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My Experience at the Young Journalist Award, DIFF 2013, By Aamna Iqbal


There’s the warm smell of salted butter in the air, and an ice cold slushy in your hand, gradually turning your tongue blue. You settle in your seat along with the rest and the anticipation grows as the low buzz of chatter envelopes the theatre hall. But then the lights dim and everyone in the crowd hushes and there’s a collective consciousness ready to engage in a story-telling experience that has evolved from campfire tales to visual cinematography.

Going to the cinema has always been a delightful experience for me. So, when I found out I was shortlisted to participate in the DIFF Young Journalist Award 2013, I was excited to be able to write about and review an industry that had entertained and inspired me my whole life.

The programme is designed to teach ten selected students from differing communication backgrounds to report on news events, review and critique films, and interview numerous people of different professions.

Our mentor, Colin Brown from Slated magazine, assigned us various writing exercises that explored different journalistic techniques, such as covering the diverse panels and press conferences throughout the festival as well as attending talks with actors and directors.

One of the more memorable evenings included the ‘In Conversation with Martin Sheen’ talk where the veteran actor charmed the audience with his wit and candor. Sheen, who is renowned for playing President Bartlet on The West Wing, even got up to do the Hokey Pokey on stage while demonstrating one of his hilarious anecdotes on activism.

Directors and filmmakers such as ShekharKapur, Ava DuVernay and RiteshBatra were also present during the festival and had a great deal of advice and delightful stories to impart on young professionals in the industry.

Moreover, the premiere of the heart-wrenching yet beautiful documentary on an annual singing competition that takes place in labour camps across the UAE called Champ of the Camp was attended by over a thousand people at the Burj Park and was followed by a tear-jerking performance from the four stars in the film.

While all this was happening, the finalists of the Young Journalist Award Programme were attempting to be everywhere at once, watch every screening possible, writing on every news angle they could come up with and trying to get quotes from anyone who would have a minute to spare.

Ultimately, some of the pieces that we submitted were to be published in Screen, a daily that the festival distributed every morning. Colin graciously discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each of our styles of writing.

The winner was NehaKalvani of Manipal University, a photojournalist who went above and beyond the call of duty to make short films documenting the festival’s experience.

The entire ambience at DIFF was very casual and relaxed but brimming with creativity and new ideas that could inspire and excite anyone who is interested in working in the film industry, and the YJA programme was a great learning experience in a professional setting for students.

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