Katara Studios CEO Ahmed Al Baker on Developing a Pan-Arab Musical and Relocating Palestinian Drama ‘All Before You’ Due to Israel-Hamas War

Qatar, which put itself on the global entertainment map by hosting the 2022 soccer World Cup, isn’t known as a moviemaking hub. But Doha-based Katara Studios, which is keen on fostering filmmaking and content production in the minuscule gas-rich Gulf nation, is getting the ball rolling.

And the World Cup – followed by the AFC Asian Cup soccer tournament that is currently underway – is an integral part of Katara Studios’ multi-pronged strategy.

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“When the vision for Katara Studios was established, we thought it would be great to create a space that could include a bit of everything for a filmmaker,” says Katara Studios CEO Ahmed Al Baker. Besides being a filmmaker and producer, Al Baker also served as creative director of the Qatar World Cup opening ceremony and more recently for the opening ceremony for the AFC Asian Cup, which Katara Studios executive produced.

The AFC Asian Cup ceremony, held in early January at Doha’s Lusail Stadium, served to launch Katara Studios’ most recent intellectual property. Titled “The Lost Chapter of Keileh and Demneh,” it’s based on a collection of ancient fables. Katara Studios produced a 20-minute musical spectacle of “The Lost Chapter” that featured pan-Arabic actors playing animals that are native to Asia and Middle East, some of which now extinct, who inhabit a mythical universe.

The “Lost Chapter” world is “an open canvas to create a universe that a lot of stories can emerge from in different genres and formats,” Al Baker points out, adding that some spinoffs will be in the film and TV sphere. Meanwhile, Katara Studios is producing a longer live musical “Lost Chapter” event, which “will be a full-on theatrical experience.” A pan-Arab multimedia musical show “with lots of integrated digital video film content” is planned for 2025.

Meanwhile, on the more conventional moviemaking side, Katara Studios is co-producing Oscar-nominated Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir’s historical drama “All Before You,” which reconstructs the 1936 farmer-led revolt against British colonial rule in Palestine. The uprising was quashed by 20,000 British troops. Last October’s production of “All Before You” was halted due to the Israel-Hamas war. Now, “we are looking at other solutions of where to complete principal photography,” says Al Baker. “But it’s a film we are very excited about.”

Also in the Katara Studios pipeline is the six-episode docuseries “Chasing Dreams,” directed by Jordan’s Bassel Ghandour (“The Alleys”), which tracks the journey of five Syrian boys from Jordan’s Zaatari refugee Camp who are given scholarships to pursue their dream of becoming professional soccer players in Brazil. The kids also participate in workshops connected to the 2022 World Cup.

“It’s a beautiful story, very well put together by Bassel and his team,” Al Baker notes, adding: “We are constantly looking for filmmakers like these who have something to express. The format doesn’t matter as long as their tone, their message, is clear.”

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