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  • New York Film Academy (NYFA) Screenwriting Alum Shahad Ameen Debuts Feature Film at Venice Film Festival

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    New York Film Academy (NYFA) Screenwriting alum Shahad Ameen recently debuted her first feature film at this year’s Venice Film Festival (VFF). The film, a stark black-and-white drama filled with magical realism, was written and directed by Ameen.

    Scales (Sayidat Al Bahr in Arabic), tells the story of Hayat, a young girl who lives in a poor fishing village where every family must give one daughter to mysterious sea creatures who inhabit the nearby waters, who in turn are also hunted by the men of the village. Saved by her father, Hayat is banished from her village and branded a curse. 

    Shahad Ameen

    “I want the audience to relate to the main themes of the film: life and women’s roles within it,” Ameen tells Women and Hollywood in a thoughtful interview. “Although the film is set in the Arab world, this is a universal story that everyone can relate to.”

    Ameen originally hails from Saudi Arabia and studied the 1-Year Screenwriting conservatory program at NYFA’s New York campus in 2012. “I taught Shahad in 2012 and back then she was always the hardest worker in the room,” says NYFA-NY Chair of Screenwriting Randall Dottin. “Her stories consistently reflected the rare alchemy of rigor, complexity, and innovation along with a healthy dose of compassion for her characters.”

    Shahad Ameen

    Ameen’s film is a milestone for Arab cinema, as it is the first narrative Arab film to premiere at the Venice Film Festival, one of the three major international film festivals in the world, along with Cannes and Berlin. Scales premiered as part of the fest’s Critics Week, and screened in competition for the Luigi De Laurentiis Award for Debut Film.

    NYFA-NY Screenwriting Chair Randall Dottin was thrilled to hear the news about Ameen’s presence at Venice. “On behalf of New York Film Academy Screenwriting Department, I’d like to wish Shahad all the best as she competes with her debut feature film Scales in Critics Week at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. After reading Scales years before Shahad went into production, I’m excited to see her incredibly unique and powerful story on the big screen.”

    Shahad Ameen

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    September 3, 2019 • #WomenOfNYFA, Film Festivals, Screenwriting, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 51

  • Director & New York Film Academy Grad Aymen Khoja’s Feature Debut is First American-Saudi Film Collaboration

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    The Arabian Warrior is not only the very first American-Saudi film production, but has also celebrated its premiere in Saudi Arabia at a historic moment, just as the Kingdom celebrates the opening of its movie theaters for the fist time in 35 years. The film follows Anmar, a young Saudi man who dreams of becoming a professional football player. It’s a deeply human story about navigating the tension between following one’s dreams, honoring one’s family and traditions, and finding one’s own way in a complicated world.

    After an incredibly successful red carpet premiere covered by major news networks in Dubai, the film is screening across the Middle East with Grand Entertainment — and soon the world, with a distribution deal with MultiVisionnaire Pictures, and an upcoming digital release on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.

    In the midst of his busy opening month, director and New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Filmmaking alum Aymen Khoja found the time to sit down with the NYFA Blog via email to talk about the film, the Dubai screening, and what’s next.

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

    AK: Passion and ambition. My active soul pulled my body from all the challenges I faced to the city of angels to study what I’ve dreamed of: becoming a filmmaker!

    NYFA: Why filmmaking? What inspires you most?

    AK: Filmmaking is the best way to get into people hearts! People would listen when they see things through films more than if you talk to them face to face. Plus, I love inspiring people with what I believe is right. Also, I love putting a smile on people’s faces!  

    NYFA: Can you tell us what brought The Arabian Warrior project to life? How did the film come about for you?

    AK: Young people always fight to achieve their goals against their parents, society, or any challenges could stand in front of them. I wanted to explain the pressure young people face when it comes to making their choices about what they want to be in the future.

    NYFA: The Arabian Warrior tells a story that highlights some tensions between a young man with a dream to pursue a non-traditional career, and his parents’ concerns for his future. What resonated with you about this story?

