As construction workers tear down the remnants of the majestic Sony Open-Air Cinema, and the last wide-eyed Ajyal posters are taken off the billboards, it’s hard to imagine all that actually went on over the past week at Katara.
For those who were here, and want to remember, and those who weren’t and are wondering what they missed out on, here are some brief highlights of what happened during the inaugural Ajyal Youth Film Festival.
Our Children First! was the name of the industry forum during the Festival, and it’s unquestionable that the real stars of Ajyal were the youth who attended all our events and screening, and determined the Festival award winners.
More than 350 young people, divided into three age groups (8-12, 13-17, 18-21) formed our formidable Mohaq, Hilal and Bader juries. Over five days, they screened more than 30 feature and short films in competition, several other films out of competition, and attended a series of exciting panels and workshops on the enchanting world of anime, the use of sound in film, and the incredible 7-day filmmaking challenge. At the end, they had a lively discussion to select winners for each category and made their choices (in many cases it was a very close call).
During the Festival, jurors also created their tribal avatars via mobile app, which inspired the mind-blowing closing night show, where Mohaq were represented by an angelfish, Hilal by a falcon, and Bader by an oryx, much to the delight of our jurors who were seated in the centre of the audience dressed as glowing warriors from different tribes (orange for Mohaq; green for Hilal; blue for Bader).
If the kids were the heart of the Festival, the engine was the Industry Forum, which assembled more than 70 film professionals and youth-media experts from around the globe to discuss how to create more effective and enlightening media for young people here in the Gulf region and around the world. It was an emotional moment as the group acknowledged the bonds made over the sessions and pledged to continue the work started here at Ajyal in the coming years.
The eye of the Festival was a big, colourful manga eye which welcomed the audience from posters and billboards, and introduced them to the Festival’s focus on Japanese animation.
Masterpieces of anime screened one after another, from ‘The White Snake Enchantress’ to ‘Horus: Prince of the Sun’; from Hayao Miyazaki’s first and last films (‘Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro’ and ‘The Wind Rises’) to Makoto Shinkai’s wonderful ‘Garden of Words’ and ‘Voices from a Distant Star’, which have given him the nickname “The New Miyazaki”.
In the meantime, thousands of people paid visit to the wonderful Anime Exhibition, full of incredible art work and collections by Gulf and Qatari anime artists. Alongside that were the eye-popping Otaku Cosplay Competition, and the crazy Otaku Saves the Day Instagram Hunt, where kids ran around Katara to chase evil manga villains.
But Ajyal was so much more than this. In terms of cinema, there was an abundance of films for all tastes: moving and compelling features such as the acclaimed ‘Wajma (An Afghan Love Story)’, ‘The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete’ and ‘When I Saw You’; inspiring real-life stories, like the ones portrayed in ‘Flying Paper’, ‘On the Way to School’ and ‘Touch of the Light’; and funny tales for kids and families, like ‘Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang’ and the beautiful animated fairy tale ‘Justin and the Knights of Valour’, whose Gulf premiere was welcomed by no less than a huge dragon on the red carpet.
And let’s not forget the amazingly popular Sandbox digital exhibition space, which awed the public with its gadgets, widgets and other complex whimsy on display, nor the Family Weekend, which provided an interactive and creative environment where children and their parents gained insight into the behind-the-scenes experience of filmmaking, with events and workshops taking place in a host of Festival tents along the Esplanade at Katara.
As a grand finale, the jaw-dropping sequence of fireworks of the closing night ceremony offered the best way to wave goodbye to our wonderful public and welcome them back next year for the second edition of the Ajyal Youth Film Festival.