Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tribeca Film Festival Opens

I went to the Doha Tribeca Film Festival opening on the 29th and saw Amelia on a 24m by 10m HD screen (it took 150 people to assemble) outside in the lovely evening air. As we watched, planes landing and taking at the close-by airport to our right provided a fascinating juxtaposition to the story. Fireworks exploding after the film offered a dramatic backdrop to the museum. Below is a slide show of a handful of photos and captions.


From the Gulf Times, October 30.
Film Festival Takes Off
Around 5,000 film lovers flocked to the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) grounds last night, to take part in the opening night of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF), where they watched the Middle East premiere of Mira Nair’s biopic, Amelia.
People of all ages, nationalities and cultures sat together in the deckchairs in front of the specially constructed 24x10m screen, which took 150 people to build. It is the largest temporary structure ever to be built in Qatar, according to organisers.
Earlier, the opening day of the festival included a lunch which was attended by organisers and many of the luminaries attending and participating in the festival, such as Martin Scorcese, Mira Nair and Sir Ben Kingsley among others.
more ...

DTFF step in the right direction, says actors
Luminaries from the world of Arab and international cinema have hailed the launch of the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF) as a major step for film in the region, and expressed their hope that the event will signal a year-round effort to develop film in the Middle East.
As Doha residents awaited the screening of Amelia to mark the opening night of the DTFF yesterday, stars from the worlds of film, fashion, music and the arts made their way down a unique red carpet at the entrance of the Museum of Islamic Art.
Sir Ben Kingsley proved to be one of the most popular stars to walk down the carpet, with members of the public screaming out to the renowned actor.
Kingsley, who is also in Doha to receive a humanitarian award tonight, graciously answered all the questions screamed at him and argued that a lot of good can be achieved through film. He gave the examples of Gandhi and Schindler’s List as two films which have helped educate generations and raise awareness of the suffering of people around the world. “Now most schoolchildren in the world have watched these films and have learnt about what happened.”
more ...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Doha Tribeca Film Festival

(My close friend's son is joining me this week and we'll be at the fire-work studded opening to see Amelia on large creens at the Museum of Islamic Art.)

from today's New York Times

Mixing Oil and Hollywood: Tribeca Festival Expands to the Persian Gulf
Published: October 23, 2009
On a recent trip to the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, Geoff Gilmore, chief creative officer for Tribeca Enterprises, visited a local luminary to talk up the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Festival. “This is going to be one of those New York programs, isn’t it?” Mr. Gilmore remembers the man asking skeptically.

Well, yes and no. There is no denying the company’s New York origins. But when the festival opens next week in Doha, Qatar’s capital, with Robert De Niro, Tribeca’s co-founder, expected to be among those present, its slate of 31 movies will reflect months of effort to strike just the right multicultural tone and mix of Arab and Western films.

“People may have thought this was going to be a one-way exchange, Tribeca bringing films to the Gulf, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Mr. Gilmore, who joined Tribeca this year after 19 years at the Sundance Institute and festival. “We look at this as an equal relationship.”

The Doha Tribeca Film Festival is the latest example of a cinematic phenomenon in the Persian Gulf region. Dubai started things off in 2004 and will be holding its sixth festival in December. Abu Dhabi has two festivals. Even Saudi Arabia, where many Islamic clerics regard film and music as the Devil’s handiwork, has modest festivals in Khobar on the Gulf coast and across the peninsula in Jeddah.

more ...

from today's Peninsula

Arab filmmakers face apathy and lack of understanding
By Raja Abdulrahim

When Zahra, 40, began making indie films after graduating from film school at the University of California, Los Angeles, he was confident he would find support, both financial and consumer, among the Middle Eastern and Muslim communities of the United States. These, after all, were two intersecting communities that often complained of their portrayal in Hollywood movies as mostly fanatical terrorists.

But that support has yet to fully materialize. For many in these communities, Zahra said, a project must proselytize or match their personal views to warrant investment or even the purchase of a movie ticket or DVD.

At this weekend’s Arab Film Festival in Los Angeles, Zahra Pictures will co-present “Help,” a Lebanese film portraying a prostitute and a gay character. Each movie in the festival is being presented in concert with local Arab groups. But most shied away from being connected with “Help” because of the controversial story.

