Omani filmmaker Dr Khaled Al Zadjali has been named the Festival Director for the first ever Hope International Film Festival, an event created to celebrate just that: hope.
We could all do with a little hope right now.
Come September, Dr Khaled Al Zadjali will be travelling to Stockholm for the Hope International Film Festival, for which he has been named the Festival Director.
The event aims to celebrate humanitarian issues and focus on how people have overcome their disabilities. Through the films screened at the festival, the organisers hope to share tales of inspiration from those who face challenges the rest of us are privileged to have avoided, and spread awareness on the hurdles those with physical and mental disabilities need to face almost daily.
The idea for the HIFF came from Fadi El Lawand, who found inspiration in his young stepson: five-year-old Kerim, born with a congenital deformity, has half his face paralysed, suffers from autism, and breathes through a laryngeal tube.
“Kerim overcame his fear and challenged his disability, something I find truly inspiring,” said Fadi, who will serve as president of the HIFF. “In fact, it encouraged me to think outside the usual narrow path and explore different avenues where I could help other people like Kerim through my artistic, cultural, and literary work.
“This is how the 'Hope International Film Festival' came to be: Quality films, gripping storylines and thought-provoking topics will be the essence of this film festival.”
The films shown will, of course, act as sources of inspiration and overcoming adversity, but equally important will be understanding how the directors of these movies were able to put their ideas onto the big screen: that’s where Khaled comes in.
“There will be multiple events to organise for the festival: we would like to have interviews with the directors and casts of films, scriptwriting and film workshops, masterclasses from people who are leaders in their field…these are some of the ideas we have, so as the date for the festival draws nearer, we will have a clearer idea about how these things are organised,” he said.
“There are thousands of film festivals around the world that focus on culture, history, entertainment, science fiction, or something similar,” he added. “However, there are very few film festivals that highlight humanitarian issues related to people with special needs or living through unusual social situations.”
The role he’s been tasked with is far from unfamiliar to him: Khaled is the founder of the Muscat International Film Festival, and has served as director Cinemana, an event first organised in Egypt in 2019 to celebrate Arab films. As vice president of the General Union of Arab Artists, his presence has been sought at many similar events around the world.
These titles, of course, come after many years of working as the head of production for Oman TV and the Public Authority for Radio and TV (PART), for whom he made a number of TV shows. To successfully carry out roles of authority is not new to him either: a double PhD, he’s served as an advisor to the Minister of Information, advised the Chairman of PART, and is also invited to share his experiences among budding journalists and cinematographers in the country, for whom he says more needs to be done.
“In Oman, we do make a lot of short films – there are a lot of keen filmmakers – but as far as full length cinema goes, we have only, by my reckoning, made six films in total, and three of them have been made by me, so there needs to be more done to encourage more people to take up filmmaking,” he added.
Khaled Al Zadjali’s latest full-length feature is Zayana, considered the first Indo-Omani collaboration for a film. Released in 2019, the film tells of an Indian lady who goes back to her home country after an embarrassing incident in Oman. Her husband, anxious to find her, heads to her home state of Kerala. While on his travels, he also goes on an internal journey of realisation and self-discovery.
What plays an integral role in Zayana is the environment in which the film is shot: the human actors in Khaled’s films are only among the most important. Their relationship with nature – always present and ever-resilient – forms the core of his stories.
He says: “I’ve made three films so far: one in the desert, the second on the coastline and the sea, and the third in the jungle, so I think the main character in my films is nature: the movie is born from how the other actors interact through it with each other. In a way, I think it is because you have to make the best of what you have around you.”
Khaled is also confident the HIFF will take place physically: why should it not, when countries around the world are steadily vaccinating more and more of their populations, the coronavirus (and its effects) are expected to recede by September.
“We are fully intent for this film festival to happen in-person, although many events right now are taking place virtually because of the pandemic,” he says. “We have booked film theatres and hotels with this in mind. We are still looking at the best way to organise it: maybe we will do it on board a cruise ship in Stockholm.
“It is understandable that at that time, there might be people who are keen to attend the festival, but cannot, so we are also considering a part-physical, part-virtual event,” he adds. “From its heart in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, the festival will act as a global platform for the cinematic arts, highlighting the challenges faced by people with special needs, mental disorders, congenital anomalies and other disabilities, as well as looking at the issues of refugees and the war wounded. It will also screen films on the COVID-19 pandemic and its psychological and physical impact on humanity, as well as other connected humanitarian issues."
The festival plans to reach, entertain and educate the largest possible audience, regardless of religion, age, gender, skin colour, nationality, language, or culture. Cinema lovers can follow the action via the festival’s email newsletter, YouTube, and other social media channels. - [email protected]