    AK: I’ve seen this situation around me with friends, family. To me the most important question is, how can the son reach his goals but at the same time respect his parents?  

     

    The Arabian Warrior poster via IMDB

    NYFA: Congratulations on screening The Arabian Warrior in Dubai! How did this event come about? Can you tell us a bit about the process of organizing the screening and how it feels leading up to the screening?

    AK: Thank you! It feels wonderful.

    I’d love to thank Dubai for welcoming my first of all time film premier! It was a super exciting process from very the beginning, when we signed Grand Entertainment to distribute our film in the Arab region.

    Big thanks to Isaac, who really worked everything out! It just can’t get better!

    Our film played in 48 theaters all over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Fantastic success. I thank God, and everyone who helped me with this achievement.   

    NYFA: Did anything surprise you during filming, or where there any hurdles you overcame? Any words of wisdom for our students from your production experience?

    AK: A lot of surprises and many challenges, from losing locations, working with actors, staying within the budget, getting creative shots to save the day, etc.

    Advice I can give: be collaborative. Listen. Build a fantastic positive team. Move on. Don’t get stuck with one challenge; fix it and move on.

    Director Aymen Khoja via IMDB

    NYFA: What’s next for The Arabian Warrior?

    AK: It will be released on digital platforms in the U.S. and Canada: Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. We’ve signed with an international distributor worldwide, MultiVisionnaire. The film already has been released on TV, in some part of Asia and Africa.

    NYFA: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

    AK: I’m developing three projects at the same time. I prefer not to speak about them now, but all what I can say is, they will see light soon inshallah!  

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful for the work you are doing now?

    AK: NYFA is one of the main reasons for me to be at this place. I can’t thank NYFA enough. Instructors, environment, departments, classmates, everyone were super helpful. They gave me all the knowledge I needed for this wonderful journey in creating my first feature  film! I’m still in touch with all my instructors, we became like a family! Thank you, family of NYFA, from my heart.

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Aymen for his interview, and congratulate him and Mohammad on the great success of The Arabian Warrior

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  • Amina Zaher in Vogue Arabia, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and Jute Magazine

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    This Women’s History Month, we’re very excited to get to share stories from the incredible #WomenOfNYFA in our community, and right now the spotlight is on New York Film Academy (NYFA) grad Amina Zaher.

    Zaher has been working up a storm as a fashion photographer, with her work appearing in Vogue Arabia, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and Jute Magazine, among others, throughout the Middle East. She took the time to sit down with the New York Film Academy Blog and share her journey from corporate management to the glamorous world of high fashion and lifestyle photography.

    Check out what she has to say…

    NYFA: First, can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what brought you to the New York Film Academy?

    AZ: Well my journey started similarly to any student graduated from business/marketing, headed directly to corporate life. First I started working for Microsoft Egypt for five years as a project manager, then Danone Egypt for another three years as well.

    Within these eight years I used to love photography, but had no idea what I could do with that passion. I used to study photography and retouching through Youtube tutorials, sometime by online courses, and I never thought one day that I might become a full-time photographer — it was only a dream (that I was extremely passionate about)!

    Bit by bit, having many test shoots done with other talented friends in the field (as I was still not sure what kind of photography I want to settle into, but used to have conceptual/fashion sessions), I started getting proposals — not payed, for sure, but some local magazines were interested in collaborating together.

    That’s when I realized that the dream might come true, but I would have to really study. We had many good photographers in the market, and I’ve always thought education is the best way to be up to competition.

    I applied for NYFA in 2014 and it was the experience of a lifetime. It made me first realize that I’m crazy about fashion photography, and also that I’m interested in street and documentary photography. I learned that I can try to use those to compliment my photography mood and compositions, and how important is it to know more about the history of photography!

    Then I came back to Egypt, resigned from corporate life, and started my photography journey. I’d travel every once and a while to a different country with a different culture and try having test shoots there (India, Dubai, the U.S.), and I never stopped studying, as much as possible.

