Documentary is a young but promising art in Arab world: Arnaout
THIS year’s edition of the Al Jazeera International Film Festival themed ‘Future’ will feature 168 films from 59 countries.
The event to be held at Sheraton Doha from April 19 to 22 will have 46 short, 66 medium and 28 long films. The opening night will feature Khalil El Muzayen documentary on the highlyacclaimed theatre production ‘The Gaza Mono-Logues’.
Qatar Tribune’s Ailyn Agonia interviewed well known writer and film-maker Abbas Arnaout who is the Festival’s Director about the forthcoming gathering of international filmmakers in Doha and more. Excerpts: Q: What do you think of the interest of Arab filmmakers and filmgoers in documentaries? A: Documentary is not very well known in the Arab world. It’s a new art which started to develop in the last 15 to 20 years. Making a documentary film needs a lot of experience and big budget, which is why most Arab documentaries are not top standards. But this year there are a number of entries from this region that are really good. A documentary is like a book. It’s becoming more and more popular all over the world, especially in Europe where these films are even shown in cinemas.
Documentary is about education, which we have to understand here.
As a jury member of film festivals like the Arab Film Festival in Paris, Bologna Film Festival and Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival in China, what reactions have you seen elicited by Arab films? There are a number of Arab films that win respect of the audience wherever they are shown on account of their subject and quality.
There are a growing number of promising Arab films but we need more. Qatar is a small country but our goal is big. I don’t look at the size of the film festival. I always think of what we can do and I think until now we are succeeding.
Do you spend all year working on this Festival? What’s the most challenging part of your preparations for the annual event? To organise an international festival is not easy. There is the language issue. For example, if you are in Germany and you want to translate the film into English its easy. But you do not expect a German or Italian director to translate the film in Arabic. It is a hard job we have to do. We translate the films coming from different countries into English and Arabic. Then we watch the entries and ascertain they acceptable, whether the subject is suitable for the Festival. At present, we have 10 permanent staff working on these tasks. We hire parttimers during Festival period.
And as the Festival Director my main task is to reflect its true essence to the international guests.
What are your measures in censoring films to be shown here in Qatar? We don’t have censorship.
We accept any subject. We even accept films that we do not respect the idea of the director. Sometimes we find films not suitable for people like those having scenes with too much gore. In such cases we exercise censorship but that is all we do no special censorship. Such censorship is acceptable all over the world.
What would be the most relevant subject for someone making a documentary on Qatar? I think they should do a documentary about the changes going on in the society of Qatar.
But, they must go deep and not just talk about the buildings.
Buildings are one way of showing the changes but we will not be fair to the country if we only talk about these structures. We should talk about the changes about the people here. I believe that is more important.
What are your future plans for the Festival? When the Festival started what we had in mind was an Arab Festival because we wanted to make sure of the chances of the projects success.
After the first year we opened it to international filmmakers. In the third year since majority of the film industry is going into documentary, we decided to shift it to that direction. Till now we have reached over 90 countries. This Festival is very well-known all over the world. And we have films coming from all over the world. I wish this will go on.
And maybe in the future it will develop into full cinema festival.