October 25, 2011 4:00 AM EDT

Brigitte Lacombe was just a teenager when she got her start snapping film stars at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival. More than 35 years later, Lacombe has photographed many of the industry’s most influential icons, including Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep and Quentin Tarantino, among others. But her latest major project also focuses on emerging talent—particularly the rising filmmakers in the Middle East. Titled I Am Film, the portrait series debuts today at the opening of the third annual Doha Tribeca Film Festival, which runs through Oct. 29 in Qatar’s capital city.

Brigitte Lacombe

Working with film stars unknown to audiences stateside, as well as newcomers in the industry, was a refreshing experience for Lacombe. “I found the same type of passionate people, the same form of expression, but somehow, devoid of all the other things that have been added to the culture we know so well—which is a lot of money, an entourage,” she said. “Everyone I did portraits of would come by themselves with a change of clothes under their arm if I’d asked them to. It was a very simple encounter instead of all that accompanies the world of film as we know it now.”

When Amanda Palmer, executive director of the festival, and Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, founder and chair of the Doha Film Institute and festival, first approached Lacombe with the idea of a possible collaboration for the festival’s third run in 2008, the photographer decided very quickly that she’d take black-and-white series portraits against neutral backdrops to give the various images a sense of unity. Lacombe began shooting in 2009 and has traveled around the world photographing nearly 200 actors, directors and producers.

Brigitte Lacombe

More than 600 of Lacombe’s images have been printed on billboards, which run for one mile on both sides of the road that leads to the Katara Cultural Village, where the film festival takes place. Lacombe says she immediately embraced the idea for the installation, which was spearheaded by designer Michael Rock at 2×4 studio. Aside from the photo wall, approximately 100 print ads featuring Lacombe’s portraits are on display throughout Doha.

“It’s a kind of situation that does not exist very often—to be entrusted with an idea and then be able to do it, be given the means to do it and not be controlled in any way,” Lacombe said of her experience. “It was a life-changing proposition for me. I was able to concentrate on the long-term project and do what I do, and with great support.”

Brigitte Lacombe is contributor to TIME. See more of her work here. The Doha Tribeca Film Festival runs through Oct. 29.

Feifei Sun is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @Feifei_Sun or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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