Contributing to the burgeoning youth film market in Qatar, two Northwestern University in Qatar students have been touring various countries, screening a short film that is gaining traction in local and international festivals.
The film, Muhammed, is based on a true story about Islamic extremism in Syria, but set in Pakistan.
It was filmed entirely in Qatar and produced by 21-year-old Pakistani expats Shahnawaz Zali and Syed Owais Ali.
Speaking to Doha News yesterday, Ali said:
“I saw a post on Facebook about the story of Mohammed Qataa, who was shot dead in front of his parents by Islamic militants in Syria. The moment I read the story, it struck me.
As Pakistanis, both Zali and I had a deep connection with Islamic extremism and how it has affected our country and its people. Therefore, we decided to (depict) the story of Mohammed Qataa set in Pakistan.”
The self-funded 10-minute film cost around QR 1,500 to make, a price largely subsidized by renting equipment from NU-Q. Costs incurred went towards props, food, and costumes for the film.
Upon finishing the film, the duo entered it in the NU-Q Media Awards in March, where it won awards for best cinematography and best film.
Fueled by their local success, the duo went on to enter their film at the regional Zayed University Film Festival in Abu Dhabi, where it was nominated for best narrative.
Additionally, their film will be screened at the Chicago South Asian Film Festival in September. They have also approached film festivals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and DFI’s Ajyal Film Festival.
It has not yet been made publicly available, because it is still on the festival circuit.
NU-Q is becoming an increasingly popular source of locally-made films.
This is in part because of Studio 20Q, a film grant initiative started under the university two years ago that provides funding for independent student projects.
Successful applicants get around QR20,000 to QR26,000 to create a short film of around six to 15 minutes within a year.
The first cycle saw two films, while this year, three teams of juniors and seniors have won grants to produce their films.
Zali and Ali are in two of the three teams that have received funding.
Speaking about his latest project, Zali said:
“The film is called Breeding Ground. It revolves around a young kid who is forced to become a suicide bomber under the guidance of an imam who teaches children a…(skewed version)…of Islam.”
The second film, 3asfoora, is a dark comedy about a classic Arab trope: “a little birdy once told me.”
Despite receiving funding, the 19-year-old Palestinian director of the film, Mayar Hamdan, said that the filmmaking process in Qatar has not been without challenges.
Speaking to Doha News, Hamdan said:
“Licenses for locations is one of the main problems. Then, when you actually get to the locations, people still say that you aren’t supposed to be shooting here. You end up having to talk to a lot of people, and that takes up lots of time. It make it difficult to stick to a shooting schedule.”
Additional problems include finding actors locally.
“There aren’t a lot of people willing to act, even if the job is paid. Especially in Arab culture, it’s hard to get an Arab woman onscreen in a dress, which is what the film required. Eventually, we had to enlist the help of family members. Our producer’s relative flew in all the way from Lebanon to play a part in the film,” she added.