What’s in store at Doha’s Ajyal Youth Film Festival

Ajyal Youth Film Festival gives priority to films for younger viewers. This focus ensures that there are many Middle East premières and the occasional world premiere to enjoy.

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Now in its second year, the Ajyal Youth Film Festival replaced the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, which ran from 2009 to 2012, when a five-year collaboration with New York’s Tribeca Film Festival came to an end.

Spotlight on youth

The festival is now heavily focused on family-orientated films (Ajyal means generations), with the aim of providing young cinemagoers with the opportunity to learn about other cultures and countries.

Two Sundance hits – Whiplash, about a student drummer (Miles Teller) being taught by a bullying jazz maestro (J K Simmons); and the director Zeresenay Mehari's Oscar contender Difret, an Ethiopian drama about a child kidnapping – have been selected for screening because they feature teenagers grappling with growing up and the demands of the adult world.

Unique to the Middle East

The other main film festivals in the region – in Abu Dhabi and Dubai – aim to show the best movies fitting their selection criteria. This often overlaps and means that some films will show at more than one festival.

Ajyal differs in that it gives priority to films for younger viewers. This focus ensures that there are many Middle East premières and the occasional world premiere to enjoy.

The numbers

Ninety films from 43 countries will be screened, 21 of which are feature films, 10 of them by first or second-time directors. There are also 40 short films.

Theeb (funded by Sanad, the development and post-production fund of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival), which had it's regional premiere in Abu Dhabi, will also be screened. The film won Naji Abu Nowar the Orrizzonti Award for best director at the Venice International Film Festival.

The stars

Special guests attending the festival include the actress Salma Hayek, the directors Roger Allers, Joan Gratz and Mohammed Saeed Harib, who are all behind the animated ensemble feature Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet. Nowar will also be there, as will Amber Fares, the director of the opening-night film Speed Sisters.

The curtain-raiser

Speed Sisters is getting its world premiere at Ajyal. The documentary about the Middle East's first all-woman motor-racing team features five drivers – Marah, Mona, Betty, Noor and Maysoon – who have taken the Palestinian auto-racing world by storm. Fares is a Canadian-born filmmaker with Lebanese roots who lives in Ramallah. She founded SocDoc Studios to produce story-driven films that promote social issues in the Middle East. This is her feature-film debut.

Festival highlights

Fans of Japanese animation won't want to miss The Tale of Princess Kaguya, based on the 10th-century Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The film is directed by Isao Takahata, who made Grave of the Fireflies and is a co-founder of the legendary animation house Studio Ghibli.

Documentary lovers should see #chicagoGirl: The Social Network, directed by Joe Piscatella, which is about a young Syrian woman who takes part in the events in Syria from her bedroom in Chicago. Ala'a Basatneh, aka #chicagoGirl, will be at the festival.

The Made in Qatar section is perfect for those on the lookout for new talent. It showcases short films by filmmakers based in Qatar, which this year include a zombie horror (Qarar by Ali Al Ansari); Kings and Queens of Qatar, a documentary about the women's national chess team; and six winners from the Tarsheed Short Filmmaking Competition, which aims to raise awareness about water and electricity conservation.