x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Emirati women told they can be pioneers in film business

Young women hoping to build careers in the film industry are warned that they would have to overcome obstacles both at home and at work.

ABU DHABI // Young women hoping to build careers in the film industry were warned yesterday that they would have to overcome obstacles both at home and at work in order to be successful. More than 50 students from Dubai Women's College and other institutions gathered to glean advice from an all-female discussion panel, part of the Circle Conference at the Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF).

As the panel offered tips to the students on breaking into the film industry, its members were impressed by the turnout. The Kuwaiti filmmaker Sheikha al-Zain al-Sabah, who co-produced Amreeka, which was screened at Cannes, and Journey to Mecca: In the Footsteps of Ibn Batutta, told the students: "This shows me you are committed. That is the first step. "After that, it is about staying focused on your goal and taking baby steps towards it."

Nayla al Khaja, the UAE's only female professional film producer, said: "Anything is possible. The whole industry here is at an embryo stage. So, as women and as Emiratis, we have the chance to be pioneers. "All you need to do is overcome your fears, both personally and professionally, and remember never to compromise yourself." Ms al Khaja spoke of family and cultural difficulties often faced by Emirati women.

"I have great sympathy with my mother and grandmother," she said. "In the last 40 years, it is like we have been zapped into the future. We used to have camels outside our house and now we have SUVs. Skyscrapers have sprung up like weeds. "It takes time to get used to this rapid change. My family are traditional, so when I said I wanted to go into film they were afraid. There were no other examples, I wasn't following in anyone's footsteps."

Many of the students said Ms al Khaja's success was their inspiration. Mariam al Nuami, 23, said Ms al Khaja was the role model she gave to her family when persuading them to allow her to study. Her classmate, Rahma al Muhairbi, 21, said listening to Ms al Khaja made her feel like she had someone on her side. "I have faced all the same family issues that she mentioned, she understands what we are thinking," said Ms al Muhairbi.

Ms al Khaja replied: "I see the girls who call me their role model as future role models for many others to come. The inspiration will work as a rippling effect." Barbara de Fina, a Hollywood producer who helped to make GoodFellas with Martin Scorsese, her former husband, said when she began her career she was one of two women in a team of 50 people. "It can be a struggle," she said. "At first, everyone presumed because I was a woman I would be doing make-up or wardrobe so I had to start in the office and work my way up. Slowly people started to take me seriously."

The discussion came one day after the Abu Dhabi Film Commission announced the launch of a new fund to help Emirati producers. aseaman@thenational.ae