Michel Shehadeh, director of the festival, which also plays in other California cities and features films from across the Middle East, Europe and the United States, said the challenges faced by Zahra and “Help” are common.

“In terms of art, if they don’t think of it as bad, they think of it as wasting their time,” he said. “So they don’t encourage their kids to go into it because they don’t think of it as a moneymaker.”

Support has been piecemeal, at best, for a variety of reasons that Zahra says includes conservative values suspicious of what might be portrayed and a lack of appreciation for the role of film and theater in molding public perception.

full article

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gulf Energy Sources: Different Approaches Today

The news media today in the U.S. and in Qatar presents two interesting stories on gas and oil reserves in the mid-East and the approaches different countries are taking. The demands of Saudi Arabia to be compensated when oil demand goes down contrasts sharply with Qatar’s heavy investment of its industries’ proceeds in developing new products and sources of energy.
On one hand, as reported by the New York Times, Saudi Arabia,
is trying to enlist other oil-producing countries to support a provocative idea: if wealthy countries reduce their oil consumption to combat global warming, they should pay compensation to oil producers.
The oil-rich kingdom has pushed this position for years in earlier climate-treaty negotiations. While it has not succeeded, its efforts have sometimes delayed or disrupted discussions. The kingdom is once again gearing up to take a hard line on the issue at international negotiations scheduled for Copenhagen in December.
The chief Saudi negotiator, Mohammad al-Sabban, described the position as a “make or break” provision for the Saudis, as nations stake out their stance before the global climate summit scheduled for the end of the year.
“Assisting us as oil-exporting countries in achieving economic diversification is very crucial for us through foreign direct investments, technology transfer, insurance and funding,” Mr. Sabban said in an e-mail message. …
Environmental advocates denounced the idea, saying the Saudi stance hampered progress to assist poor nations that are already suffering from the effect of climate change, and that genuinely need financial assistance.
“It is like the tobacco industry asking for compensation for lost revenues as a part of a settlement to address the health risks of smoking,” said Jake Schmidt, the international climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The worst of this racket is that they have held up progress on supporting adaptation funding for the most vulnerable for years because of this demand.

The Qatar local papers had a number of articles that show a different approach, one made possible by the large natural gas reserves controlled by Qatar as well as their heavy investment in technology (the Qatar Science and Technology Park, for one instance), here on the on the development and first use of a new jet fuel.
The national carrier made history on Monday night when its London Gatwick – Doha service became the first commercial flight to be powered by a blend of GTL kerosene and conventional crude oil-based kerosene.
“GTL Jet Fuel, a colourless liquid, contains no sulphur component at all and hence will improve air quality near airports, which are located near cities,” Brown told Gulf Times. GTL (gas to liquids) kerosene will be produced in commercial quantities by the Pearl GTL project, currently under construction by Qatar Petroleum and Shell. The project is expected to produce around 1mn tonnes of GTL kerosene yearly from 2012, enough to power a typical commercial airliner for half a billion kilometres (equivalent to carrying 250 passengers around the world 4,000 times) when used in a 50% blend to make GTL Jet Fuel.“
Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) yesterday signed two agreements with its consortium partners to further quantify the benefits of Gas to Liquids (GTL) Jet Fuel, the blend of GTL kerosene and oil-derived kerosene. Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ), The University of Sheffield, Shell, Rolls-Royce and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) are the consortium partners. “The initial research programme is for three years,” QSTP managing director Dr Eulian Roberts told Gulf Times on the sidelines of the signing ceremony.
Qatar Airways will start using GTL Jet Fuel widely from 2012, following the start-up of Pearl Gas-to-Liquids plant at Ras Laffan, airline CEO Akbar al-Baker has said. … GTL kerosene is the first aviation fuel component derived from natural gas and has obtained the required international approval and meets all the standard jet fuel specifications. It offers airlines access to an alternative feedstock to oil-based conventional fuels. This diversity of supply for the industry-gas-based rather than oil-based, will add a high quality drop-in blend component to the global jet fuel pool for many decades. … Asked whether fares would go up once GTL Jet Fuel was used to power Qatar Airways aircraft, al-Baker said: “It is true the blend is costlier than the conventional fuel. But we have no immediate plans to revise our fares on account of this.” He said the inadequate supply of GTL Jet Fuel in global markets was not a matter of concern at all. This is because the engines could fly on conventional fuel even as it is equipped to run on GTL Jet Fuel.”

