The six-day event will feature a number of short films that will be screened in the Middle East for the first time, including the opening movie Idol.
The film was directed by the Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu Assad, who was previously nominated for two Oscars for Omar and Paradise Now.
Idol tells the story of singer Mohammad Assaf, who grew up in the impoverished, besieged Gaza strip, became a wedding singer and then went on to win the TV show “Arab idol” title in 2013.
The film was part of the Toronto Film Festival last month, and the BFI London film festival that kicked off last week.
In a statement this week, DFI CEO Fatma Al Remaihi said:
“The idol for director Hany Abu Assad is a true touching story for a young man who beats all obstacles to achieve his dream and it makes a great opening for this year’s Ajyal film festival.”
However, not all the characters in the film are based on real individuals and some “creational liberty” was taken to give the movie a persuasive narrative, Abu Assad told the National during the Toronto Film Festival in September.
“The character of Omar (one of Assaf’s childhood friends) is completely fictional– it’s based on a true story but it’s fictionalized,” he said. “Another example is that in reality, Assaf has six brothers and sisters but I concentrated on the relationship with one sister because it’s more dramatic.”
Ajyal will also feature Taxi by Iranian director Jafar Panahi for the first time in the Middle East. The film won the Golden Bear award during the Berlin Film festival in February.
In this movie, Panahi covertly films himself driving a taxi through Tehran while discussing different topics with passengers.
Taxi is Panahi’s third film since he was banned from making movies by Iranian authorities and forbidden from traveling in 2010, according to the BBC.
The Very Big Shot will also be screened during this year’s festival, after taking part in the Toronto film Festival and the BFI London film festival earlier this year.
The dark comedy is Lebanese director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya’s first movie, and sheds light on organized crime and political corruption in Beirut. DFI helped fund both the Very Big Shot and Idol movies.
Meanwhile, the category “Made in Qatar,” which launched during last year’s festival and showcased 20 films, will continue this year.
Films in this section are produced by both national and expat talent, and experienced and aspiring filmmakers.
Other independent films, that will also be shown in the festival include:
- Tigers by Bosnian director Danis Tanovic, who has previously won two Oscars. It’s about a pharmaceutical salesman in Pakistan, who tries to reveal the illegal practices of his employer, a multinational health care corporation, after he realizes they knowingly marketed a baby formula that led to the death of hundreds of babies;
- Mia Madre by Italian director Nanni Moretti, a drama that talks about the relationship between a film director and his sick mother; and
- An by Japanese director Naomi Kawase, a story about an old woman’s relationship with a troubled chef, and her attempts to teach him how to be more in tune with nature.
Ajyal film festival
Through its annual Ajyal festivals, DFI has been working to foster discussion and develop young filmmaking talent through cinema.
Though Ajyal skews toward a younger audience, organizers have previously said they hope to attract film lovers of all ages to attend and discuss the screenings together, with the Arabic word Ajyal translating into “generations.”
Last year, award-winning Mexican/American actress, producer and director Salma Hayek-Pinault attended the screening of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet during the festival.
During its inaugural year, the main theme of Ajyal was Japanese anime, while last year’s was a bit more broad, focusing on “rediscovering cinema.” DFI has not yet announced a theme for this year’s festival.