On January 10, 2018, CIRS screened There Be Dragons, a short experimental film by Suzi Mirgani, Managing Editor at CIRS. The film premiered at the Doha Film Institute’s Ajyal Youth Film Festival on November 30, 2017, one of 16 local productions showcased in the Made in Qatar program at the festival.
The three-minute film was conceived in a workshop organized by the University’s student-run Film Society, where Mirgani is one of the mentors, along with Abdullah Al-Arian. A number of Georgetown students, including CIRS interns Mohammed Al Jaberi and Waleed Zahoor, and Film Society leaders, Rawan Al-Zaini and Mehaira Mahgoub, also helped with its creation.
“There be dragons”—or, more accurately, “here be dragons” from the Latin hic sunt dracones—is a term that was once used to describe unexplored territory on a medieval map. It was designed to warn people of the unknown—an unfamiliar space that is imagined to be filled with mystery and monsters. Mirgani said “In this film, I play with the idea of the unknown in modern times, and create a kind of ‘map of modernity.’ In the age of digital technology, Google Maps, and omnipresent CCTV surveillance, is there anything left undiscovered? I argue that there is. Since most of the earth is explored, boxed, and bordered, perhaps the unknown now exists on an entirely different realm—the realm of technology. The more advanced we become, the more complex the digital devices. Does the average person know how anything works? Even though electricity and digital technologies are explained to us scientifically, there are ghosts in the machine— deus ex machina—that we will never be able to comprehend.”
In this film, flickering lights, eerie kites in flight, the random revolutions of a funhouse ride, and self-playing pianos suggest a metropolis that lives a life of its own. Advanced technologies propel cities to work in the absence of the human. Even though there are real people and a workforce catering to smooth running of urban life, this film is a reflection on the automation, and at times alienation, underlying the city. Through this film, Mirgani tries to grapple with some of these concepts to see beyond what is obvious and available. On the surface, this is a visual amble through Doha, but it is also one that uncovers an alternate side of the city that often goes unnoticed.
To show this alternative, unexplored part of the city, Mirgani combined footage she had taken of scenes around Doha over a number of years. From flickering lights to the revolutions of a funhouse ride and self-playing pianos, the films suggests that the city lives a life of its own.
“I think one of the most interesting aspects of this film is that it is both experimental and documentary,” said Mirgani. “Doha changes so quickly that it is often difficult to hold on to any specific memories of pace and place; new landscapes are brought to life, even as old landmarks are bulldozed and buried. It is both developing and super modern.”
There Be Dragons is the latest of a number a short films Mirgani has produced, edited, and directed. Her short film Caravan premiered at the Ajyal Youth Film Festival last year, and her 2013 film Doha Lullaby won the Jury Award for the Doha Film Institute’s 48-Hour Film Challenge.
The CIRS researcher, who has edited and written numerous publications on topics ranging from media and politics to food security in the Middle East, is also the director of 2014’s Hind’s Dream. That film, produced with a cast and crew of Georgetown students, won the jury award for artistic vision at the 2014 Ajyal Film Festival and has been screened at film festivals around the world.