The Doha Tribeca Film Festival 2011 came to a close on Saturday evening with several important facts highlighted:
Despite being just three years old, the festival is now among the region's most important cultural events, attracting quality films, quality talent and putting on a well-oiled show that managed to embrace the entire city.
Antonio Banderas needs to practise his Arabic accent.
Someone should stop inviting Omar Sharif to these things.
This year saw DTFF based almost entirely in the relaxed setting of the now fully-functioning Katara Cultural Village, whose opera house, giant open-air theatre and various temporary screens showed almost all of the 90-plus films on the schedule, alongside hosting the numerous red-carpet events throughout the five-day festival.
Undoubtedly, the biggest film of the entire festival was the opening night's screening of Black Gold, the Arabian epic that was not only co-produced by the Doha Film Institute, but was partially filmed in Qatar. Although the film may not have won over the critics, the arrival of its all-star cast in Doha – including Freida Pinto, Tahar Rahim and Mark Strong – helped boost the rather proud occasion. Sadly, the film's biggest star – Antonio Banderas – couldn't come for the opening night, touching down in Doha a few days later for the screening of Puss In Boots (bizarrely entitled Cat in Boots throughout the festival).
"I'm pretty sure I have Arab blood. I am an Andalusian, from the south of Spain, which was ruled by Arabs for eight centuries," said Banderas to a packed-out crowd for his "Conversation With" on Friday. Unfortunately, despite these regional links, it became apparent later that afternoon that his accents for both Puss In Boots and Black Gold's Nassib were worryingly similar.
Despite Black Gold's regional links, it wasn't the only big hitter on show. Tintin and the Secret of the Unicorn, Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now?, and The Lady, Luc Besson's biopic of Aung San Suu Kyi, starring Michelle Yeoh, saw packed-out audiences for their various screenings, with most of the stars and directors in attendance.
And aside from the potential Academy Award nominations, the festival was able to showcase some of the less-showbiz influence of the Doha Film Institute. In one room in Katara, the 50 short films of Harrer Harrer (Liberate, Liberate), a workshop that went around the region inviting non-filmmakers to tell their fictitious stories of the Arab Spring, were unveiled. "We're hoping to carry it on after the festival," said Scandar Copti, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker leading the programme, indicating that Libya was definitely on the list of countries he hoped to take Harrer Harrer to next.
Friday was declared Family Day in Katara and the village was jostling with kites, banners and energetic kids in face paint from early afternoon onwards. The day was also a big one for Qatar's geeks, with the Morgan Spurlock documentary Comic-Con IV: A Fan's Hope given its regional premiere, followed by a conversation with the man himself. "I was told not to expect much of a response from the audience," said Spurlock later that day. "But watching the crowd laugh and cheer at all the right moments was just incredible." Comic-Con went on to win the Audience Award for Best Documentary, with Where Do We Go Now? grabbing the Audience Award for Best Narrative.
Although Robert De Niro flew in for the closing night, which saw Leona Lewis on singing duties in the Katara Open Air Theatre, the biggest celebrity story of the whole event was unfortunately Omar Sharif. It has been said that no regional festival is complete without Sharif behaving like a miserable old man, and Doha managed to tick this box early on when he was filmed lashing out at a poor woman who wanted her picture taken with him. Thankfully, nobody was hurt and Sharif soon apologised, but the clip was quickly doing the rounds online.
Doha needn't worry, however. Sharif might not be first on the guest list for 2012, but there's little else that need change next year. With a near-perfect setting and a stellar line-up of talent mixed in with regional film programming, the Doha Tribeca Film Festival is now less of a newcomer and much more of a trendsetter. And with the Doha Film institute-funded, Mira Nair-directed adaptation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist currently in production, it's already clear what the fourth edition of the festival has in store.
* Alex Ritman