DFI postpones new film festival after laying off dozens of employees

qumra

Omar Chatriwala / Flickr

Just months before its new film festival Qumra was supposed to be held, the Doha Film Institute (DFI) has announced that it is postponing the event until 2015.

Qumra, a festival that was supposed to focus on first and second-time film directors, had been scheduled to take place from March 19 to 26.
In a statement released over the weekend, DFI said:

“The Institute is realigning its objectives for 2014. We have decided to reschedule Qumra Doha Film Festival to 2015.

This new timeframe enables us to better target our resources and provide increased educational and financing opportunities to support global storytelling, nurture upcoming talent and enhance film appreciation both regionally and internationally.”

Redundancies

News of the canceled festival comes shortly after some 40 DFI employees were made redundant, several former staffers have told Doha News. Asking to remain unnamed, one longtime employee who has left the company said:

“There were many, many layoffs last week. Entire departments are gone, others slashed. Some people had been there since the beginning.”

Another former employee – who lost their position last week – estimated that almost a third of DFI’s total staff have been made redundant, most with very little notice.

However, those who have been laid off have said they’ve received generous severance packages, and that no-objection certificates are being offered to expat staff wishing to find other work in Qatar.

DFI has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Changing times

Last April, DFI and New York-based Tribeca Enterprises announced that they were ending their partnership after four film festivals together – and thus doing away with the Doha Tribeca Film Festival.

No official reason was given for the split, but a DFI spokeswoman told Doha News at the time that the agreement between the two companies had “ended successfully” and that “it was just time to do something different.”

The news that the two organizations were parting company followed the resignation of DFI’s first director, Amanda Palmer, who was replaced with Abdulaziz Al-Khater, formerly head of operations at Al Khaliji Commercial Bank.

Eric Faust

Eric Faust

Al-Khater went on to announce an entirely new format, replacing the Tribeca festival with two new film festivals – one for the youth, Ajyal, and one for budding filmmakers, Qumra.

The Ajyal festival took place as planned last November. It focused on Japanese Anime films, and appeared to be well received, though attendance was low.

There are suggestions, however, that Qumra 2014 may have been adversely affected by Ajyal. Although DFI has not stated that budget constraints were at the heart of its decision to postpone Qumra, industry publication ScreenDaily indicates that DFI may have overspent on Ajyal. Ex-DFI employees who worked on the November festival told Doha News the same. According to one former staffer:

“We heard that the budget for the two festivals would be less than one DTFF, and it was all shot on Ajyal. Managers told their staff to spend every riyal of their budget whether they needed to or not, or they’d never get as big a budget again.”

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