Inside story on the students who won at DTFF

November 08, 2011

Education City, Doha, Qatar – November 8, 2011 – They may not be the leads in their film, but a duo from Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) have been leading the way in contributing to the cultural evolution in Qatar. 

Communication majors, Jassim Al-Rumaihi (NU-Q ’12) and Rezwan Islam (NU-Q ’12) have come into fame after their short, locally-produced documentary, “A Falcon, A Revolution” captivated viewers and captured awards at film festivals.

But the recognition and newfound fan-following have only humbled them, as both are adamant that their success is all due to the world-class programs their school offers.

“If there’s one thing that NU-Q teaches you, it’s how to tell a story. They don’t train cameramen, they don’t make editors. They make storytellers. Through all of the class experiences that we have gathered and other projects we have accumulated, we become storytellers,” said Islam.

“When I first came here, I was mostly interested in still photography as it was a hobby that’s very popular in Doha and also the region. At NU-Q, I was introduced to the basics of filmmaking, constructing movies, constructing stories and that just gave me another interesting option of how to tell stories,” asserted Al-Rumaihi.

Originally winning third place in the “Most Promising Films” category at the Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival in April, the documentary illustrates the contrasting emotions of a Qatar-based Egyptian falcon-trainer who is – melancholically – following the Egyptian revolution, but – cheerfully – describing it through his hobby of training the region’s most prominent bird.

“As part of Professor [Timothy] Wilkerson’s documentary production class, we were supposed to come up with a character-based documentary between five and 10 minutes long. We started out doing a documentary on a pure Arabian-horse breeder in Doha but then as the Arab Spring started we thought that doing something about an Arab revolution would be even better,” recalled Al-Rumaihi.

“We were paired in teams of two. We had a very small class so we didn’t get a lot of screen time in front of our peers. Everyone appreciated the story; this is not to say that we didn’t get our fair share of constructive criticism. But in general it was very well received,” said Islam.

According to them, being enrolled in the communications program at NU-Q helped them understand the intricacies of telling a story.

“We did photography, we did animation, and we did so much more. Documentary is just the part that has turned out to be the stand out,” noted Al-Rumaihi.

“In our film, you will notice traces of good cinematography, you will see good editing, and you’ll see a journalistic approach towards showcasing an interesting character who tells a very personal story. I am not saying we are the best at it. Of course we are learning, we are still students and we will continue to learn. However that’s what NU-Q gave us,” added Islam.

Further acknowledgement came when the film went on to secure the inaugural “Made in Qatar” category at the recently-concluded Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF) organized by the Doha Film Institute. That propelled the team into a new realm of popularity.

“I think the most exciting part about winning the DTFF was that I was engaging with the community. People actually started asking about the film and NU-Q and what kind of films we make. And I think as Education City as a whole it’s really important for us to engage in initiatives that can get us into local communities and to get people inspired and also just answer their curiosity about what Education City is and what it really teaches. Hopefully other students can do the same,” said Al-Rumaihi.

Islam said: “It was a surreal experience. The names that were present in the auditorium, the recognition, the global exposure, the engagement with the community, all of those are far more rewarding and satisfying than the award itself. The award brought an experience that we could not have had otherwise and we are really thankful for that.”

“This award is a great achievement for these gifted students–and for our school,” says Dr. Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of Northwestern University in Qatar. “We’re enormously proud of this recognition for high caliber creative work because it bodes well for the winners and for our students who are eager to contribute to the popular culture of the country, Middle East and global community.”

On the back of their initial success, the students believe it is now time now to go on and create work of even greater significance.

“I have been toying with a few ideas. It has been love, it has been passion, it has been a hobby and I will continue to keep doing it. Whether its documentary or fiction or narrative or animation is yet to be seen,” said Islam.

As for Al-Rumaihi, he is actively considering documentary filmmaking as a career and as an industry.

“Working in documentaries of course means a lot of independent work. It means a lot of focus from you. It’s not just like another job that you get hired to do, so when I say I’d love to pursue it as a career I mean that as a graduate of NU-Q  – hopefully – I will definitely put in a lot of my own time. It may be with Rezwan, or other students, or the other people I meet. But the main effort will be to make better documentaries that tell stories from the Arab World and Qatar,” said Al-Rumaihi.