Hajar Al-Naim: The Saudi filmmaker who risked it all

1 / 3
Meet Hajar Al-Naim, the rising star who flew across the world to make her dream come true. (Photos supplied)
2 / 3
Hajar Al-Naim is a go-getter on and off set.
3 / 3
The rising star wants to encourage other women to get behind the camera.
Updated 30 October 2017
0

Hajar Al-Naim: The Saudi filmmaker who risked it all

JEDDAH: For anyone interested in the art of filmmaking, Saudi star Hajar Al-Naim is a real-life icon who took a risk and smashed expectations.
From a hesitant English speaker to a graduate of Los Angeles’ Loyola Marymount University, Al-Naim’s story is inspirational for Saudi Arabia-based film enthusiasts who wish to explore the industry.
Before she made her dreams come true in Los Angeles, Al-Naim taught as an instructor at King Faisal University after graduating in 2011. She then reached a point where she was bored of her job and realized that her English-language skills were lacking.
“All the English courses I took in Saudi Arabia did not improve my language, so I decided to save some money from my salary because I was working as an instructor in King Faisal University at that time. Then, the hardest part — how would I convince my parents to (let me) go to the US and learn English? We have never traveled outside the Middle East and that idea would sound very, very crazy to them. It actually was. They rejected it many times, but I kept on convincing them... I convinced them, finally, to (allow me to) go with my 16-year-old brother and, of course, I chose to go to Los Angeles to get a sense of the filmmaking industry and how it works.”
From that point, Al-Naim proved that she was a tough go-getter and pursued her passion single-mindedly.
“When I went to Los Angeles, I started visiting the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. I used to stand outside the classes for a long time to hear what they were saying — I was super curious. I always wanted to be inside, not outside. I decided that I was going to do whatever it takes to be inside that class. I went back home, quit my job, applied to the scholarship, got accepted and came back to LA,” she told Arab News.
Al-Naim’s father was supportive and invaluable to her success, she told Arab News.
“My dad decided to retire and come with me to LA to pursue my master’s degree in film production. It was really hard for him to leave his job and my mom with my five young siblings for me to study something that did not have any future in Saudi Arabia at that time — late 2012. My dad supported me a lot. He bought me a car and taught me how to drive and got me everything I needed before he went back. The (society) was a little bit harsh on him because of my major, but he believed in me and did not care what they said.”
She completed her master’s degree in the spring of 2017 and has not looked back since.
Al-Naim’s passion
The filmmaker is most interested in creating thriller movies and exploring people’s fears.
“Thriller movies are my genre… I do not limit myself and put boarders on my talent, but I tried a lot of things and… that worked pretty well. I believe that going down deep into people’s fears and scaring them… is a great way to see each other’s point of view without judgment.
“My number one influence is Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense. Also, David Lynch and David Fincher. Their work speaks to me and affects the way I tell my stories,” she added.
Al-Naim is making waves with her film “Detained,” which is set to be screened during the Dubai International Film Festival in December, 2017.
She told Arab News that the movie, which was made between October 2016-April 2017, tries to change the distorted image of Islam in the West by highlighting the suffering of veiled women in the West.
It centers around a Syrian girl named Lara who travels to the US after the escalation of violence and war in her country, but disappointment reigns supreme when she is stopped by security personnel following the involvement of her father in a terrorist incident at an airport in London.
“The movie leaves you with these questions: Who are the victims of terrorism on both sides? How do these things come to pass? If you are put into an impossible situation, what would you do?
“I tried to address the perspective of Americans who, justifiably, feel the need to be safe and secure. However, maybe there are elements they do not fully understand and you have this young Muslim girl who is coming from the same situation, but in a different way.”
The future of filmmaking
Al-Naim feels it is her responsibility to encourage and help other Saudi women to pursue their filmmaking dreams.
“I feel responsible for encouraging more women to tell their stories. I know they need guidance and I am here for them. When I was 13-years-old, I cut video tapes together to make new tapes of my favorite TV shows, but nobody told me that I could be a filmmaker. Saudi girls should know that filmmaking is an option for their future. They do not have to spend their lives figuring that out. One of the reasons why I want to be successful in the film industry is to encourage more girls to step forward and join me.”
As for the industry in the Kingdom, Al-Naim has high hopes.
“We have cultural diversity (here) and I’m so excited to see how filmmakers will tell their stories. We are, as filmmakers, affected by European cinema, Iranian cinema and American cinema and that will affect the way in which we tell our stories.”


Canadian police make arrest in kidnapping of Chinese student

Wanzhen Lu. (Photo: Supplied)
Updated 16 min 29 sec ago
0

Canadian police make arrest in kidnapping of Chinese student

  • Investigators say three men jumped out, grabbed Lu, shocked him multiple times with a stun gun and dragged him into the van before speeding off

MARKHAM, Ontario: Canadian police say they’ve arrested a man suspected of involvement in the abduction of a Chinese citizen studying in the Toronto area. Police have not found the missing man.
York regional police said Tuesday that they believe the 35-year-old Toronto man is involved in the apparent kidnapping of Wanzhen Lu from a parking garage in Markham, Ontario, over the weekend.
He hasn’t yet been charged.
Police say Lu had parked his car and was walking with a friend toward the elevator of his condominium when a minivan came up behind him.
Investigators say three men jumped out, grabbed Lu, shocked him multiple times with a stun gun and dragged him into the van before speeding off.
Police are urging the suspects to release Lu.