Introduced in Qatar in the 1950s and initially confused with witchcraft, the history of motion picture, which began on big outdoor screens before moving into cinema halls, is being showcased by a leading Qatari filmmaker in a new documentary, marking the growth of movie mania in the country.
“The motion picture was introduced to the Qatari community by British and other foreign oil companies,” Hafiz Ali recalled in an interview with Gulf Times.
Lacking any entertainment in the desert during the 1950s, these companies installed big outdoor screens and seats, where they displayed foreign movies for the locals working with them.
At that time, there were no cinemas or television. Some of the locals thought that these pictures in motion were witchcraft.
However, soon they began to like this entertainment and sought Lebanese and Egyptian movies for private screening in private homes and sports clubs. Subsequently, a competition for cultural performances emerged, among the clubs.
Local businessmen, who realised the commercial potential established the Gulf and Doha cinemas in the 1970s.
Ali recalled that the introduction of the television in Qatar during this period marked the turning point for cinema in Qatar.
“The cinema audience began to dramatically decline with the onset of the satellite TV channels and internet.
“Cinemas were filled with viewers again, only in 1998, with the blockbuster The Titanic,” he stated.
Ali pointed out that Titanic changed perceptions regarding cinema, which was considered an entertainment form for the men in the Qatari society.
“Cinema became a family and social practice”, he added.
The film director observed that the documentary’s topic and scenario writer, Abdulrahman Mohsen, Qatar Cinema and Film Distribution Company’s manager, has brought up the issue, when the British Council contacted various Qatari artistes, in the framework of a photography and video project about Qatar.
However, the British Council shifted the project to a documentary, after inspecting the artistes’ works. It anticipated success for the combination of Mohsen’s scenario and Ali’s filmmaking skills.
Ali explained that the 27-minute film is a combination of archived material, interviews with early players in cinema’s beginnings in Qatar, shooting scenes and actors.
The Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, as well as Jazeera Children’s Channel, Qatar Cinema Company and Qatar TV participated along with British Council in funding the film.
He said that it would be screened during the celebration of Doha Arab cultural capital next year.
Answering a question about the possibility of making films tackling issues modern Qatari society’s interaction with the multicultural expatriate community, Ali observed that Qatar needs to build up a record of its historical and traditional features before taking any step in that direction.
Ali revealed that the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage is in the process of establishing a club for Qatari cinema in an effort to promote Doha as the Arab Cultural Capital next year.
He said that a delay marked Qatar’s catch-up with other Gulf countries’ film industry, however, the cinema club is to pave the way for the industry.
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