If You Live In The UAE And Don’t Know About Nayla Al Khaja, What Are You Even Doing?

Breaking barriers, defying stereotypes and redefining rules, Emirati women keep on proving that they can blaze a trail in whatever field they choose. One such force to be reckoned with is Nayla Al Khaja—the first female Emirati filmmaker.

We love it when a woman rules in a male-dominated industry and Nayla has been breaking new ground in the region since 2002, ever since she founded her production company called Nayla Al Khaja Films (previously D-Seven Motion Pictures). 

From producing TV commercials and independent documentaries to now working on a  feature film (more on that later) Nayla has become a formidable force in the UAE’s local cinema movement. 

Here are 5 amazing things you should know about her:

5. She Cannes and She Will!

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Nayla isn't afraid to tackle controversial subject matter through her work. Which is why it came as no surprise when her screenplay for Animal, a story that delves inside the mind of a sociopathic father who torments his family, was awarded an accreditation at the Cannes Film Festival.

She made history by being the first Emirati filmmaker ever to have a project accepted by Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Producers’ Network.

4. A Pioneer in Every Sense

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Along with being the first woman director/producer in the region, Nayla is also credited with starting the first film club, called The Scene Club, in Dubai. 

Recalling what motivated her to start the club in 2007, she said, "I really wanted to celebrate the different voices in the world that don't get a chance to see the light of the sun. I started the film club to showcase films from all around the world. We showcased 36 films in a year to a room packed with 500 seats every month. The club had 22,000 members and we ran it straight for 10 years. It was my way to give back to the community."

3. Realising Her Dream, One Project at a Time

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After making a series of well-received short films and documentaries, Nayla is more than ready to foray into the world of full-length feature films. In fact, her debut film The Shadow, a horror story based on real events that stars local actors, is well under way. This highly anticipated feature will hopefully hit the big screen next year. Nayla recently finished shooting what she fondly calls the “teaser” of the film, which was screened for an exclusive audience of media and industry professionals at VOX Cinemas. 

"The idea is to film it next year and have a global release. I've been lucky to find my producer who's way more experienced than I'm, and to collaborate with another woman to make this film has been a dream come true," Nayla enthused.

2. Rewards, Not Awards!

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She has received media attention and accolades from around the world. Just a cursory scroll of her website will take you through all the awards under her belt.  *Be warned: it’s a long list! Despite these prestigious accolades Nayla has garnered, she says that her biggest accomplishment remains touching the lives of aspiring filmmakers.

"I'm always most proud about the letters I receive from young girls and boys who say that they want to follow in my footsteps. It shows that just by following your passion, you could create an impact and inspire the younger generation."

1. Carpe Diem-ing Like a Boss

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Along with working tirelessly to promote Dubai as the fastest growing film hub in the region, Nayla also continues to mentor local talent in the Middle East. "I've seen the calibre here and it will be a shame to see that talent wasted."

 When asked to share some wisdom for all budding filmmakers in the region, she had three words —"volunteer, volunteer and volunteer!”

 "Be an intern, even if you're 50, it doesn't matter! Be a part of a production house, work behind-the-scenes and volunteer on a set, even if it's an ad set. Hone your skills and get hands-on training. No amount of books can teach you about filmmaking than what being at a set does!"