See the following for complete articles from the Gulf Times:
1, 2, 3

From an article in the NYT in December 2005 we see the forecast of this success.
In a shift drawing historical comparisons to the takeoff of Saudi Arabia's oil industry several decades ago, Qatar has moved swiftly in recent years to develop its huge offshore natural gas reserves - once dismissed as practically worthless because of the difficulty of transporting gas to distant markets - while cementing strong military and economic ties with the United States.
Driven by an ambitious, well-educated and open-minded ruling elite, these moves have allowed Qatar to leap ahead of Russia and Iran, the only countries with larger reserves of natural gas, seizing new opportunities to export the fuel to markets in North America, Southern Europe and the Far East.
Tankers laden with gas super-cooled to a liquid state already depart each day for Japan and South Korea from the northern port of Ras Laffan, not far from Al Udeid Air Base in the Qatari desert, the U.S. military's main air operations center in the Arabian Peninsula. Soon the ships will start delivering their cargoes to ports in Texas and Louisiana in the most ambitious project to date to bring natural gas from the Middle East to American consumers.
Andrew Brown, Royal Dutch Shell's country manager in Qatar, said that greater natural gas and oil production should result in overall daily energy production equivalent to about five million barrels of oil a day by 2012, nearly half the daily oil output of Saudi Arabia.
"Over the next five years," Brown said, "Qatar is going to see an energy boom as significant as any other in the past."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Turkey: Waltzing Matilda

… the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
the eternal note of sadness in.

It’s not surprising that standing on the Aegean shore of Gallipoli I should think of Dover Beach. After all, Arnold went on to write that

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery …

And the graveyards of Gallipoli stand as monuments to some of the bitterest fighting the world has seen. Hundreds of thousands dead in an ill-conceived attack by the Australian New Zealand Allied Command (Anzac) at the order the British. The image below, is a photo of Anzac, the landing 1915 by George Lambert (1873-1930), 1920–22 (oil-on-canvas, 190.5 cm by 350.5 cm) and is in the public domain. The painting depicts the Australian soldiers of the covering force (3rd Infantry Brigade) climbing the seaward slope of Plugge's Plateau which overlooks the northern end of the cove. The view is to the north, towards the main range. The yellow pinnacle is "The Sphinx" and beyond is Walker's Ridge which leads to Russell's Top. The white bag that each soldier is carrying contains two days of rations which were issued specially for the landing.

The folksong,“And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” poignantly depicts the war seen in the eyes of an old man who lost his legs in the fighting. Written in the 1970s it has been thought by some to be directed as much at the Vietnam War as war in general. As written in Wikipedia, the song describes the soldier who for "ten weary weeks" kept himself alive as "around me the corpses piled higher," recalling "that terrible day" ... "in the hell that they called Suvla Bay we were butchered like lambs at the slaughter" ... "in that mad world of blood, death and fire" … As the old man sits on his porch, watching the veterans march past every ANZAC Day, he muses: "The young people ask what are they marching for, and I ask m'self the same question" … "but as year follows year/ more old men disappear/ someday no one will march there at all."

Ataturk, Father of the Turks, in 1934 wrote a tribute to the ANZACs killed at Gallipoli:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.

The inscription appears on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial, ANZAC Parade, Canberra as well as on this granite stone on Gallipoli where the graveyards and graves are meticulously kept. A view of one graveyard (with the yellow pinnacle or "Sphinx" seen from a slightly different angle)and a few specific graves:

The cemetery and the battles still hold strong memories for families. The marker below, found loose on the grass, shows that Mark and Fiona Davies from England brought some flowers a few weeks before I visited.

Leaving the peninsula on a boat bound to the Asian shore of Turkey, you turn back and see the hillside of Kilitbahir in which has been carved

"Stop passerby!
This soil you thus tread unawares
Is where an age sank.
Bow and listen,
This quiet mound is where the heart of a nation throbs."