- Tuesday, June 4, 2019

It’s well known that the Al Jazeera Network is headquartered in Doha, Qatar. Launched in 1996, the sometimes controversial network broadcasts to tens of millions of Arabic viewers worldwide, much to the delight of Arab viewers around the globe but to the chagrin of certain state governments who prefer to deliver their own carefully crafted propaganda to their citizens. Saudi Arabia is among the biggest critics of Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera Arabic has been recognized for excellence worldwide, garnering awards in recent years from The German Foundation, ProMax Africa, and the Freedom of Speech And Expression Medal in the Netherlands.

Perhaps even more impressive is the dominance Al Jazeera English has shown at the New York Festivals World’s Best TV & Film awards. It has been named Broadcaster of the Year three consecutive years. In 2017 AJE also won five Gold Medals, 14 Silver Medals and 7 bronze medals for various programs and presentations.

Much less well known but enjoying enormous growth is AJ+.

AJ+ is a digital platform, distributing news and information via social media to a much younger demographic worldwide. The delivery of information is decidedly different and definitely designed to appeal to youth. Using tools like humor and graphic art, AJ+ takes people out of the usual way of telling stories. Some stories are delivered with music, some with poetry, some with science and others with philosophy.

Taking a page from their Western counterparts, AJ+ has established a weekly news program featuring a handsome, young, irreverent male host who makes no bones about mocking the issues of the day.

Managing Director Dima Khatib proudly points out how AJ+ shatters nearly every stereotype of the Arabic world. “52% of our employees are women. Women share 50/50 on leadership at AJ+. By making the woman’s perspective an essential part of our process the result is more female engagement.”

The numbers back her up. 61% of Facebook engagement is with women. Female engagement in both France and Mexico hovers around 60%. The numbers are solid virtually everywhere.

AJ+ has more than 45 nationalities on staff, setting it up to succeed in all corners of the globe. AJ+ is available in English, Arabic, French and Spanish. They have 12 million Facebook followers and over a million Twitter users in the US alone. Not only are their numbers big, their followers are engaged. They have more comments and more participation, even including virtual fights, than nearly all their competitors.

AJ+ Arabic has the highest growth among competitors and the highest interaction rate in the last 12 months. They also have the highest follower growth on Instagram in the last 12 months.

Khatib credits the amazing success to a simple formula. “We don’t tell people how it is. We don’t know more than they do. We simply provide information on the ground. It’s the new world order of media.”

Another surprising area that is expanding in Qatar is film.

The Doha Film Institute (DFI) was established to provide Qatari talent with a platform for storytelling through the medium of film, and the opportunity to develop skills and professional careers in the film industry, among other things.

In 2018 DFI clearly accomplished their goal. Locally they were able to assist 870 individuals. Among them were professionals, aspiring filmmakers and participants in the DFI youth programs.

On a more global scale, DFI has been able to play a sponsorship role on 488 films with filmmakers from 71 different countries. Their commitment to providing opportunity to Arab filmmakers has developed a huge following in the industry. In May DFI announced 37 grants for more films. Those films were chosen from over 750 applications for grants and represent 28 countries.

The criteria is simple. Applicants must be a first or second time filmmaker. There is no set format, meaning an individual’s project may be fiction, a documentary or something completely different.

When it was pointed out to Fatma Hassan Alremaihi, Chief Executive Officer of the Doha Film Institute, that in the West aspiring filmmakers can sometimes intentionally be very provoking with their content, she assured The Washington Times that the creative spirit is no different in Doha. “You will find the same provocative nature here. Some individuals want to shake things up.” Despite the traditional culture in Qatar, the CEO says “As an institute, we do not censor - not even shocking or provoking filming.”

One of the essential elements in DFI’s growth has been Qumra. It is six days of meetings, actions and feedback from those in and those interested in being in, the film industry. Alremaihi loves the participatory nature of Qumra. “Everyone is invited and everyone can participate. From 8 years old on up, not only can you attend, you can serve as a juror. All week every participant has the opportunity to talk to talent, discuss films that are shown, and ultimately to have the final decision in judging the films.”

The Doha Film Institute is succeeding at every level. DFI is the only cultural organization in the Middle East/North Africa region to have had four co-financed films in the Official Selection/Competition of the Cannes Film Festival to date.

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