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JustHere | May 26, 2017

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Ajyal Retrospective: Uniquely Qatar and a treat for anime fanatics, but fails to reach a wider audience

The inaugural Ajyal Film Festival did not have the buzz and glitz of the festival it replaces, the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, but it was an immense treat for anime fanatics, writes Marsya Karmila.

The partnership between Tribeca and DFI came to an end this year and the latter announced two festivals in place of it. Ajyal, the first of the two, was focused on one theme, and was appealing mainly to a younger audience.

The Anime themed festival opened with Miyazaki’s last film, “The Wind Rises” and closed with Shinkai’s “Garden of Words”. The week was packed with plenty events such as Otaku costume competition, feature workshops and an exhibition of massive collections of dolls and action figures. In short, Ajyal was an incredible treat for the passionate die-hard fans of Anime in the Gulf.

Unfortunately, the offering for non-Anime enthusiasts was not marketed properly.

Doha Tribecca Film Festival was known for bringing in high-profile celebrities led by Robert De Niro. It was all Hollywood grandeur. But for me, DTFF was too grand and frightening which gave the impression that only elitists can get a hold of the full experience of the festival. It intimidates young talents because of the pressure to achieve international standards. Our homegrown talent do have the potential, however, it takes steady progress.

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“Letting go of DTFF did not change the festival experience; it enhanced it for me,” says Fahad Al-Kuwari, a writer, filmmaker and designer. A thought echoed by the dozens of youngsters, Qataris and expatriates, who were involved in the organisation of the festival.

Ajyal successfully achieved what DTFF could not by addressing the younger generation through a youth film festival. Despite not having internationally renowned stars walking down the red carpet, there was a sizeable turnout but with a different kind of audience. The Anime theme was cleverly chosen because it is enjoyable for all ages, and it evokes childhood memories. ‘Future Boy Conan’ which was directed by Miyazaki was dubbed in the 70s and became one of the most popular cartoons of that time, and even later, in the Gulf.

A legacy of DTFF that continued is the “Made in Qatar” section. The programme included the winners of DFI film competitions: ‘48 Family Film Challenge’ and ‘7-Day Filmmaking Challenge’.

However, Ajyal did not receive the massive recognition that its predecessor did. There were 367 young jurors in all (from 4-year-olds upwards) and 562 volunteers in total, at the 5-day festival. Yet, it’s marketing was poor, and failed to speak to the general public who may not have been swayed by the focus on Anime, because there was more than just that.

The festival’s audience depended solely on the ‘fanatics’. As someone who mingles with my fellow anime enthusiasts, I was constantly up to date. I had an advantage.

Even as DFI enjoys the success of this festival, it should scrutinise the areas of failure as well, because Ajyal definitely deserved a lot more attention than it received this year.

The writer is a third culture kid originated from the East. A design student at VCUQ who aspires to be like Elon Musk – the real life Tony Stark. A world economic enthusiast who’s always intrigued by Arab Nationalism. Constantly agitated and restless.

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