“Don’t lose hope” – Qumra mentors Talal Derki, Tala Hadid, Annemarie Jacir offer words of wisdom | News

International filmmakers Talal Derki, Tala Hadid and Annemarie Jacir are among the lead mentors at this year’s edition of the Doha Film Institute’s talent and project incubator Qurma, running online March 18-25.

They reveal their own career breakthrough moments and the lessons they learned, which they are now passing on to a new generation of filmmakers.

Syrian documentary filmmaker Talal Derki

Talal Derki

What got you into film?
I belong to the generation that grew up with film as an art, giving a story a sense of eternity in a 90,100 minute arc. In the 1980’s I watched everything I could get my hands on on VHS, classic movies, westerns.

There was no film school in Damascus, where I grew up, but my father set aside some money for me in a house which I sold and went to Greece to study film. I didn’t study documentary, but getting into documentary meant I had all these teachings about storytelling and how to tell a story in different ways, in the background.

What was your breakthrough moment?
manufacturing Return to Homs. Something like that happens once in a lifetime. It was about bringing that personal experience into this global situation. It’s difficult for me to see it now. It’s a museum of death. Everyone in front of the camera got killed, but it marked a turning point for me.

At the beginning of the uprising I didn’t know what to do. At the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival I had a short film about Kurdish refugees in Europe. The Kurdish language was banned in the Syrian media at the time and I wondered if it was safe to return, but when protesters were shot dead I cried a lot and made the decision that I had to be there to show what was happening.

What is your top piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Do not lose hope. Give yourself and your film time. This career is not about age. It’s not like sports. You can graduate and it can be years before you can make the film you want to make. But it will come when you have a goal that you want to achieve in your life.

What’s going on around you in terms of who is and isn’t funded is no indication of what’s good or bad. For years in Syria I have watched other filmmakers receive support and funding. Sometimes this has made me doubt myself, but it takes confidence and you have to keep observing and learning and the time will come.

Did you have mentors early in your career and if so, who and how did they help you?
I have a Tunisian actor friend, Fethi Haddaoui, who I talk to a lot. Hans Robert Eisenhauer, who acted as producer Return to Homs was very supportive. We talked a lot and discussed many things. It helped a lot.

What is your advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Do not lose hope. Give yourself and your film time. This career is not about age. It’s not like sports. You can graduate and it can be years before you can make the film you want to make. But it will come when you have a goal that you want to achieve in your life.

What’s going on around you in terms of who is and isn’t funded is no indication of what’s good or bad. For years in Syria I have watched other filmmakers receive support and funding. Sometimes this has made me doubt myself, but it takes confidence and you have to keep observing and learning and the time will come.

What are you working on now?
I’m finishing the last film in my trilogy about the war in Syria, The Song for Summer and Winter – The Forgotten War. I’ve been working on it since 2020 and the goal is for it to premiere in early 2023, hopefully at Sundance. It examines violence against women and the situation of women in Syria, which has deteriorated during the war. It’s about the domestic violence that nobody talks about. I have also just produced my wife Heba Khaled’s first feature film, Azel. It’s a psychological horror entirely funded by Middle East platform OSN. I’m also producing a documentary about what’s going on in Afghanistan, which is being kept classified for now.

Tala Hadid

Moroccan filmmaker Tala Hadid

What got you into film?
For as long as I can remember, I have been enchanted by the moving image. I had a little toy as a kid, a magic lantern of sorts, that I played with constantly, mesmerized by the flickering images, which was probably the first step in the enchantment of filmmaking. That and of course watching movies.

What was your big break?
I don’t really see it as a ‘big break’ but on a much deeper level as the first and inevitable step into cinema and filmmaking and this was my first film about Pier Paolo Pasolini. It was a love affair, if you will. I was 19 and it was a deep immersion into the life and work of another filmmaker and to be surrounded and supported by his surviving colleagues and collaborators like Bernardo Bertolucci and Laura Betti.

Did you have mentors early in your career and if so, who and how did they help you?
Laura Betty. She was Pasolini’s muse, actress and “provocateur” in post-war Italian cinema, a towering and fearless figure in Rome’s cultural and cinematic scene. She scared a lot of people, but I thought she was absolutely wonderful. She took me under her wing when I was shooting my first film and a friendship was formed.

She taught me what courage means, how important it is to devote yourself completely to a project, what it means to think clearly and with conviction. Work with rigor. She also kindly introduced me to various writers, film technicians and poets remaining from this golden era of Italian cinema. I will never forget those days of learning and inspiration.

What is your top piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Sweep aside all the fog and keep your eye on the ball. Keep your vision clear, your resolve steadfast, and your heart open. Remember that you are just a channel and the film you make must be true to the world we live in.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on going back to Source through work on a feature film, a documentary project and a long-term photography project. Work that brings a lot of nourishment for mind and soul, especially in these difficult times.

Anne Marie Jacir

The Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir

What got you into film?
I got into film through scriptwriting and editing. I used to edit, so I played with images, and writing has always been very important to me. Those two things fused together and I realized what I loved most about directing. It brought together everything I love: writing, editing, working with actors, visualizing, telling stories through images

What was your first big breakthrough?
Probably my short film Like twenty impossibles which I shot in 2001 during the Second Intifada. I was finally able to finish it in 2003 and it premiered in Cannes.

Did you have mentors early in your career and if so, who and how did they help you?
No, I didn’t have any mentors in the early stages, which is the main reason I started Philistine Films, to create something that I lacked based on my personal experience, to engage in various stages as a mentor and work with other filmmakers on these Projects supported and initiated. A big part of Philistine Films was putting together a crew in Palestine and Jordan, but especially in Palestine because that was sorely lacking when I started.

That’s why I’m also involved at the Doha Film Institute as a mentor for Qumra and its Hezayah Screenwriting Lab and have also taught in many other places in Palestine, in refugee camps and am part of other laboratories internationally over the last 15 to 20 years.

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