6˚ of Separation: Of cartoons and films
We last spoke to Abdulaziz Yousef, who is a PR representative by day and a cartoonist for all time. He recommended Latifa Al-Darwish, a recent university graduate who works at a children’s TV channel in Qatar. She is also a cartoonist for an Arabic daily newspaper and an aspiring filmmaker who co-directed the short 12-minute film Temsa7, which was screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival
The films and cartoons I’ve created are inspired by Qatar and its culture, its people and by the things I see here. Only someone who has lived in Qatar might understand or relate to them. For example, I made a cartoon about how the roundabouts here were suddenly turned into traffic lights; these are things that people here face every day.
I began to draw when I was a kid. The first thing I remember drawing was a stick figure with a few hairs on a circle-shaped head and an oddly-shaped skirt.
Growing up, I watched cartoons on TV all the time. I used to study in front of it and even now, I’m a big fan of Spacetoons and all those other cartoon channels.
One of my fondest childhood memories is going to the local grocery store with my cousins everyday and getting all the chips and candy that 2 riyals could buy. We used to visit before 4pm, the time that cartoons used to be aired on Qatar TV. If any of us had 5 or 10 riyals, it was a big deal. We used to all sit together in front of the television and eat our snacks while watching our favourite cartoons.
Al Wakra is where I’m from and where I live. It is a part of my identity. In the Al Wakra that I lived in while growing up, everyone knew everyone else. There were only two schools, so all my friends who were also my neighbours and extended family went to the same schools. All the teachers were my mother’s friends. I essentially grew up with the same people every year in school and outside of it. Back then, we used to visit Doha only to go shopping.
The architecture of the Museum of Islamic Art is lovely. Every time I’m there, I feel like I’m visiting for the first time. Education City feels like a second home to me since I went to college there and now work there too.
Fight Club and Toy Story are two of my all-time favourite movies. I believe that Toy Story is a lot deeper than we think. As a kid, I thought it was funny. But when I watch now as an adult, I still find many themes I can relate to, such as losing friends. As we grow up, friends whom we are close to us may acquire other friends and our relationships with them may never be as it used to in the past. It’s a lesson in letting go of things or people who are close to us. So, somehow Toy Story is almost like a lesson on life and growing up.
As a child, I used to love going to Al Wakra Beach with my grandfather’s uncle. He used to take us around the old houses and all these other places that didn’t really have names. He would share stories about the houses and their former residents. I distinctly remember this one place, which would fill up with water after the rains. People would wash their clothes and have fun there. Now, after 2006 when most of the area in the beach was closed to the public, I haven’t gone back as much.
I have always loved to meet new people and learn new things. I made many friends as I studied in different places throughout my life in Qatar. Last year, four of my classmates and I went on a university trip to India for a 48-hour film-making project. I met students from Northwestern University’s main campus in the US as well as a film school in India; I had a great time participating in this. While in Qatar, I jump at every opportunity to get involved in new things whenever I can find the time.
Last winter, I took a workshop on drawing cartoons with Rashid Al Kuwari and Abdulaziz Yousef. One way to find new ideas for cartoons, they advised, was to find something that really makes you angry. For me, it’s the traffic in Qatar that really annoys me, so I use it as a theme in many of my cartoons.
My parents are very supportive of me as a filmmaker and cartoon artist. It’s probably because they have been in my shoes in the past. My mother wanted to study art, but she studied geography instead because all her friends were studying geography. So my parents believe that you should always do something you are interested in.
My biggest dream is to free Palestine. I’m not entirely clear on what I want to do ten years later, but I certainly want to use my artistic and film-making skills to make a difference in my community. I would like to change how people view films. Qatar doesn’t have a strong film culture yet; I would like to change that.
For the next interview in this series Latifa recommends we talk to Dana Al-Safar, an artist, writer and Assistant Producer at Al Jazeera Children’s Channel.