time.

Here in Doha, where the Ajyal Youth Film Festival has been taking place for the past week, it's easy for me to get emotional. Everywhere I go, I stumble onto culture being celebrated, and at every screening, every press conference and junket, I hear those magical words I've always wanted to hear. Like Salma Hayek-Pinault saying she felt they had "the world coming together to make this film," about Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, the project she's produced and which will close the festival. Or the film's director Roger Allers stating confidently that "it's often peacemakers who run into the most trouble," or Amber Fares, director of the documentary Speed Sisters which opened the festival, confirming that the "sharing of stories brings about more understanding."

Score one for the human race in Doha.

After watching Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, a wondrous masterpiece of humanity finding common ground for once, I was amazed to come face to face with the mask from the segment animated by Tomm Moore "On Love". Within this stunning illustrator's ode to art and passion, I could initially see references to Gustav Klimt, along with courageous scenes tinted in passionate strokes of Spanish red. But once I entered the top floor galleries of the Museum of Islamic Art, I found this iconic Turkish war mask, reminiscent of the one that had stayed in my thoughts since the film. There it was, hanging hauntingly, within the splendor of the atmospherically lit galleries, in this incredible feat of architecture designed by I. M. Pei. Even though Moore probably never saw this particular mask, in Doha... Magical.

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From the outside, in the fading light of dusk, the Museum of Islamic Art reminds the visitor of the culture of the region. Viewed from the right angle, in the perfect light, it looks like an elegant ode to the "batoola", the face mask that is sometimes worn by women in the region. Inside, the MIA is all wonder and style, unveiling the wonder of Islamic art from the four corners of the globe. From Spain to Iran, from India to Turkey, the collection inspired me deeply and the still darkness of the exhibition halls added to my love for this part of the world. Then the delicious saffron and date cheesecake enjoyed with a backdrop of the sea at the museum coffee shop added the sweet touch needed. Perfection.

In the evening it was time for more culture, cinematic of course, in the form of the "Made in Qatar" program of short films showcasing in Katara's Drama Theater. The support of Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani attending the screening raised the bar even higher for these pioneering filmmakers, who represent the powerful beginning steps of an industry in the making, one the Doha Film Institute has been single-handedly responsible for creating.

H.E. Sheikha Mayassa is also the Chairperson of Qatar Museums and the innovator who envisioned and established the Doha Film Institute just five short years ago. I found it personally inspiring to see her in the audience.

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Fatma Al Remaihi, along with Hala Al Khalifa, Mohammed Saeed Harib and Saad Borshid, the jury for "Made in Qatar"

Before the films Fatma Al Remaihi, acting CEO of the Doha Film Institute and Director of the Ajyal Youth Film Festival, announced a new Qatari Film Fund for Qatari directors and writers to build on history of education, development and financial support from the Doha Film Institute. Up to four feature films and eight short films to be supported, inclusion is open by invitation, and at least one feature film will be selected from the Fund for production in 2016.

Of the "Made in Qatar" films that stood out for me were Ali Ali Ali's New Day, about illness and new beginnings, He Will Steal It by Abdulaziz Al-Saadi, a young boy's journey to doing the right thing, T Boy by Maryam Al Sahli -- co-written and starring Zakie Khan -- which highlights the compromises we need to make to survive sometimes, Public Phone co-directed by Leena Al-Musalmani and Ethar Ahmed Hassaan, which brings together four stories about four Qatari residents from different walks of life through a phone booth, and 10% by Yousef Almodhadi, which ended up winning the "Made in Qatar Award" because of "the simplicity of its central idea coupled with its excellent techniques in cinematography, direction and presentation," in the words of the jury. 10% is a truly humorous but poignant story about one Qatari man's obsession with his cellphone.

The jury for the awards comprised of Hala Al Khalifa, Mohammed Saeed Harib and Saad Borshid, three prominent Gulf art professionals. Harib also happens to be one of the nine illustrators on Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet.

Seems an evening in Doha isn't complete without the hospitality, friendship and flavor of a group dinner. I've been pampered and fed well here, spoiled by the warmth of the people, and all around made to feel so at home that I may never want to leave. Alas when I finally do, I will take with me the memories of our night at the Souk Waqif, first eating hamour biryani al fresco on the roof of Al Bandar restaurant, and then wandering back to our transportation while cutting through a Qatari music concert, complete with dancing and the ever-welcomed scent of cardamom.

Images and videos courtesy of the Doha Film Institute, used with permission. Mask photo by E. Nina Rothe.