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Breaking Barriers and Making Movies Part II: Female Film makers on Alchemiya

 Female Film makers on Alchemiya

In Part I of Breaking Barriers and Making Movies, we interviewed Lena Khan and showed how she shattered the idea that the film industry is no place for a Muslim woman. In Part II, we showcase a few other fabulous, female Muslim filmmakers whose work we are lucky enough to have on Alchemiya.

by Sarah Khurshid

In Part I of this special feature we interviewed Lena Khan about her career, and being a Muslim woman in the film industry. Today we look at some of the Muslim female filmmakers whose work we are proud to have on Alchemiya.

Their work shows how TV and film offer marginalised groups the ability to explore identity, societal constructs or expectations, and to challenge dominant social ideologies. Moreover, film and TV allows Muslim creators to make movies about their own lived realities as well as allowing their imaginations to create better worlds for us all. Their work is diverse and includes beautiful and educational animations, gritty and hard hitting documentaries, sublimely poetic films and challenging comedy. All are compelling reasons to get more Muslim women behind the camera.

Muslim women are human with interests, passions and goals that align with our faith. Faith is not a barrier to creativity and Muslim female filmmakers are a collective powerhouse who can shift the narrative of Muslims on screen.

Mahnaz Afzali

Mahnaz Afzali is a successful Iranian actress who followed her interest in filmmaking and directed her first documentary, No Witness in 2000. Afzali uses film to explore and raise awareness in, and about, Iranian society. Her feel-good, and honest, filmmaking style highlights contemporary issues that affect individuals globally.

Mother of the Earth is a commanding film about Dr Hayedeh Shirzadi and her husband, a couple deeply concerned about the environment in the city of Kermanshah. As a result, the couple work to end waste-dumping and burial of urban garbage in their home city. Mother of the Earth celebrates the success of the Shirzadi’s efforts to advocate for protecting the environment, especially now that Kermanshah’s garbage is 100% recycled and bio waste is organic fertiliser!

Nora Alsharif

Nora Alsharif is a skilful and thought-provoking director. She has directed several short films, including the traumatic and brilliant Ismail, based on the true story of Palestinian artist Ismail Shammout.  In this film Alsharif highlights his personal experience of expulsion in the 1948 Nakba, and the realities he faced. Ismail presents Alsharif’s strengths as a filmmaker: taking an emotionally-charged subject and choosing to humanise rather than politicise this cinematically under-represented Palestinian experience.

Ismail is an Alchemiya must-watch. We had the pleasure of reviewing the film a while back and interviewing Nora Alsharif too. You can read the interview here

Rakhshan Banietemad

Hailed as the First Lady of Iranian Cinema, Rakhshan Banietemad began her explosive and extensive career in filmmaking in the 1970s. Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Banietemad produced the documentary Culture of Consumption, which won her national and international recognition. She has produced 12 feature films and 20 documentaries and is motivated to analyse social issues in Iran, such as poverty, child welfare and the environment? Several of her films are intimate portraits of individuals who have been instrumental in tackling some of the problems in these areas.

There are several of Banietemad’s often hard hitting documentaries to watch on Alchemiya including Touran Khanom, See You Tomorrow Elina, All My Trees, Hey Humans and A Life Time in an Hour. 

Tanzila Khan

Disability rights activist, social entrepreneur, writer and producer, Tanzila Khan is a mover and shaker in the Pakistani media industry.  She has made a tremendous effort to break taboos and educate Pakistanis on menstruation, female hygiene and on rights for individuals with disabilities. 

Khan’s interest in filmmaking began when she spent her youth involved in theatre and she directed a production of The Addams Family. Khan has utilised theatre and film to demystify societal constructs of women as well as increase visibility for individuals with disabilities on screen.

Khan produced and wrote the 2020 film Fruit Chaat, an adorable, comedic short that we had the pleasure of both reviewing, and talking to Tanzila about earlier this year.

Umm Zakiyyah

The wordsmith extraordinaire, Umm Zakiyyah, has won international acclaim for her novels that explore the interfaith struggles of Muslims and Christians and the friction between western and Islamic culture.

Zakiyyah writes novels, self-help books and short stories and her scandalous novel His Other Wife, was adapted into a 24-minute film. A creative and empathetic writer, Zakiyyah’s talent at communicating mesmerises, counsels and informs.  

Sofia El-Khyari

We have several women making huge strides in animation on Alchemiya. Moroccan-born Sofia El-Khyari’s short animated films include the internationally celebrated, Ayam. Set among three generations of women as they prepare for Eid al-Adha celebrations, this wonderful animation is a warm and heartfelt story that celebrates the societal role of Muslim women. A short and sweet delight, Ayam has terrific animation and we are proud to have this mini-masterpiece of story-telling on our platform.

Robyn Abdusamad

North Carolina-born writer, Robyn Abdusamad noticed that poor and inaccurate representations of African-Americans and Muslims in film and books were having a negative effect on children. So she began to turn that tide by portraying the vibrant history of African-American-Muslims in the children’s books that she authored. She then decided to turn them into films with the result that Zaynab’s Enchanted Scarf and Zakiyyah’s Talking Flower Garden became fabulous animated series. With these colourful and educational stories, the multi-talented Abdusamad single-handedly boosted media representation of African-American-Muslim children and brought a whole different narrative of history to life.


We could continue… Mariam Dwedar, Hana Kazim, MforMoon, , Sara Sawaf and many others. Alchemiya wants to celebrate and promote the talent of such trailblazers and we hope to see many more Muslim women producing the films of the future.

Short film, Nobody’s Metaphor follows four teenage Muslim girls as they learn to fence and express themselves, challenging discrimination in the process. It is a powerful documentary with much contemporary relevance, especially for our young women.
Nooreh is an award-winning film set in a village on the India-Pakistan border. Told from the perspective of an eight-year-old Muslim girl, it is a subtle and powerful story about the effects of conflict on children.
On A Wing and A Prayer is a heart-warming documentary that follows Monem Salam's attempts to get a US pilot's license. A film about a resilient family as American and suburban as The Simpsons, but Muslim!
Short film, Nobody’s Metaphor follows four teenage Muslim girls as they learn to fence and express themselves, challenging discrimination in the process. It is a powerful documentary with much contemporary relevance, especially for our young women.
Nooreh is an award-winning film set in a village on the India-Pakistan border. Told from the perspective of an eight-year-old Muslim girl, it is a subtle and powerful story about the effects of conflict on children.
On A Wing and A Prayer is a heart-warming documentary that follows Monem Salam's attempts to get a US pilot's license. A film about a resilient family as American and suburban as The Simpsons, but Muslim!
A small community of Muslim Tzotzils, an ethnic group descended from the Maya, live in the mountains of San Cristobal in Chiapas State, Mexico. New documentary Somos Musulmanes, tells their story and explores a fundamental period in late 20th century Mexican history.

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