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Report from the field: Doha Tribecca Film Festival

By Md Rezwan Al Islam
Communication student, Northwestern University in Qatar

Being at Northwestern University in Qatar has been one of the biggest highlights of my life so far. Being a Wildcat has truly changed who I am and opened me to a world of opportunities.

Not only did it provide me with an academic platform in which I could excel, but it also facilitated my entrance to the pioneering Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF) Filmmaker Program. As a part of my media construction class, I wrote a script that was selected for the DTFF Filmmaker program, and that was just the beginning.

I got the opportunity to transfer all my academic knowledge into a working script and see how it takes life. After several weeks of intense workshops and initial work, a group of eight filmmakers from Qatar were headed to New York, and I got to be one of them, representing NU-Q. I must thank my professors and the departmental assistance that I received, without which this experience would not have been possible.

New York! DTFF Filmmakers program—what an experience! What a great city and what an amazing bunch of people! To say the least, this has definitely been a life-altering experience for me.  I could not think of any other opportunity that could have given me so much personally and professionally in such a short period of time.

From the screenwriting sessions to walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, from the amazing, cheerful, and lively film screenings at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and Village East Cinema, to the bustling streets and bright lights of Times Square, from the independent writing hours spent in the hotel room, to the unmatched beauty of Central Park—I feel I have left a piece of me in that city while I have taken and brought back so much, as well.

One of the main points I learned from the DTFF Screenwriting Lab was to be open to the process of rewriting and take criticism of my work. In terms of content, it reinforced my ideas of the three-act structure while teaching me a lot of new things such as planting an idea in a screenplay to payoff later in the film and many other important aspects of a good screenplay. I am more aware of how important it is to have a director’s vision and share it with the entire team so that everyone is on the same page.

The highlights of the lab were sessions with Sabrina Dhawan, writer of Monsoon Wedding, and Ruba Nadda, writer/director of Cairo Time. The guest speakers, especially actresses Patricia Clarkson and Jessica Alba, were an inspiration. Also, throughout this lab I have had the chance to interact with six other like-minded and extremely capable filmmakers from whom I have learned much and gained invaluable experience. Filmmaking is such a collaborative venture, and knowing people who share the same passion for the craft is a definite source of relief and support. The lab also provided me an opportunity to gain insight into mainstream commercial and independent films in America and worldwide.

What really made this experience truly special for me were the relationships I built and the friendships I initiated. I am sure we are all on our way to achieve greatness in our own ways but what will always remain common among us are these 10 days, which opened our eyes to the world of films and screenwriting. Now that the first phase of the DTFF filmmaker program is over, I look forward to completing my short film in Doha with great aspirations.

Such collaboration between Doha and New York is truly unique and important to bridge cultures, which I have been trying to do and shall continue to do through my actions and films. I hope to go back to Tribeca with my short and be on the other side of the panel. As for New York, what can I say other than, “I heart NY.”