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Nayla Al Khaja

Nayla Al Khaja is the first woman film producer and director in the United Arab Emirates. She is the CEO of D-SEVEN Motion Pictures and D-SEVEN FZ LLC, a marketing and design agency that offers full Media campaign and corporate branding services.

D-SEVEN was established in 2005 and in this short span of time has secured a host of prestigious projects such as:

  • BLOOM! Cine Startups has partnered with several local companies such as Canon and the Ministry of Culture & Community Development to promote independent filmmaking at a very affordable cost to first time filmmakers.
  • The Scene Club, UAE’s first official film club featuring independent cinema.
  • Annie Leibovitz Studio, producing the complete Men’s Vogue photo-shoot for tennis champion Roger Federer in Dubai.
  • Handled the campaign for Special Olympics (Middle East and North Africa) – Dubai 2006 – Abu Dhabi 2008.
  • Branding of the UAE Football Association
  • Branding for Sheikh Hamdam Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences.
  • Produced photo shoots for Conde Nast New York Portfolio magazine.
  • Produced High Goal, a documentary feature film on Polo; shot in five countries for the Al Habtoor brothers.
  • Produced women empowerment films on Middle Eastern athletes for NIKE.

Alternately, Nayla is also the founder of D-SEVEN Motion Pictures, previously known as Dessart Productions founded in 2002, a Dubai based production company which produces commercial material, independent documentaries and films.

Nayla graduated from Dubai Women’s College with a degree in Mass Communication in 1999 and had a stint with Arabian Radio Network where she hosted her own travel show. It turned out to be a great success, her ratings being first in the station. However, Nayla realized her true calling lay in film-production which prompted her to apply to Ryerson University in Canada, well known for its Film making program. She graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor in Image studies – Film making.

On her return to Dubai, Nayla recognized a lack of financial resources would create significant obstacles in realizing her dream of pioneering a film industry in the UAE. Instead of losing hope, she went out and found the resources to direct and produce her first documentary film, Unveiling Dubai (2004), which was launched by H.H. Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the Minister of Higher Education in the UAE. The film was premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival. There was no looking back after that. Given a lack of regional film industry and Nayla being the first UAE national woman to embark on such a career, she received media attention and accolades from as far away as the Washington Post NHK and the BBC World.

In 2006, she produced and directed a movie called Arabana, which deals with the disturbing issue of a child abuse, a subject which is taboo in the Middle East. Although it was very difficult to fit such an intense subject in a span of six minutes, Nayla managed to do so quite efficiently and not without effect. The movie is hard hitting and makes you sit back and take notice. Edward Pressman the producer of American Psycho called her film both “disturbing and gorgeous.”

The movie was premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival. In 2007, Nayla was awarded best Emirati filmmaker at DIFF.

In that same year she partnered up with the Dubai International Film Festival to start a non profit club called The Scene Club. The Scene Club has been running ever since inviting international directors to showcase their independent films in the UAE. The club has over 3500 registered members.

In recognition of her achievements, Nayla has received numerous awards. A few of them with a brief description are mentioned below:

  • Secured partnership with Canon Middle East for her BLOOM! Cine Startups initiative and signed on as Brand Ambassador for Canon DSLR products.
  • Nayla recently won the first–ever Dubai International Film Festival Award for Emirati films for her short (Malal) taking 1st prize among 14 competitors in 2010.
  • Won the British Council’s International Young Screen Entrepreneur Award 2010 in the United Kingdom in October 2010. Nayla competed against 10 finalists from around the world – Indonesia, Slovakia, Argentina, Mexico, India, Columbia, Syria, Vietnam, Poland and Russia.
  • Was chosen by Doha Film Institute to do a portrait with Brigette Lacombe for Doha Tribeca Film Festival 2010.
  • Joins Abu Dhabi Film Commission in Melbourne International Film Festival 37 South Market 2010.
  • Endorser for Emirates NBD Bank.
  • Won 1st Prize in the Emirati Short Film Script Competition at the 3rd Gulf Film Festival 2010.
  • Representative of the United Arab Emirates at the US Department of State International Visitors Leadership Program 2010 in the Filmmaker Category.
  • L’ Officiel Magazine Woman of the Year Award 2009 (Film/Photography Category).
  • A jury member at the Middle East International Film Festival 2009. Jury was headed by world known filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami.
  • Nayla was appointed as the cultural guide and co-host on Paris Hilton’s My BFF Dubai show, which is currently in post production.
  • Dubai Women’s College Alumnae Entrepreneur Award 1992-1998
  • Nayla has been Olay’s Ambassador representing Arabian women in the Middle East since 2008.
  • Official judge of Red Bull: The Art of Can 2008.
  • Best Female Filmmaker at Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) 2007.
  • Won the Young Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 at the 6th Middle East Businesswomen and Leaders Achievement Awards.
  • Won the Lloyds TSB Bank Inspirational Leadership Award (2006)
  • Was named “Emirates Woman of the Year, 2005” by Emirates Woman magazine. Nayla and another 7 UAE national Women were nominated for their contribution in fashion, entertainment and the arts in the region (2005)
  • Won the Emirates Woman Best Local Artist Award (2005)
  • The only national to be featured in Ahlan’s Hot 100 for three consecutive years. This magazine was issued in 2005 and featured the top 100 personalities of UAE.
  • Won a Kodak Grant to produce a super 16mm film. This grant was used to produce the movie The Loss, which was released in Canada (2004).
  • Won the Action Cut Award in New Jersey, USA (2003)

In a short period, Nayla has achieved quite a lot. A brief list of some of her other achievements include:

  • Being the first independent woman Director/Producer in the UAE.
  • Being named Dubai Women’s College’s Alumni of the Year (2006).
  • Being the first UAE national Woman to produce a film shot on super 35mm (2006).
  • Founding D-SEVEN FZ LLC and D-SEVEN Motion Pictures (2005).
  • Delivering the inaugural address opening the first Dubai International Film Festival (2004)

Nayla has absolute faith in her dreams although she realizes that she still has a long way to go. She believes in the mind-altering and life-changing ability of films and wants to use this medium to change the way people in the West view the Middle East. She aspires to produce commercially viable, yet thought-provoking, feature films and to establish an image arts university in the UAE.

In her spare time, Nayla enjoys painting and writing stories.