    NYFA: Why photography? What inspires you most?

    AZ: I’ve always felt that I need to make art in some way, and realized that I love to capture portraits of people wherever I’m at. Also I’ve been crazy about fashion since I was a kid, and I used to ask my mum to get me magazines all the time.

    Lately when I started reading about photography I was obsessed with the idea of using lights and shadows to create an interesting image. To me it was very similar to drawing.

    NYFA: Do you have any favorite NYFA moments from your time studying with us?

    AZ: A lot!! Haha … I was super lucky with my TAs and classes. I was broken hearted the day I left NYFA — they were super helpful extremely kind, and I’ve always felt that they believed [in me]. They even gave me the opportunity to have a test shoot on my last day!

    I also remember once we had to shoot random people in the streets and ask them about their stories … it was so much fun.

    One of the great things that I’ve learned from NYFA is how to get inspired, how to read about great photographers work, and learn the story behind every piece, I used to get attached to these artists.

    NYFA: You’ve done a lot of high-profile fashion photography work, published in Vogue Arabia, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and Jute Magazine. Congratulations! What advice would you offer fellow NYFA students who dream of seeing their own work in such publications?

    AZ: Dream big, guys! Dreams do come true!

    But first work extremely hard, and never think “I’m already good enough,” because there’s never enough in this field. Do as many test shoots as you can, it’s what makes you learn best.

    I never stop stalking talent to collaborate with. Last month I caught a model in Philae Temple, dressed her up with my own outfit, and had a 10-min test shoot that got published in a local magazine.

    Nothing is impossible.   

    NYFA: What inspired your Major Tom editorial shoot?

    AZ: The idea of Major Tom was inspired by the great David Bowie. It was about a girl receiving a phone call about David Bowie’s death and having a very glamorous breakdown.

    NYFA: Do you have a signature style or favorite equipment you are always sure to use? What do you like to experiment with in your work?

    AZ: I Use Canon 5D Mark III with 85mm or 24-70. Shadows, composition and colors are always what I like to experiment with.

    NYFA: What has surprised you most in working as a commercial and fashion photographer?

    AZ: Actually, I never thought that I working as a commercial and fashion photographer would make me realize I can’t stop studying! It’s funny how fast this field can be with new techniques, equipment, moods that you have to keep up with — not only that, but you must be proactive and come up with your own new identity and creativity. It’s endless.

    NYFA: Would you say your time at NYFA was at all useful in terms of the work you are doing now?

    AZ: NYFA is the one thing that pushed me and made me realize that I have to let go of corporate life and move on with my passion. NYFA showed me new aspects. I learned that I don’t have to be a street or documentary photographer to get inspired by that work.

    For example, it made me realize how much I loved the “dirty framing” technique when we were studying street photography, and I used it a lot in fashion. Also pictorialism and juxtaposition were really inspiring to me.

    NYFA: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

    AZ: Just had three new shoots published in Vogue Arabia, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and Jute magazine.

    NYFA: Anything I missed that you’d like to speak on?

    AZ: Only that I’m still dreaming really big! I hope someday I will be shooting for brands like Chanel, Prada, Gucci, and Vogue worldwide. It’s still a very long trip, and I will be working Hard for it until I earn it one day. Who knows?

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  • Egyptian Star’s Music Video Directed by New York Film Academy Alum Moe Khalil

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    Whether you’re a Spongebob Squarepants fan or your tastes run more towards the vein of A-list celebrities, fast cars, and epic pop music, chances are Egyptian superstar Hamada Helal has a hit for you. Right now the internet is buzzing for Helal’s newest music video Helm El Seneen, which dropped today on Youtube, a glamorous production directed by New York Film Academy (NYFA) filmmaking alum Moe Khalil.

