The eighth edition of The Aljazeera International Documentary Film Festival witnessed a nomination of two films produced by students of Northwestern University - Qatar for the "Promising Films Category".
A group of fourth-year students from Northwestern University in Qatar: Zainab Sultan, Amitt Choudry, Naznin Zahan produced a short documentary film about housemaids in Qatar. They travelled to Sri Lanka to prepare a report about the trip of housemaids to Qatar which has the highest income per capita worldwide.
The film entitled "Behind the Walls" depicts various experiences of housemaids who come to the Middle East with hope to have the dream job that can radically change the status of their families. In the meantime, other housemaids talk about painful ordeals and tragedies they have experienced.
Zainab commented on her experience with the film when it was screened within the "Promising Films Category" on 19th April, "It was strenuous to make this film after we got the travel grant to prepare the film in Sri Lanka. Despite the guidance we received from our Northwestern teachers during the preparation stage, we were given the privileges of professional journalists in terms of access to information, the responsibility for preparing the film; the need to secure a travel grant; the preparation of an acceptable budget by the superiors; and the arrangement of a local guide." Richard J. Roth, Senior Associate Dean for Journalism at Northwestern University commented on this nomination, "Once again, our students achieve distinguished ranks, and they honor Northwestern University through the unusual efforts they put in preparing the reports, the story, and the film shooting."
Graduation of the First Class
Professor Roth pointed that the university will graduate its first class in Qatar on the 9th of coming May and added, " I have no doubt that those three students, like many other students of our university, will have senior and recognized jobs in the journalism sector in Qatar and around the world".
In regards to the second nominated film for the same category comes a film entitled "Salma World" for Zainab Sultan. It documents the dreams and ambitions of a Palestinian girl who has never been her homeland.
Concerning the motives that drove her to major in film production, Sultan says, "I would like to contribute in the society through extending the voice of those who are voiceless. I joined Northwestern University due to the scarcity of the Muslim women presence in this field which doesn't match the numerous amounts of journalistic material and reports covering their issues. Instead of sourcing information about our issues from the perspectives of journalists from other cultural background, who might not be fully aware of our local environment, I wanted - as a Muslim woman - to be able to talk about myself and other Muslim women".
This nomination that Zainab received in The Aljazeera International Documentary Festival is not the first recognition of her films. Rather, Sultan's films were nominated for other awards in the sixth and seventh editions of The Aljazeera International Documentary Festival and in The Zayed University Middle East Film Festival in the United Arab Emirates. Sultan also received "an honorable recognition" in The Women's Voices Now Film Festival in Los Angeles in California.
In addition to her coverage of the sufferings of housemaids and the identity conflict for the expatriates in the Gulf region, Sultan's films touched upon a number of local and regional issues. Some of these were labor trafficking in the Middle East, pearl hunting tradition in the Gulf, and breast cancer in Qatar.