The Doha Film Institute’s Qumra Event: an interview with Alice Rohrwacher

Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher has made just six films to date, two of which are shorts and one was a documentary, co-directed with nine other filmmakers. And yet the Doha Film Institute chose Rohrwacher as a Qumra Master for their fifth edition of the annual film industry meeting in Qatar.

They were absolutely right, it turns out. Apart from her wondrous work, which includes Cannes 2014 Grand Prix winner The Wonders, Heavenly Body and this year’s Lazzaro Felice now streaming on Netflix in the US, Rohrwacher turned out to be the perfect person. The ideal choice, a passionate, insightful and funny Master able to connect with both the young filmmakers and industry professionals converging on the Gulf Region for five days of meetings, work-in-progress sessions and networking.

Joining the prestigious company of past Qumra Masters Tilda Swinton, Lucrecia Martel, Asghar Farhadi and James Schamus, this year’s Masters included Academy Award winner Pawel Pawlikowski, Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa, as well as Oscar recipient Eugenio Caballero — the latter most recently nominated for his production design work on Roma.

You can read the ICS’s review of Lazzaro Felice here,  and while in Doha, E. Nina Rothe got to interview Alice Rohrwacher, who along with her actor sister Alba grew up in an Italian-German household of artists and beekeepers.

ENR: What brought you here to Doha?

Alice Rohrwacher: Do you live here?

ENR: No.

AR: So what brought you here?

ENR: I wanted to hear all these exceptional personalities talk in their Masterclasses.

AR: I’d never been to this part of the world. I was really curious. It’s a place that needs to be seen. It is also a strange place, because it makes us understand how lucky we are. When you spend a few days in a place where the relationship between man and resources has been broken, and the resources always pass through money, it makes us comprehend that having natural resources near us is something precious. We should pay more attention to that.

ENR: What do you mean?

AR: This is a symbol of the divorce between man and nature. They’ve signed the act of divorce here. I’m not talking about the desert and the culture here, which I find very fascinating. I am talking about the desire to transfer to a place which possesses a certain natural landscape, a type of life and needs that belong to a completely different environment. Clearly we are here [inside the Museum of Islamic Art] and there is a fountain flowing in the background.

ENR: In the desert!

AR: A grand fountain, from which we hear the sound of water almost embracing us, and we are in a place where we can’t even imagine where water comes from.

To then go back to Italy where water runs freely and instead we destroy it, that makes me think how important it would be at times not having the natural resources to appreciate them, and remember the treasure that we possess in having springs. I’m happy to have come here because I’ll certainly go back with a newfound value of a spring, stronger than when I left.

ENR: What do you think of Qumra?

AR: I’m very pleasantly surprised at having come here for the seriousness and commitment that the Doha Film Institute has around these projects. It’s never happened to me, I didn’t know it would be like this. I didn’t expect it, even if they did tell me that I would have five projects to watch and follow. I had all the material in advance, the previous films of these filmmakers, but I didn’t know what set-up I would find here. And instead I arrived in Doha to find that their focus is on these projects, on these directors who are developing their films, and it’s all in function of their growth — and a biodiverse growth. These projects I had — and I also compared notes with Pawel Pawlikowski and other directors who had other projects — everyone is surprised by the great biodiversity that is supported here.

ENR: Do you mean you were impressed by the seriousness and organization of this event and the DFI, which someone from the outside may not expect in this part of the world?

AR: I had a preconception, I must admit. That there would be ostentatiousness… And instead it proved a pleasant surprise!

ENR: Did you find any inspiration to take home with you?

AR: It is certainly another world, where everything that belongs to the native culture is really intriguing. Something that I’m curious to discover. And where everything that belongs to our [Western] culture and is transported here takes on a sinister aspect. I’m not sure I know how to fully explain myself. It’s as if we can discover what is ridiculous about us, in this transfer. But this is too complicated a concept and I’m not sure I’m explaining myself.

ENR: Do you mean where our bad habits are highlighted?

AR: Where the occident becomes a model, like in the infrastructure, it becomes clear how it’s a sort of ridiculous model. Not for them, for us.

ENR: So it is as if it makes us understand our mistakes?

AR: Yeah. Instead you can find some fascinating things that clearly don’t come from us.

ENR: Would you ever think of working with them, collaborate, of making a film in this region?

AR: I don’t know about collaborating, I can certainly say that going away from one’s own country to see a world that is so different is always inspirational. It’s like going on a spaceship where you gaze upon the roundness of the earth.

Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images for Doha Film Institute

Alice Rohrwacher - Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images for Doha Film Institute