    Singer Hamada Helal is much loved in Egypt not only for his songs and performances in hit films like Hamati Bithibbeni and Mr and Mrs Oweis, but also for his reputation as a great guy: he’s rumored to be a good Samaritan who saved a girl from an assault in Cairo, and his hit “Spongebob” endeared him to a generation of children and Spongebob Squarepants of all ages.

    Helm El Seneen is no doubt his next great achievement in Egyptian popular culture. Fans can also see the full music video on Valentine’s Day, when it will be broadcast on TV in Egypt and the Middle East. In the meantime, check out these behind-the-scenes pics from the shoot.

    This is not the first music video venture for NYFA alum Moe Khalil, whose rise to prominence as a music video director began with Egyptian songstress Shahinaz’s music video for Asal Asal. The beautiful video was filmed in the historic and iconic King Mohamed Ali Palace along the banks of the Nile in Shubra, near Cairo.

    Congratulations, Khalil! Looking forward to our next behind-the-scenes sneak peek into movie video magic.

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  • Harper’s Bazaar Profiles New York Film Academy Alum Khadijah Kudsi

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    Khadijah Kudsi

    Copyright © Harper’s Bazaar Arabia 2017

    With the 14th Annual Dubai International Film Festival coming to a close this December, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia profiled six pioneering female filmmakers from the Middle East, including New York Film Academy (NYFA) alum Khadijah Kudsi. The in-depth piece about the six directors not only celebrates their hard work and achievements, but highlights the cultural shift taking place in the 21st Century Middle East, and subsequent progress women have made in playing a larger role in society—including the arts.

    NYFA alum Khadijah Kudsi grew up in Saudi Arabia and was always artistic and interested in storytelling. She told Harper’s Bazaar, “I went to New York Film Academy in Abu Dhabi in 2014. I only meant to go for four weeks, but that turned into eight, which led into a year and then into a whole career. I did a diploma in filmmaking and then I started working on short films and writing.”

    After graduating from the Academy, Kudsi quickly found work for a Chinese television channel. As her career has progressed, Kudsi likes to focus on stories from Abu Dhabi and the Middle East, including one film that’s premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and another currently in production focusing on Dana Al Ali—the first Emirati woman to climb Mt. Everest.

    Kudsi continued, “I think it’s important to have ties to this region and highlight positive stories coming out of it. But it’s not always easy—the funding is hard. As is finding the right producer and managing your time being a mother and a working woman.”

    Festivals in the Middle East have grown in importance as more and more voices from the region are making themselves heard. The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) first launched in 2004 with 76 films and 13,000 attendees. During its initial six-day run, acting legend Omar Sharif was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The festival has steadily grown since then, with over 60,000 admissions to its 2016 event. This year marked the 14th Annual Dubai International Film Festival and presented Lifetime Achievement Awards to Irrfan Khan and Sir Patrick Stewart.

    As the region modernizes and women are being given more and more freedom, their roles in society are becoming more prominent as well. For Middle Eastern women working in the arts, that uphill struggle feels all the more real, considering the industry has been historically unequal not just in the region but around the world. Kudsi told Harper’s Bazaar, “I have four children, whereas most of the crew you work with on set are single or have no kids. They don’t understand when you say you need to wrap by a certain time because I need to go see my kids.”

    The New York Film Academy strives to give filmmakers and artists of all kinds a voice, and prides itself on its diverse student body. By learning and working hands-on together, students find their differences are a strength—learning and sharing experiences not just from the school but from one another. If you’re interested in filmmaking or the visual arts, you can find more information about NYFA’s programs here.

    NYFA has committed itself to giving aspiring storytellers in the Middle East an education they can build their careers on. The New York Film Academy is thrilled to see Khadijah Kudsi recognized for her inspiring work and career, and looks forward to the stories she will tell in the years to come. “I love the rawness in the stories here,” professed Kudsi, “and we have so much to talk about.”

