NU-Q student films nominated at Al Jazeera International Documentary Festival

April 24, 2012

“Behind the Walls” and “Salma’s World” compete in “Promising Films” category at 8th film festival

Doha, Qatar – April 23, 2012 – Two films produced by students at Northwestern University in Qatar were nominated in the “Promising Films” category at the 8th Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival, which concluded this Sunday.

Last summer, NU-Q seniors Zainab Sultan, Amit Chowdhury and Nazneen Zahan created a short documentary on female domestic workers in Qatar.  The students traveled to Sri Lanka to report on the workers’ journey to the country with the highest per capita income in the world. “Behind the Walls” shows the workers’ range of experiences, with some women coming to the Middle East for what they consider a dream job that changes their families’ lives drastically, and others reporting a more harrowing ordeal.

“It was a bit of a grueling process to make this film and secure a travel grant to report in Sri Lanka,” said Sultan at the “Promising Films” screening on Thursday, 19 April. “Although Northwestern professors were guiding us through the process, we were given the freedom and responsibility of professional journalists to create the documentary- securing the grant, creating a budget that would be approved, finding a fixer.”

Richard J. Roth, the senior associate dean for Northwestern’s Journalism program, commented on the nomination: “Once again, our students have distinguished themselves and honored Northwestern with their extraordinary reporting, storytelling and videography.”

“I have no doubt that these three, like many of our students, will have exciting and celebrated careers in journalism that will be recognized throughout Qatar and the world beyond,” added Roth,

 The NU-Q media school will be graduating its first class of students in Qatar on May 9.

Senior Journalism student Sultan was nominated for another of her documentaries, “Salma’s World,” in the same category.

Her second film documents the dreams and aspirations of a young Palestinian girl who has never been to her homeland.

On what drove her to start making films, Sultan says, “I want to make a contribution to society by giving a voice to the voiceless.  I applied to Northwestern because I felt there were very few Muslim women in the field although a lot is being written and reported about them in the media.  Instead of reading other people’s opinions on a culture they may not be familiar with, I as a Muslim woman wanted to be able to speak for myself and for other women like me.”

The Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival nomination is not the first time Sultan has received recognition for her films.  Sultan’s documentaries have also been nominated for the CNN iReport Awards, at the 6th and 7th Al Jazeera Documentary festivals, and at the Zayed University Middle East Film Festival in the UAE.  She has also received an Honorable Mention at the Women’s Voices Now Film Festival in Los Angeles, California.

In addition to covering domestic workers and expat identity struggles in the Gulf, Sultan’s films have dealt with a range of local and regional topics including labor trafficking in the Middle East, the Gulf tradition of pearl diving, and breast cancer in Qatar.

After graduation this May, she would like to continue working on bringing unheard stories to the screen in Doha, as part of the country’s growing media industry.  In the more distant future, Sultan hopes to return to NU-Q as a professor.  She concluded: “This place has given me so much and I would love to give back by becoming a professor at NU-Q and helping teach a new generation of filmmakers.”