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

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


Made homeless by war, Syrians sell furniture to survive

A photo taken on June 13, 2019, shows a second-hand store where displaced Syrians (unseen) sell their belongings on the outskirts of the Syrian town of Abyan in the rebel-held western Aleppo province. (AFP)
Updated 19 min 37 sec ago
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Made homeless by war, Syrians sell furniture to survive

  • The Idlib region is supposed to be protected by a buffer zone deal signed by Russia and rebel backer Turkey in September

ATME, SYRIA: For years, Abu Ali sold used furniture and home appliances for a living. But he never thought Syria’s war would one day make him homeless and force him to sell his own.
His family is one of dozens stranded in olive groves along the Turkish border, who say they have had to sell their basic possessions to ensure survival.
“I sold them to provide food, drink and clothes for my children,” said the father of five, who now houses his family in a tent.
An opposition bastion in Syria’s northwest has come under heavy regime and Russian bombardment since late April, despite a truce deal intended to protect the jihadist-run enclave’s three million inhabitants.
The spike in violence in and around Idlib province has killed hundreds of civilians, displaced 330,000 more, and sparked fears of one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the eight-year civil war.
Abu Ali, his wife and their children fled their home in southern Idlib in early May, hitting the road north to seek shelter in the relative safety of the olive groves close to the border.
“I used to have a shop to buy and sell used items,” such as fridges and furniture in the village of Maaret Hurma, he told AFP, sitting in the shade of a tree near the border town of Atme.

A few days after fleeing his home village, he hired two trucks for 50,000 Syrian pounds (over $110) to bring “eight fridges, bedroom furnishings, seven washing machines, and several gas stoves” up to the olive grove.
But under the summer sun in the makeshift camp, the merchandise soon plummeted in value.
“I was forced to get rid of it or sell it — even at a very low price,” the 35-year-old said, his chin stubble already greying under a head of thick dark brown hair.
For example, the going price for a fridge originally bought for 25,000 Syrian pounds (more than $55) can be as low as a fifth of that price.
In Atme, some families have stored their fridges and other appliances in a single tent to protect them from the elements.
Outside, a top-loader washing machine sits in the shade of a tree.
Awad Abu Abdu, 35, said he too was forced to part with all his household items for a pittance.
“It was very dear to me. It was all I had accumulated over a lifetime of hard work,” said the former construction worker, who fled the village of Tramla with his wife and six children.
“I sold all our home’s furniture for just 50,000 Syrian pounds,” he said, dressed in a faded grey t-shirt fraying around the collar.
After transport costs, he was left with only half that amount to feed his family, he said.
Abu Abdu accused buyers of “cheating us, exploiting the displaced,” but said he had no other choice.
“Everything’s so expensive... and there are no organizations looking out for us,” he said.

The Idlib region is supposed to be protected by a buffer zone deal signed by Russia and rebel backer Turkey in September.
But the accord was never properly implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from the planned cordon.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, an alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, took over administrative control of the region in January.
In the town of Atareb — about 30 kilometers from Atme, in Aleppo province — Abu Hussein received a new delivery at his shop of second-hand household appliances and furniture.
“Every day, more than ten cars arrive loaded up with items the displaced try to sell us,” said the 35-year-old.
“This means we have to pay relatively low prices, because the supply is so high” and it’s hard to then sell them all, he said.
Back in Atme, 50-year-old Waleeda Derwish said she hoped she would find someone to buy her fridge, washing machine and television, to help her provide for her eight children.
The widow transported the electrical items to “save them from bombing or looting” in Maaret Hurma, she said, a bright blue scarf wrapped around her wrinkled face.
Now the appliances represent the family’s only lifeline, she said.
“I’m forced to sell them. How else are we supposed to live?“