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  • NYFA Collaborates With Prestigious Saudi Festival Hakaya Misk in Riyadh

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    The New York Film Academy has played an active role by offering workshops and training through a collaboration with the prestigious youth arts festival of Hakaya Misk, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. NYFA is presenting workshops and trainings on the topics of film production and screenwriting in collaboration with the Pre-Hakaya workshops.

    According to Hakaya Misk’s official website, the festival is a cutting-edge Saudi Festival which focuses on incubating creative skills in the next generation through culturally and educationally conscious content creation: “The festival aims to motivate, teach, and inspire youth to express their ideas through writing stories, storytelling, painting, animation, production, and other forms of art.” Through local and international professional partnerships, the festival invites young people to participate in workshops, inspiring platforms, and exhibits, while building skills in storytelling through the visual arts. Events at Hakaya Misk are also offered for adults who are locally active in the creative fields.

    As the Washington Post has reported, Saudi Arabia is developing a new generation of artists and opportunities within a burgeoning film industry, which includes aspiring filmmakers have studied at the New York Film Academy. NYFA MFA alumna Lamia al-Shwwier told the Washington Post, “We have so many incredible stories to tell, whether they are stories of success or challenge. Our society is rich in stories and ideas.”

    At Hakaya Misk, NYFA alumni will be holding one-hour workshops daily, while NYFA representatives are present among the local production companies who also partner with Hakaya Misk. The festival has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors through four sessions held in Riyadh, King Abdullah Economic City in Makkah, Dhahran in Eastern Province, and Abha in Aseer Province.

    “New York Film Academy is honored to have partnered with Misk in the Pre-Hakaya workshops in Riyadh,” NYFA’s Dean of Enrollment Services Tami Alexander reported from the event. “We had the opportunity to teach over 40 men and women interested in developing their craft in either film production or screenwriting. Our NYFA instructors were thrilled with the students’ confidence, ability and pride in their craft, and the opportunity to experience local Saudi culture.”

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  • Mohamed Luqman Wins Best Aspiring Filmmaker Award at ZUMEFF

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    mohamed luqman

    film director Mohamed Luqman and co-director Saleh Bin Hallabi receiving the Award from the Acting Provost of Zayed University Marilyn Roberts and the Managing Director of NYFA Abu Dhabi Imad DeirAtany

    Under the patronage of Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Bint Khaled Al Qasimi, Minister of International Cooperation and Development, President of Zayed University, the 6th edition of Zayed University Middle East Film Festival (ZUMEFF) took place on May 17 – 18 at Zayed University Abu Dhabi.

    The Awards Ceremony was held on May 18 at 6.30 pm, where the New York Film Academy offered the Aspiring Filmmaker Award in collaboration with the festival.

    The award went to The Final Chapter by Mohamed Luqman, who will join one of the New York Film Academy filmmaking programs. The program will provide him with intensive training in filmmaking, where he will write, shoot, direct and edit number of films while crewing on others.

    Congratulations to Mohamed Luqman! We’re looking forward seeing him on our set.

    -Imad DeirAtany

     

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    May 19, 2015 • Abu Dhabi, Filmmaking • Views: 4618

  • One Graduate’s Journey to the Cannes Film Festival

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    Faraz WaqarNew York Film Academy Abu Dhabi grad Faraz Waqar’s graduation thesis film 9:11 AM was selected for its world premiere at the Festival de Cannes 2012 Short Films Corner. The Short Films Corner hands you an annual tailor-made program of industry meets, workshops and conferences that deal with strategic issues. Faraz will benefit from all the advantages of being an accredited attendee of the festival. He can access the Marché du Film exhibitors or those in the Village International. Faraz will also be able to network with all the biggest industry players, whether they are institutions, financiers and the most important international reps in the film business. Talk about opening some doors. What more can a film graduate ask for?

    Tell us where your passion started?

