By Matt Mueller | Thompson on Hollywood November 23, 2012 at 2:32PM
The 4th Doha Tribeca Film Festival bestowed its awards Thursday night in the Arab Film Competition, the region's only dedicated competition for Arab talent, in a ceremony held at the Al Rayyan Theatre in the Qatari capital's historic marketplace, the Souq Waqif. Selected by a jury of regional talent, the Best Narrative Feature Film was awarded to the French-Algerian co-production 'The Repentant.' Director Merzak Allouache's feature delves into Algeria's 'black decade' as it weaves the tale of a young jihadist attempting to resume a normal life.
Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch was declared the Best Narrative Filmmaker for his film 'Horses Of God,' which also explores the topic of extremism in tracing the stories of two young Moroccans drawn into terrorism. Best Documentary Feature was awarded to 'Lebanese Rocket Society,' about the small Middle Eastern nation's entry into the international space race in the 1960s before regional conflict brought its lofty ambitions to an end, while Hanan Abdalla won Best Documentary Filmmaker for her portrait of four women in post-Mubarak Egypt, 'In The Shadow Of A Man.'
With total prize money of $440,000, this year's Arab Film Competition had its largest selection ever, with 27 films competing, including seven documentaries, seven narrative features and 13 shorts from 10 Arab countries, including first-time entries from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Each of the winning features was awarded $100,000, while the directors walked away with $50,000 each.
At the Al Rayyan ceremony, Abdulaziz Al-Khater, the newly appointed CEO of the Doha Film Institute, said of this year's winners: "We had set stringent quality standards for the Arab Film Competition this year, from the shortlisting process to evaluation. We congratulate the winners as well as every filmmaker who has been part of this amazing cinema journey, marked by several compelling portraits of how Arab filmmakers react to the society and world around them. The thematic intensity of their films, their courage to push the boundaries and their focus on telling our stories with conviction to the rest of the world will be an inspiration to every emerging filmmaker. The Competition is a true reflection of our focus to strengthen the regional film industry by setting solid benchmarks of excellence."
In a session dedicated to Arab filmmakers held a couple of days earlier, 'The Repentant' director Allouache said that as a director he is committed to the concept of society rather than government: "I do not believe that movies can change the world. But when I see victims of past injustice suffer in silence, I know that my movies will help re-examine their pain."
At the same panel, Haifaa Al-Mansour, who has been making waves on the festival circuit with her debut feature, 'Wadjda', the first ever by a female Saudi Arabian director, examined the role of women in filmmaking and on screen in the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region. "Regionally, the stereotypical role for women has been the same for many years, in all aspects of the media," she noted. "We have a large number of women within our industry, but women still remain apprehensive about getting their work made."
Al-Mansour, who also sat on the Made In Qatar jury, is right to express caution. But this year's Doha Tribeca Film Festival cemented the feeling that female voices are only going to continue becoming more prominent in the region. As an example, her jury gave a special mention to 'Lyrics Revolt', an outstanding documentary examining Arab hip-hop's role in the multiple Arab Spring uprisings made by four young female graduates from Qatar's Northwestern University, earning lavish praise from the jury for "its distinguished cinematography, its remarkable focus on its subject matter, and its discussion of a contemporary language of youth culture that is in alignment with the social and political changes currently being witnessed by the Arab world".
The list of winners: