Al-Khaja prepping ‘Hajis’

Film follows Emirati girls going on dates

LONDON — While war and political turmoil may dominate much of the coverage about the Middle East, one of the region’s up-and-coming helmers is tackling a far more sensitive subject matter: the trials and tribulations that Emirati girls face when going on a first date without getting caught.

Nayla Al-Khaja, the United Arab Emirates’ first femme helmer, is prepping “Hajis,” a 20-minute short black comedy about social relationships amongst locals.

The 29-year-old Al-Khaja is in talks with Italian race car giant Ferrari to provide her with a luxury model Ferrari and Alfa Romeo for the $250,000 project, set to start lensing in April next year.

“I spoke to so many people and we all had these kinds of stories that I knew it had to be a movie. I’m either going to cause a revolution or I’ll get killed,” jokes Al-Khaja. “For anyone in the world going on a first date is the most normal thing but not if you’re a local. A lot of people have no idea what it’s like.”

The date movie isn’t the only project the Emirati helmer is working on. She’s also set to start lensing a doc about Nour Al-Rachid, the first man in the UAE to own a camera, who chronicled Dubai’s growth from a sandy town to the booming metropolis it is today.

“He has over 5 million photographs,” says Al-Khaja. “You see the development of the city through his lens. He grew up with Sheikh Zayed (the founder of the UAE) in the 1930s and he became known as the royal photographer.”

2008 will mark the 50th anniversary of Al-Rachid’s first photo and Al-Khaja is aiming to have the pic finished in time for Dubai’s National Day celebrations in December.

One project she has ankled from, however, is the proposed $30 million co-production between Italy and the UAE about the life of famed Sufi mystic poet Rumi. Al-Khaja’s shingle D-Seven Motion Pictures was set to produce the ground-breaking pic before local concerns were voiced over the depiction of Sufi Muslims drinking and dancing.

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