Nayla Al Khaja interview

Why the Emirati filmmaker quit a Hollywood blockbuster

Nayla Al Khaja interview
Nayla Al Khaja interview Image #2
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So how did you get involved with Djinn to begin with?
I was approached by Daniela Tully to take part in the horror film Djinn. I was very excited; I looked forward to directing a horror film. But I soon found out that that wasn’t what they wanted: they wanted to attach the film to a brand name, and obviously I don’t have a track record with directing feature films.

So not as a director, but you still got involved...
I did; the second time they approached me they mentioned they’d found a director, and I was disappointed. I didn’t show it, of course. I was still excited to work next to a master director whom I could learn from.

Tobe Hooper...
Not at the time; they had another international name on board then. But Tobe is one of the coolest most nurturing people you’ll ever meet; it’s very difficult to say anything negative about him because he’s so genuine. And I’m sure the film will do well, and it’ll be because of his karma.

Sounds like it would’ve been a pretty good gig regardless. Why did you leave?
Djinn is part of a slate of six Emirati films that Imagenation has proposed, as part of its mandate to push the local film industry forward. The first of these was Sea Shadow, which, in my opinion, is 100 per cent Emirati, because it was written and directed by an Emirati, and had a lot of Arab input and actors. Djinn is not Emirati. The script? Written by an American. The producer? German-American. The director is American. Not even the sound recorder [is Emirati] – although I love that guy – not even the make-up artist, not even the wardrobe. Don’t we have anyone here who can design clothing?

Are there local people who are capable of taking on these roles?
Of course there are; but let’s say there aren’t, just for argument’s sake. How difficult would it be to recruit Arabs to intern and shadow the international names, and learn from them? But we do have talent: for sure we have Arab sound recorders, and for sure we have make-up artists, and for sure we have wardrobe and set designers.

And hiring those would make the film Emirati?
I don’t mind having foreigners in these positions. The thing that would really make the film Emirati is an Emirati director, because the director is the creative vision of the whole film. Just as important is an Emirati scriptwriter. This script includes themes from the roots of our culture, like Umm al Douess; if the goal is a commercial one then just make a commercial movie, not a cultural one.

And that’s your grievance...
I’m not against Imagenation making American films, and I’m not against them watching out for their money – it’s a business after all. I’m also not against this film; I wish it all the best – just don’t put it in the six-film slate and call it Emirati. Make a new slate for it. It’s about time we focused on our own people. Hollywood doesn’t need our money.

For Imagenation's response, turn to page two

Daniela Tully, Imagenation’s vice president of development, responds

The cast and crew of Djinn are extremely diverse and include a mix of international, regional, and local employees working in both key and supporting positions, with everyone contributing and learning from each other. This includes a number of Emirati and Arab actors, production crew, assistants and advisers. The story itself was also developed with the close consultation of many Emiratis.

Several locals who trained with us on our first Emirati production, Sea Shadow, have also joined us again to work on the set of Djinn. Examples include Nada Shouma, who has now established herself as one of the few Emirati dialogue coaches in the UAE.

We have also employed some of the best UAE actors in crucial roles for Djinn, including Saoud al Kaabi, Ahmed Abdullah and Abdullah Junaibi, to name a few, who work alongside an outstanding cast of international, Arab and local acting talent.

On the set of Djinn we also have some of the graduates from Imagenation’s internship programme, Mawaheb, which gives young and upcoming locals the opportunity to come on board and learn from some of the best the industry has to offer. It is extremely rewarding to be able to identify regional talent and give them a platform, such as Djinn, on which to learn and launch their careers.

Nayla is a huge talent and an excellent example of the wealth of creativity in this region. She has a bright future ahead of her and we look forward to watching her grow. Together we share the same goal, which is to witness and encourage the development of the local film industry here in the UAE. We wish her every success and look forward to collaborating with her again at some point in the future.

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