Weekend festival backs high schoolers making a difference through film

NU-Q and THIMUN Qatar award high school filmmakers for documentaries on child labor, Palestine, and road safety at second international film festival

Young filmmakers from six different countries competed for recognition at the 2013 THIMUN Qatar Northwestern Film Festival this weekend.

The three-day annual festival is sponsored by Northwestern University in Qatar and THIMUN Qatar, a partnership between Qatar Academy and The Hague International Model United Nations Foundation.  The event was created to encourage high school students to use film as a tool to advocate for social change and development.

In its second international edition, the festival convened student directors from six countries around the world to attend workshops and take part in skill-building exercises including a 24-hour team challenge to develop the best short film in one day.  On April 13, the festival culminated in an Oscar-style gala awards ceremony, where judges announced winners across a number of categories, based upon their critical assessment of the 15 films submitted.

Suleima Alhaj Abed of Doha College won the award for Best Picture, which came with a 10,000QR prize. “I became involved in film because, as a director, you have the chance to make your voice heard,” she said.

Her short documentary “Yaqeen” features a Palestinian woman and man sharing their stories about growing up under occupation. It was inspired by her family’s own experience dealing with issues of displacement and difficulties with education. “I rediscovered my own identity through the film,” added Ms. Alhaj Abed, who spent ten days filming in Palestine for the documentary.

Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q, presented the Best Picture award, noting that effective storytelling is the key element in producing award-winning documentaries at any level. “This program introduces students to the world of film and communication more broadly, all of which is partly art, partly science, and very much about social impact. The experience benefits students regardless of whether they pursue and filmmaking as a career path.” he said. “Our support for this film festival is part of Northwestern’s general commitment to educating young women in the field of media and communication.”

NU-Q faculty and staff served as expert judges and led interactive filmmaking workshops for the students, including Sue Pak, Kirsten Pike, Chris Adamescu, Justin Martin, Anne Sobel, Christina Paschyn, and Tim Wilkerson.

THIMUN Film Institute Coordinator and Qatar Academy student Noor Al-Thani reiterated the power of film in effecting social change, saying, “I was previously involved in debate, but I find film much more compelling because you are able to transmit emotion through the screen, and if you can create empathy through your film, you can activate a wider audience for change.”

Mohammad Loqman of Aitchison College in Pakistan took Runner Up for the Best Picture award for his film on child labor in his country. This and the awards for Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Story, and Best Junior Film – a new category for filmmakers aged 15 years or younger – were accompanied by a 2,000QR prize.

The Best National Film award went to Qatari student Amal Al-Muftah for her film “Split Second.” The film, which focuses on Qatar’s struggle with road safety and examines fatal car accidents and their effect on individuals, was presented by Al Jazeera Media Network.

Held from April 11-13, the second annual THIMUN Qatar Northwestern Film Festival brought together student directors from Ecuador, The Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar and the United States.

The gala awards ceremony, which took place on the festival’s final day, was held at the St. Regis Doha Hotel and also included a People’s Choice Award, based on audience voting.

“This festival is important not only because it gives students a chance to contribute to dialogue on critical issues for society; it also helps create students who want to be active national and global citizens,” commented Cameron Janzen, Head of THIMUN Qatar, who noted that the film festival itself is driven by student involvement.

Many of the nominated films from the 2013 THIMUN Qatar Northwestern Film Festival are posted on the THIMUN Qatar YouTube channel: THIMUNQatarFilmFest.