Behind the Camera with the UAE's First Female Filmmaker

Nayla Al Khaja has two internationally streaming horror films and big plans ahead.

“I’M HERE TO scare people,” says Nayla Al Khaja with a bright smile in her Dubai home. She’s the United Arab Emirates’ first female filmmaker and her warm, welcoming personality is unexpected, given the darkness that weaves through her work. In anticipation of our meeting, I rewatched Al Khaja’s two short films — “Animal” and “The Shadow” — and still have adrenaline coursing through my veins.

Both films are set in the United Arab Emirates. “Animal” is a semi-autobiographical thriller about a domineering father that culminates in a horrifying denouement. “The Shadow,” which is being developed into Al Khaja’s first feature-length film, “Three,” is an homage to the classic horror genre and follows a nine-year-old boy who is believed to be possessed. “You have science and religion going head to head, and in the middle is this child who’s going off the deep end,” she says. “But if I look at it from a distance, it’s really about mental health.” Both films are currently streaming worldwide on Netflix.

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