Chasing one’s dreams

A young Emirati couple went to Kerala, a state in India, for their honeymoon but the wife soon finds herself bored and seeks inspiration elsewhere. So goes the story of Malal, a newly released film by award winning Emirati female filmmaker Nayla Al Khaja.

By (Olivia Olarte)

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Published: Sat 18 Dec 2010, 10:58 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 3:46 AM

Malal, an Arabic word for ‘Bored’, which was previewed recently at the Cine Royal in Khalidiyah Mall in Abu Dhabi, reveals the reality of arranged marriages and the challenges faced by Emirati couples of today.

For those who know Al Khaja and her perseverance to get to her present status, one can’t help but feel that the movie, which was written, produced and directed by her, was in some way inspired by her personal experience.

Hailing from a traditional and conservative Arab family, trying to set out on what was perceived to be a male-dominated field; Al Khaja’s dream of becoming a film producer was not only met with opposition by her parents but also resulted in a compromise.

Following conditions set by her parents, she got married before pursuing her education abroad. Like Malal, the wife (also played by Al Khaja), finds her inspiration elsewhere, and in her case – filmmaking. Needless to say, Al Khaja’s real-life marriage was short-lived.

Believe in yourself, follow your dreams, be persistent, passionate and determined — these are the messages you hear her preach every now and then when asked for her recipe to success.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in Image Studies in Filmmaking with honours from Ryerson University in Canada, Al Khaja founded her own company in 2005, D-Seven Motion Pictures, producing TV commercials, documentaries and feature films.

Among those Al Khaja produced and directed included Unveiling Dubai (2004), Arabana (2006), Once (2009) and now Malal (2010).

“I am very proud of Malal and believe that it marks an important step in the development of the UAE’s film industry. By producing Malal outside of the UAE we have set a benchmark, which I hope will act as a catalyst for other Emiratis to see the opportunities that exist for filmmaking at home but also abroad,” Al Khaja says of her new film.

For the shooting of Malal in Kerala, Al Khaja took with her two aspiring young Emirati filmmakers in an effort to tap the Emirati talent pool.

“I hope to build on the positive momentum generated by Malal’s release and look forward to the challenge of helping the next generation of aspiring UAE filmmakers into future leaders,” Al Khaja states.

Previously in an interview, Al Khaja spoke about the gap in this market for film studios and the need for more local producers to make feature films. She added that many international companies appreciate the benefits of working with a UAE company that “has the access and connection”.

Al Khaja is the UAE’s first female film producer and director, who was awarded the British Council’s International Young Screen Entrepreneur Award in 2010 in a ceremony held at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in London.

For this accolade, the jury commended Al Khaja as “a real leader in a truly difficult market”, citing her confidence and passion, and that she is a “role model for others who can effect change for women in film and TV in the UAE and across the region”.

She also won the award for the ‘Best Emirati Filmmaker’ at the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in 2007 and ‘The Youngest Entrepreneur’ in 2005 at the Global Businesswomen and Leaders Summit.

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