    Studying film and working in film was always my dream. Reviving the film industry in my own country through films has always been my goal. However, the pressure for financial success and lack of support from my family forced me to study Business Management instead of filmmaking. I spent 12 years working in the corporate world as a banker in the Middle East but never let my dream of becoming a filmmaker die. After achieving a fair degree of success in my business career and achieving financial independence, I was in a position to finally pursue my dream and passion.

    What drives you as an artist?

    The Middle East has played a very important role in the of human civilization. In recent years, however, this region has been in the media for all the wrong reasons. Cinema is the most powerful tool to make or break the image of a person, culture or country. Becoming a film director puts you in a position of immense power. You can influence the hearts and minds of people of the world. This is the best way to contribute something which will benefit your own culture. You also enjoy the immense opportunity to be creative. You’re having fun too.

    How was your NYFA experience?

    I joined the 1-year Filmmaking program in Abu Dhabi last February. The institution brought to my doorstep the facilities and instruction that has trained so many prominent filmmakers in the United States. I graduated from NYFA two months ago. It was perhaps the most memorable year of my life. I truly lived my dream. The best part about studying at NYFA was learning from professors who had a wealth of experiences working as directors and cinematographers on world renowned film projects both in Hollywood and in the Middle East. The student body in Abu Dhabi is extremely diverse. We have classmates from Australia, India, Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Pakistan, Lebenon, Switzerland, Iraq, UAE, Nigeria and Denmark. It was superb because you got to make some wonderful friends from different cultures and benefit from their vastly different perspectives. I formed some very close friendships and enjoyed working with this diverse international group. Film school always ends up attracting the most creative and passionate people. The network I’ve established will benefit me in any project I pursue.

    NYFA’s program is intensive and comprehensive. Film projects start from idea conception to script finalization, and ranges from casting, editing, production and post-production. I wrote, directed and edited 8 complete films during my one year at the school. In addition I was also involved in the production of 39 films in various capacities as part of the crew (short films, documentaries and music videos) for other directors. I got full freedom to experiment, shoot and work on different ideas and scripts for my projects.

    We had access to some of the best film cameras in the world. We shot from digital to 16mm, 35mm and even on the Red Epic. It was amazing.

    What is your perspective on screening at film festivals? Advice on the process?

    Recognition at quality film festivals do add a lot of credibility to a new filmmaker’s profile. It gives one confidence as a professional to people. Recognition at a major festival immediately bring you into the spotlight, especially in a market where filmmaking is still in a nascent stage and the people in the industry all know each other. It helps bring your name into notice amongst all in the film making circle. Never make your film with the intention of getting into any particular festival. That is not the way I would do it. Be selective about the festivals you apply to once your film is complete. I believe that whatever comes naturally from your heart will represent you and what you are most passionate about. It will turn out to be your best work. It is also very important to present their films professionally. Films submitted should be properly branded. DVDs must be labelled, craft themed posters meticulously, and make sure to select originally composed or royalty-free music. This improves the chances of selection too. Every small detail helps.

    What kind of advice would you give to the aspiring filmmaker and NYFA student dreaming to succeed?

    Be yourself. Let your work be original. Let it be your best creative effort on a subject you are passionate about. It will naturally bring out the best in you. Believe in your work but never shy away from feedback and criticism from a trusted source. The audience is your consumer, and you must communicate a certain point of view. Being too abstract for the sake of being artistic may cause the message of your film to be lost. Be intelligent. Do not focus on controversial topics for the sake of controversy. Base your film on a controversial topic if you truly believe in it. Your script is everything. Make sure it’s perfect. Make sure it’s engaging and interesting.

    Actors matter the most. Their performance can make or break your film. Select them wisely, prepare them well and value their time and effort. You cannot make a film alone. It’s a team effort. Your crew is contributing in a major way to give shape to your vision. Value them and treat them with respect. Build your team with the next project in mind. Don’t use and discard others. Selfishness and a bad attitude will take you nowhere in a very team-dependent industry.

    To learn more about NYFA in Abu Dhabi please click here.

    9:11AM

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    April 3, 2012 • Acting • Views: 4410