Exclusive: Interview With Nayla Al Khaja – UAE First Female Director
Introduce yourself, who you are and what you work with?
My name is Nayla Al Khaja and I am the first female director in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I’ve been a commercial director for over 17 years and delved into the narrative space a few years ago focusing on subjects from my region that can interest a global market. I’m currently working on three feature films with different producers from all walks of life.
What made you become a filmmaker?
My father use to own one of the biggest film collections and at a very young age I watched an incredibly vast selection and I believe that has impacted my passion for telling stories and making films.
How is it to make movies in UAE and what differs from European and American filmmaking?
Because the UAE it’s at a nascent stage, there is more room for creation and invention. There is no particular template to follow and investors aren’t burnt like they are in many countries, in the same token the appetite to invest in the film isn’t great either so even if there is wealth, investors aren’t keen as there hasn’t been a successful lucrative experience and example to benchmark against. I’m hoping to break that. Unlike North America and Europe, we don’t have tax breaks, unions, production treaties, film grants and film producers. So making a film is much harder but not impossible.
How and why is it that there are so few female directors in UAE?
I believe there is a film education and film isn’t a priority. The country is also very young. We are celebrating our 50th year since its formation and the film is only twenty years old. I believe once someone breaks the mould women will start getting into film. Many families are against women in film because of the reputation of film and not because of religious reasons. I believe with successful examples more women will get into the field.
What do you think need to be changed so that more women can become film directors in UAE?
Film grants for women. A film education offerings in universities and scholarships. More female investors in the film.
Tell Us a little about the TV project about The Alexandria Killings with Terry George and how are you involved?
I pitched the concept and treatment to Rocket Science in London and sold it to them. They packaged it with Terry George. So I am on it as Executive Producer and might be able to direct two episodes.
What strength do you think Terry George can bring to the project?
He is extremely talented and has a lot of depth and experience. He will be able to be an amazing showrunner and direct most of it with heavyweight industry writers from Egypt. I’m really excited to see what will transpire.
As an experienced director, what tips do you have to young aspirated filmmakers?
I would like to say please volunteer on film sets. That’s how I gained a lot of experience. The more you are on film sets the more you will learn and build relationships. You will also know what you want and which department to be part of! In the end, it requires a lot of grafting, patience and perseverance.