The Academy’s diversity pledge likely had a small but positive impact on this year’s nominations, with not just people of colour scoring acting and directing nods but also some unconventional stories, stories of strength that the world is now quite ready to hear and watch — a story that stems from a real Palestinian struggle and ends with a glimpse of hope. Farah Nabulsi’s The Present has been Oscar-nominated. While the Academy Award-nod takes Nabulsi to new heights, making her the first female Palestinian director to compete in the awards, in the best short live-action film category — the short film has been a grant project of Doha Film Institute. This is seventh time in a row that a film supported by DFI has won an Oscar nomination. Doha Film Institute, founded by HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, has been an institute dedicated to film appreciation, education, and building a dynamic film industry in Qatar that focuses on nurturing regional storytellers while being entirely global in its scope.
In an exclusive conversation with Gulf Times about The Present scoring the Oscar nomination and what it means for DFI, Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, CEO of DFI, said, “We are proud and honoured that Farah Nabulsi’s The Present is nominated for ‘Best Live-action short film’ at the 93rd Academy Awards in addition to having recently won the Best British Short at the BAFTAs. This compelling film has gained critical acclaim at several global festivals right after its debut at Clermont Ferrand and has been praised by audiences across the globe for its authentic storytelling and for giving a humanist voice to the Palestinian struggle.”
All eyes on first Arab woman Oscar nomination
The Present follows a Palestinian father as he sets out from the West Bank with his daughter, to buy a wedding anniversary gift for his wife. As the 24-minute film progresses, audiences witness the struggle of Palestinians to complete a simple task like shopping, as they encounter checkpoints, soldiers, and the reality of life under occupation. “What makes The Present’s nomination special is that it portrays a compelling reality – of the people of Palestine – in such a captivating manner and reaffirms our belief that art and films are powerful tools to promote dialogue and create awareness on social injustice. It’s a simple yet potent tale of power abuse and the denial of basic human rights in today’s world,” adds Fatma, “The film will connect to global audiences, more so in the new reality, when people have experienced travel restrictions and lockdowns. But remember, the plight of the protagonists is not the result of a pandemic but an everyday reality for millions of people who are in a permanent state of lockdown – for years now.”
Films supported by Doha Film Institute have received over 1,700 selections at international film festivals and have won over 500 awards including wins at Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, BAFTA and the Oscars. “Qatar’s commitment to supporting global storytelling has given volume to important new voices and creative influencers who continue to gain global acclaim. As a recipient of our Springs 2019 grant, The Present joins a number of films supported by the Doha Film Institute that have earned Academy Award nominations and other global recognitions. In fact, the Institute is the first Arab organisation to score 10 Oscar nominations for seven consecutive years - an unprecedented achievement for our world - helping position DFI as a dynamic cultural entity for global storytelling,” Fatma explains.
Doha Film Institute provides a platform and a voice to emerging talent from Qatar and around the world providing them with creative and financial assistance to help them translate their stories into a film or serialized content. How DFI picks a specific project, Fatma said, “We have a very focused approach on identifying and nurturing projects. Our team of experts review every submission, evaluating for unique cinematic voices and compelling content. Our key objective is to identify new talent, seek out new cinematic voices and discover universally resonant stories such as The Present. The nature of the story, scripting and the vision of the director are all important. Most importantly, we look for original stories that push for positive and progressive cinema culture.”
After years marked by the hashtags #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoMale, industry observers are caterwauling appreciation over this year’s topline numbers. For the first time in Academy Awards history, almost half the nominees in the acting categories (9 out of 20) are performers of colour, and more women (70) are nominated throughout the 23 categories than in any previous year.
In responding to a question about Arab female filmmakers, and scarcity of female filmmakers in general, she responds, “In the Arab world, which is fast breaking the stereotypes and misconceptions about women – especially in their contribution and role in cinema, female filmmakers are creative leaders that are crafting compelling stories with global resonance. Case in point are the Arab films nominated at this year’s Academy Awards- both by strong independent Arab women.”
She added, “It has been a rewarding experience for me as CEO of the Doha Film Institute to meet and interact with some of the finest creative talent in world cinema, especially to see the bold new energy of women in film in the Arab world and beyond. I can say with evidence and conviction that there is a much larger percentage of female filmmakers in our country and the wider Arab region than rest of the world. As many global markets strive for gender parity, Qatar and the Arab world continue to nurture strong women filmmakers to have confidence in their voices. There is an exciting new wave of filmmaking in the Arab world, and we are delighted that women are leading this change.”
In plethora of scripts and filmmakers approaching DFI for funding and support, DFI’s Grant Programme explicitly look out for voices that are original and have a narrative of their own. Talking about choosing The Present for Grants Programme, Fatma said, “We supported The Present with a short film grant in our Springs Grant 2019 cycle, which provides development, production and post-production funding to filmmakers from Qatar, and first- and second-time filmmakers from around the world. The Grants Programme aims to seek out original voices in film, develop a community of filmmakers among its alumni and provide creative development support throughout the life cycle of films. The Present was also screened at Ajyal Film Festival 2020, adding to its reach to a global audience.