Nahla Al Fahad is one of the leading Directors in commercials, entertainment, documentaries and music videos in the UAE and the Middle East.
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Shot on location at Al Seef Heritage Hotel Dubai, Curio Collection by Hilton
In a world typically dominated by men, Nahla has become an inspiration to aspiring female filmmakers hoping to follow in her footsteps. But her success didn’t come without hard work. After studying in Dubai, Nahla travelled to the United States where she accomplished her first film making course in 2011. After realising her passion for film, Nahla returned to Dubai and established Beyond Studios, a UAE-based TV and film production house that would allow her to produce films, series and documentaries on a larger scale. Her first documentary feature film came in 2015. “The Tainted Veil” deals with the global attitudes towards the hijab and was shortlisted for the best documentary feature at the 88th Academy Awards.
Nahla has won numerous awards and been recognised for her work both in the UAE and internationally, but she hopes to take that to the next level in the future by encouraging young women to follow in her footsteps and support the UAE’s film industry to expand at a global level. When she’s not working, Nahla is an adventurer who loves to travel and explore. Her sense of adventure is infectious and inspiring, and it is that inspiring nature that will continue to encourage younger generations in the industry to achieve their dreams, something that is very important to the Director. As we gear up to celebrate the 49th UAE National Day, we discuss what this celebration means to her and why she is keen to spread the values and culture of the UAE to the rest of the world.
This year has been a strange one for all, how have you been continuing your creativity and how has this period affected your work?
This year was tough on all of us and our industry was definitely hit by COVID-19, but I actually filmed my first feature film during the pandemic. We had been preparing for almost six months and the shoot happened for a month throughout the summer. We have been working throughout this time and taking all the necessary precautions. During the lockdown, I also wrote a short movie and I was part of some online sessions that allowed me to share my experience with aspiring filmmakers around the world. I am also putting the final touches on a documentary which sees a group of twelve filmmakers, including myself from all around the world sharing the impact of COVID-19 on each one of us. So yes, it’s been a busy year!
When will you release your upcoming projects?
We are looking into participating in different film festivals internationally for both the documentary and the feature film. I am going to release the film in 2021 because as you know, people are still afraid to visit the cinema and I don’t want to release the film and nobody sees it because of the situation. So I would rather release it through film festivals as well as through digital platforms and that is the strategy moving forward.
Can you give us a sneak peek into what the feature film is about?
It’s a story of a girl who has passed through difficult times with her father and faced a lot of abuse from her family. The film is a suspense, and it tells her story and the way she used social media to get out of the situation she was in. I personally wanted to work on a story that relates to our social lives today. Looking at how we are so well connected through social media but also how what we share on social media isn’t always realistic. I’m so happy and proud that I’ve managed to finally create my first feature film.
What does UAE National Day mean to you?
To me, this time of year is so special. National Day is all about celebrating our nation, our history and our leaders’ vision. Every year I participate through my own projects by working on National Day videos and this year I’m working on a song and producing a video for Expo 2020. I always make sure I put my touch on everything I do at this time of year as this celebration is unlike any other for me. I always enjoy seeing others who are not Emirati celebrating our National Day. It’s about joy and everyone coming together to celebrate, it makes me feel so happy.
How would you like to greet the UAE on its 49th anniversary?
It’s always so sensitive when we talk about how we celebrate the UAE National Day. It’s the best time of the year. When it comes to my country, I am speechless and I just hope that it will continue its vision into the next 50 years and beyond.
If there was a gift you would like to give to your country at its 50th anniversary what would it be?
What could I offer back to my country? It’s a really hard question and it’s really hard to think of something to give back because the UAE gave us a lot. The only thing I can do is to be a good example for the next generation and to represent Emirati women in the best way.
How does your UAE heritage inspire you to succeed?
I always carry my Emirati values and traditions with me and they are always embedded in my work. Of course, I have to be careful in terms of representing the country and sharing the message of who we are and how proud we are of our culture. Even when it comes to simple things like hospitality and how we want to project ourselves and our work to others, I’m always making sure that we share our message in a very careful way that is representative of the UAE because this is how we are spreading the message of our country to others.
How do you think your work has helped to get the UAE recognised on an international scale in the world of film and documentaries?
Each year the UAE has a theme, whether it’s the Year of Tolerance, Year of Happiness etc. and as a company, we make sure that we are aligned with the government in terms of the work that we create. We always make sure that our work represents the vision of our company. If you look into video content today it is considered as a “soft power” because it is this content that is influencing how others perceive the message of our country. So as a film director and content creator I should be aligned with the overall vision which will also help in terms of writing scripts and telling stories. In a way, it has become our duty as Emiratis to be the messengers or ambassadors of our country.
