BY RAYNALD C RIVERA
DOHA: Seventeen aspiring filmmakers, mostly women, have started shooting documentaries for the first Maisha Documentary Lab conducted by a team of film experts led by renowned filmmaker Mira Nair (pictured) (Monsoon Wedding, The Reluctant Fundamentalist).
This is the second time Maisha Film Labs, founded by Nair eight years ago, brought a filmmaking module to Doha.
“Last year, we brought Maisha screenwriting lab to the Doha community,” said Nair, stressing close collaboration between Maisha and the Doha Film institute (DFI) for the project which started several years ago.
The intensive documentary workshop introduces participants to theoretical approaches and practical applications in documentary making through screenings, discussions, one-on-one critique sessions and hands-on workshops.
The 14 women and four men in the class were chosen based on a rigorous selection process done by DFI and the mentors who were impressed by the students coming up with ideas authentic to their roots.
“The variety, depth and originality of their vision were extraordinary,” said Nair.
Founded in 2004 in East Africa, Maisha Film Labs has sent hundreds of its alumni to film and TV industries across the continent telling their own stories using their own voices.
“You hardly see stories about Africa made by Africans,” she said, adding it became a motivating force for her to create Maisha (Swahili for ‘life’) to teach the craft of the film to young filmmakers.
‘If we don’t tell our stories no one else will’ is the mantra of Maisha, said Nair, which applies to her also.
“We must hear voices from within. The more we hear that local voice, the more universal it becomes and I’m a firm believer of that.”
In the last four years, it was Qatari students who would approach Maisha to learn filmmaking, and Nair and DFI believed it was time to bring the module to Qatar to answer young filmmakers’ needs.
“We should really make this part of our fabric here because we really raised the bar and the students are hungry for it,” she added.
Nair is in talks with the Qatar Museums Authority to create art films which focus on the history of Qatar.
“Who does what Doha is doing? Not many… where you enable training and foster the imagination, looking into the future but not ignoring the past,” she said.
Asked about her recent film The Reluctant Fundamentalist, she said she did not expect the warm reception of people in various festivals in Venice, Toronto, California, Doha and the latest in India, ahead of its commercial release on April 26.
“In India, it received the top prize — the Centenary prize — which celebrates the best of 100 years of Indian cinema which I did not expect because it’s a movie about a Pakistani, not a movie about India in that sense but of course it’s about us all. The embrace was extraordinary.”
She has already finished creative preparation for staging the musical version of Monsoon Wedding, rehearsals of which will start in September.