"Only in Britain." It’s a UK phrase consigned to the most deflating scenarios often accompanied by an eye roll and exasperated sigh. We can only imagine those queuing for fuel at petrol stations right now may have uttered the sentiment once or twice over the last couple of days. Conversely, “only in the UAE” couldn’t evoke a more polar opposite reaction. Inspiring wonder, pride and head-shaking awe, the expression is best delivered alongside a wide-eyed smile and is a mantra to which Emirati movie director Nahla Al Fahad subscribes. The 218: Behind The Wall of Silence (2021) chief currently has her hands full with a variety of projects; from being the face of Lexus’ LX brand campaign — ‘Inspire a Legacy’ — to gearing up for this weekend’s launch of Expo 2020 Dubai, the global gathering with which the young media visionary has been involved for the last three years.
“I’m a proud member of the Expo tribe,” the affable Al Fahad told us this week when we met on the set of her Lexus project. “I have been working as a director of UAE content and creative management. I look into different things that involve the look and feel, the production, the opening ceremony team and the entertainment team. It’s such a great experience and honour. I believe everyone who is involved in this mega event feels the same way. There are a lot of surprises and a lot of things to learn over the next six months.”
Education and the quest for self-betterment is a guiding principle upon which Al Fahad has built her life. Instilled by the filmmaker’s mother, she said a childhood spent with her nose in books prepared her for the notoriously competitive world of show business.
“’Work hard and study...study more and then study more’ she said. She was my inspiration,” Al Fahad told us of her mum. “Also she made me promise to love what I do.” The advice has held the local entertainment entrepreneur in good stead. With a number of commercials under her belt, Al Fahad is also recognised for her efforts on TV shows including Tears Of Snakes (2017) and documentary The Tainted Veil (2015). She admits, though, hailing from the United Arab Emirates has provided certain advantages — especially for women over the last few decades.
“The career and schooling opportunities have evolved,” Al Fahad said of the progress. “We used to see a lot of jobs that were dominated by men, but now you can see women are equally working with men. With the encouragement of our leadership we can see a lot of Emirati women involved in traditionally non-female roles and we can be proud. We have women astronauts! We are making history!
“In the UAE we are pioneers in what we are doing. The support we get from our leaders is non-stop. They work hard and lead by example. Everything they do is a message to us to follow them. I don’t think this can be seen elsewhere in the world. I’m proud to be an Emirati.”
When asked if she considered herself to be a role model, Al Fahad had to take a minute. Reflecting on the person she turns to in times of strife: her mother, and how maternal support can be the catalyst for further endeavour, the producer stopped short of labeling herself a mentor, yet said it was the job of all successful Emirati women to provide motivation for the youth.
“We want to give a good example to young Emiratis as hard-working people who are passionate about what we do. I love my work and I believe what I put in, I will be rewarded for that.” She added being selected to front advertisements for global car brands, for example, lets her know she’s doing something right.
“I feel so proud to be part of this with the LX. The concept and general idea of legacy is something really amazing and inspiring. To be looked at as someone who has achieved something — to have a legacy — this is something I cannot describe. It is beyond words. Leaving a legacy as a successful Emirati woman in my industry, I see it as a great example of what the UAE has invested in empowering women. It gives me a lot of responsibility and a lot of courage to keep going with what I am planning in the future.”
Al Fahad’s advice for all budding cinematographers: be passionate and willing to open yourself up to discovery. “There is no harm in making mistakes but you have to learn from them,” she said.
As a filmmaker, how did you ride out the pandemic last year?
2020 was actually quite a productive year for me. We were asked to stay at home for our safety, but during my time inside I was inspired. I wrote a feature film about the situation. I am planning to film it hopefully in 2022. I was also part of a lot of online conferences about the film industry. And when it was safe to do so I managed to film my feature film 218: Behind The Wall of Silence during that time. It was released in May 2021 and received good feedback.