QATAR STARS is the first feature documentary about girls in Qatar. It offers a textured observational story of girlhood in all its joys and growing pains, through intimate access to a multinational, girls-only rhythmic gymnastics school in Doha, led by a former Russian gymnast. Girls from Qatar, Lebanon, Egypt, Ukraine, and UK grow up onscreen over four years, changing from wiggly nine-year-olds to maturing teens who must navigate an evolving gendered world around them. The girls experience both triumphs and heartaches, to ultimately form an unbreakable bond. Meanwhile, exacting coach Tatiana undergoes her own unexpected professional and personal transformation that challenges her sense of strength and identity.
DIRECTOR/PRODUCER/CAMERA: DANIELLE BEVERLY
PRODUCER: JAWAHER ALMOAWDA
BEHIND THE SCENES
Qatar Stars was selected for the 2022 Qumra industry incubator for meetings with festival programmers, funders and distributors. Qumra asked for a 2 minute “introduction video”. Instead of holding up our iPhone and recording it ourselves, we asked the girls to film us using our camera gear and theirs.
Director's Statement: Danielle Beverly
In 2018, while teaching documentary at Northwestern in Qatar, (NU-Q) I received an email from The Olympic Stars, a startup rhythmic gymnastics school in Doha, asking if I had female students skilled in social media who might want to help publicize this new business. I had been searching for my next film idea, centering on issues of gender and girlhood in Qatar. So, I was immediately intrigued by this gym, one that was for girls only and self-segregating. 80% of my students at NU-Q were women from the MENA region, and I was witnessing the familial and societal constraints they navigated as they wielded cameras to tell nuanced stories about the truth of their lives. Meanwhile, Qatar was rapidly building to prepare for the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup. But was anyone paying attention to girls’ sport?
I responded to the email with a request: Could I observe a gymnastics practice, without a camera?
Rhythmic gymnastics is one of the few female-only sports, and one where girls wear makeup and sparkly outfits while manipulating balls, ribbons, hoops, and clubs. It requires tremendous physical strength and skill. But it also presented a complicated picture in a conservative nation that expected modesty in dress and behavior for girls and women.
I arrived to find a typical middle school gym filled with girls not just from Qatar, but from many nations – just like the makeup of Qatar itself, where only 12% of the population are nationals. Signs on the door warned “No Men Allowed”, and nannies rested outside. Inside, I took a seat by the wall, watching little girls in leggings bend themselves into impossible pretzels. Giggles were quickly quashed by coach Tatiana, a beautiful 27-year-old Russian former rhythmic gymnast. She was serious, exacting and clearly did not suffer fools. After 20 minutes one tiny 9-year-old ran in late, threw up her hands and loudly proclaimed “Don’t ask!” as she began to run her laps. I recognized my own girlhood confidence in her sassiness, self-assurance, and physical freedom.
That girl is Katia, who quickly became one of the main characters in the film, alongside her teammates and coach Tatiana.
I began filming the next day.
I would ultimately capture a four-year journey of growing up, with all the requisite emotional highs and lows of adolescence. Qatar Stars provides a window into girlhood specific to Qatar, but that is universal in its presentation of the dreams and complications that impact what it means to be a girl everywhere.
Producer's Statement: Jawaher AlMoawda
As a Muslim female growing up in the Middle East, I’ve always found myself “in-between” worlds. I experienced a very Westernized life through my education. I’ve been to a British school and graduated from an American University, all in the Arabic country of Qatar. Navigating the cultural and societal norms and expectations to establish my identity as a global citizen, yet still preserve the authenticity of my roots has been a very fine line to walk on. For this reason, I have continually been drawn to telling stories like Qatar Stars. From class projects to independent films, I have always wanted to create a safe space through storytelling to bring up the struggles of a growing Arab female, the challenges and hardships, the little victories, and successes.
In this documentary we follow girls pursuing their dream of being a world-class gymnast, and to represent their country and identity proudly. As a former gymnast, I see myself in these girls, we are different chapters of the same book. The path these girls are on is continuously building momentum, and having the opportunity to produce a film that documents their blazing path is very important to me.