Students and alumni take spotlight at film festival

November 27, 2021
Northwestern Qatar students and alumni came together to showcase their films and creative projects at the 2021 Ajyal Film Festival. Among the films featured were films directed by alums Alessandra El Chanti and Tony El Ghazal, who screened their films across eight themed categories and competed for the six jury awards. El Chanti’s film, When Beirut Was Beirut, received the Badr Jury award.
“Our talented student and alumni filmmakers have been significant contributors to the film culture in Doha and beyond, and over the past years, we have been proud to see them continue to shine at Ajyal and similar festivals around the world,” said Marwan M. Kraidy, dean and CEO of Northwestern Qatar. “Their participation at Ajyal this year brings to the limelight their passion and reflects the value of their work in addressing important issues in the region .”
El Chanti’s animated documentary was one of 10 short and feature films that were screened as part of the Made in Qatar category. Featuring a fictional dialogue between some of Beirut’s monumental buildings that have been abandoned after the civil war, the film captures the city’s thriving past and troubled present.
El Chanti, who received her master's on Northwestern’s Evanston campus, began developing her film idea during her undergraduate career at Northwestern Qatar and then worked on producing while at the Evanston campus. “As a Lebanese filmmaker,” she says, “my drive is to tell the untold stories of Lebanon through unconventional methods of documentary filmmaking,” explaining how she turned to animation to recreate events that were only documented in old books and newspapers.
El Ghazal’s Atlal documents the story of a retired Palestinian man who goes on a journey of his memory of his life in Qatar. It captures an experience that El Ghazal said was similar to his upbringing in Qatar. “I was born and raised here in Qatar, so I really wanted to make a film dedicated to those who have been here for a lot of their lives,” he said.
Atlal producer Balkees Al-Jaafari, another Northwestern Qatar alumna participating in this year’s festival, produced the film with El Ghazal during the COVID-19 lockdown before graduation. “Filming during the pandemic was the hardest part because we had to do everything in such a short time,” noted Al-Jaafari. “We knew the lockdown would happen again, so we had to finish the entire shoot in just two days.”
Another Northwestern Qatar student participating in this year’s festival was communication major Khalifa Al-Kuwari, who showcased an action-platformer adventure game project. “Game development is like a hobby to me,” said Al-Kuwari. “At NU-Q, I have had lots of opportunities to learn about mobile game design and enhance my way to tell a story through the game, to make it interact with the choices of other people,” he said.
Each year, students and alumni from Northwestern Qatar showcase their film projects and creative work at film festivals around the world, with many of their films and documentaries winning awards for storytelling and cinematography.