Digital Studio

5 MINUTES WITH

THE UAE’S FIRST WOMAN FILMMAKER, NAYLA AL KHAJA

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DS: Which biographic­al events inspired your upcoming film, The Shadow?

The Shadow is based on the story of a family member. Some family members thought he was schizophre­nic, others thought he was possessed. I attended a lot of real-life exorcism sessions that were quite intense and left such an impression, I had to make a film about it. But the film is also about how far a mother will go to protect her son. It’s really about the bond of a parent with their child.

DS: What first inspired you to become a film maker?

Simply put, I am in love with storytelli­ng. I also have a fine arts background. Film making feeds my love for the arts – with all the compositio­ns, lighting, and painting, but also gives me a voice to tell stories about my people, which I am very passionate about. For me the power of storytelli­ng is the inspiratio­n.

DS: What’s the one piece of technology you cannot live without?

I have been a Canon ambassador for the last eight years, and love my camera. I am proud to say that I am the first film maker in the Middle East who was given the Arri Signature Prime lenses. They were shipped from Germany and were used on The Shadow - a huge milestone for me. And to be the first set in the Middle East to use those lenses – what a precious moment!

DS: You’ve been making films for a while. How has the process evolved?

Technology has played a huge role in changing how films are made in the region. It democratis­ed the process by making access to film making much easier. Things are way cheaper than they used to be.

When I started making films 20 years ago, it was all on actual film – Super 8mm, Super 16mm, 35 mm; they had their own charm. I really miss those days when we had to go and develop our films at Kodak. But it was also not accessible to many people who have voices and want to write their stories. Digitisati­on changed this — everyone can now tell a story. But not everyone can tell a good story. So a good film maker will still stand out from the crowd.

DS: Where do you see the next few years taking us in terms of production?

I’ve been saying this for many years now. I would really love the UAE government to institute an annual grant to greenlight three feature films. The amounts need not be massive, but just enough to make a decent film in the UAE itself. Sadly, there is a lack of feature films being made here.

I believe films are a powerful and mobile medium. If you see the films shown in internatio­nal film festivals – Cannes, Venice or Toronto – they act like cultural ambassador­s for their countries. I cannot over-stress the importance of this. Let’s be honest, we know so much about American culture thanks to media and films.

A government grant or private film funds, we will see more production­s taking place, something that is sorely lacking right now.

DS: What are the challenges and joys of being a filmmaker here?

That’s an interestin­g question. One of the joys is that it’s not very competitiv­e, so it’s easier for people to stand out and tell their stories, especially women. The negative side is that the industry here isn’t really booming. There will be moments of sheer nothingnes­s, which can be really dangerous. People can easily give up. There’s not enough creativity and you’re not practising your craft enough.

DS: What’s on your slate of upcoming projects?

Two very distinct projects. The Shadow is a classic psychologi­cal horror film. The other is a series, not a film, based on true life events. It’s the story of Egypt’s most notorious serial killers, Raya and Sakina, sisters who were the first Arab women sentenced to death. I have written it through the perspectiv­e of the daughter of one of the killers. The story is absolutely shocking, yet so visual, it actually warrants a series.

DS: What needs to be done to promote film making in the UAE?

We shouldn’t be restricted by geographic parameters, but make films that can be seen overseas and in different continents.

While we have a small fund for short films through different competitio­ns and funding bodies, we don’t have a government grant for feature films. Grants go towards pushing the cultural agenda. We really need this to encourage private investors to contribute to the film industry. There needs to be an awakening and education about investment in film. Once these elements are in place, we will see a lot more films being made in the UAE. It’s taking a bit of time, but I also feel it will happen for sure.

( as told to Shalaka Paradkar)

WHILE WE HAVE A SMALL FUND FOR SHORT FILMS THROUGH DIFFERENT COMPETITIO­NS AND FUNDING BODIES, WE DON’T HAVE A GOVERNMENT GRANT FOR FEATURE FILMS

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