The tale of how Nayla Al Khaja became the United Arab Emirate’s first female independent film maker is like the script of a drama itself, filled with hidden ambition, sacrifices and heartbreak.
As a student at Dubai’s Women College, Al Khaja graduated with honors and briefly hosted a travel show on the Arabian Radio Network. But she then discovered documentary filmmaking, and realized that was where her true passion lay. “In film you can be an entrepreneur, business woman, and work with painters, artists, fashion designers, and musician,” she says.
Al Khaja, 33, was thrilled to receive a full scholarship to study film at Ryerson University’s prestigious School of Radio and Television Arts in Toronto, Canada. There was one problem: Her parents told her they wouldn’t allow her to study abroad without being married. She felt their resistance partly stemmed from a negative view of the film industry.
Rather than fighting with her parents to change their minds, she managed to convince a male friend who believed in her talent and film dreams to marry her with the understanding it was only so she could study abroad.
After the wedding, they went to Toronto, but just six days later, her husband received a phone call with a job offer to join Dubai’s police force. Not wanting to turn down the opportunity, he moved back. Even so, he continued to financially support her. Al Khaja earned her degree, and the couple afterwards parted ways, but still remain friends.
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