What more would you like to see being done in the film industry in the UAE moving forward?
I would like to see it flourish and expand as well as seeing more participation from UAE filmmakers on a global scale. In the past ten years, the industry has grown greatly and it’s great to see people trying and producing as it’s encouraging others to learn and do their best. To be there is better than not to be there, but there is still a long way to go and there is still a lot of trust that needs to be built from international platforms to allow Emirati filmmakers to share their work. I’ve attended screenings of lots of my colleagues in the industry and I’m always telling them to keep trying and growing as this is what the industry needs.
In your opinion what is the future of the film industry both in the UAE and internationally?
I think it is shifting towards digital platforms. Even though people still love to go to the cinema, they find it more convenient to stay at home and watch their favourite movie when the time is convenient. Sometimes we don’t want to watch a whole movie in one go for example, so it gives more flexibility for the audience to watch films whenever they want, wherever they are. With the events of this year especially, going to the cinema is a completely different experience, you have to maintain social distancing and not sit so close to your friends. So there a shift, but personally, I always prefer to go to the cinema. As a filmmaker, I would always love to have my premiere screening in a cinema with a red carpet and see everyone coming together to see my movie. It also allows me to see the reactions of the viewers and listen to their feedback directly.
What is something you would like to change in the industry moving forward?
It’s more about changing the style of storytelling and how I would love to see people thinking about it more creatively. I have been reading a lot of scripts lately and I feel like I’m reading the same story over and over and the only difference is the name of the family. I really want to see more stories that are out of the box. There are no limitations to story-telling so I want to see the creativity flourish and see people being more daring and confident with their writing.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
There are many and I am so proud of that. If I talk about cinema, I Co-Directed “The Tainted Veil”; a documentary movie that was released in 2016 which was shortlisted in the 88th Academy Awards. I have produced and directed a lot of music videos for many successful singers across the GCC and I also directed three series filmed in the region as well as a number of documentaries. This year I directed my first feature film which is my most recent achievement.
What is something you would still like to achieve?
I still want to develop myself more in terms of writing and creating more movies. I want to be part of expanding the presence of local movies internationally. My dream is to establish a film academy in the UAE. There are a lot of young filmmakers who approach us and we have been asked by many studios to be part of giving education to them but there is still no platform or academy locally that specifically targets this.
What is a period or genre of film that inspires you the most?
I don’t think I’m inspired by a specific period or genre, it depends on the story itself. What is most important for me is that whatever genre or era the film is representing it is done in the best possible way with all the details replicated perfectly.
We know you are a great advocate for women’s empowerment – why is this important to you?
I believe that everyone should be equal in terms of living and achieving what they want in their work. I think women should have their own freedom to get the right education and give their best in order to raise their children and families and give back to this world.
What is the biggest challenge you face in what you do?
It’s about finding the right stories and very well written scripts. I have always wanted to read a script and fall in love with it from the first moment. We are nearly there and I hope that the industry here will become more aligned with the international way of writing stories. All of the writers here in the UAE are watching films on digital platforms and they love it, so I would love it if they could try to be closer to this style.
And what about your biggest challenge on a personal level?
My biggest challenge was to prove myself in terms of showing key people or producers that I am talented, and I can do the job with a magnificent outcome. It took me a long time to do that because at the beginning I was shy and used to avoid talking to people. Someone taught me that I should show people that I am capable of doing what I’m there to do and after that, I realised that if others succeeded, I can succeed as well. I managed to overcome this struggle and I realised that everyone can achieve what they believe in.
Who or what inspires you the most?
When it comes to my family, my mum inspires me in so many ways. She is a strong woman who raised us and is still taking care of us and she’s always encouraging me to be the best in the industry. She always comes with me when I’m travelling and filming and I enjoy having her with me. In terms of our leaders, the late Sheikh Zayed inspired most of us in so many ways. And Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan are still inspiring me today with their words and the encouragement they give us to represent Emirati women both locally and globally. I always want to be the best person I can be to represent Emirati women in my field.
We heard you are an adventurer, what has been a memorable trip or adventure that you take with you until now?
It’s really hard to pick just one but I enjoyed going to Africa – I enjoy being in the wild with the animals and this is somewhere that I’m looking forward to visiting again. Last year I went to Rwanda and Uganda and I did gorilla trekking. It took hours of trekking through a bamboo forest and the gorilla forest before we met the gorilla family, but it was incredible and worth the wait! I encourage everyone to go and experience this. I really enjoy travelling a lot and everywhere I go I like to take away something from that place.
What’s the next place on your travel wish list?
I would probably say Tokyo.
What is the life motto you live by?
The sky is the limit.