Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hijabi Filmmaker: Lena Khan

We love it when we see hijabi's with really cool and interesting jobs.  We recently had the opportunity to interview hijabi filmmaker, Lena Khan.  You may have already seen her work, as she is responsible for several music videos for artists including Maher Zain and Kareem Salama.
First, tell me a little about yourself personally, your upbringing, a little about your family and where you're from?
 I was born in Canada but grew up in California for just about my whole life. I have two older brothers, making me the youngest.

What's your hijab story?  When did you decide to wear it and what inspired you?

 I started wearing it early in college. For me, it was a bit because I just wanted to be on the safe side, and also because I felt I was doing so many things because of my faith in terms of social activism, that I thought it would be nice if people could see what was inspiring that work. 

 Filmmaking is such an interesting field of work where we don't see many muslim women.  What first got you interested in film?

 I'd always been interested in the arts as a hobby and interest, but in college I decided to pursue it as a career. I think mostly, I was able to see how so much of culture is shaped and influenced by media and entertainment. While I had done my undergraduate degrees in political science and history, thinking I might go into academia and teach at a university, I realized so much more of America's education came from movies and TV.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

 I've never seen a film quite as perfect as The Shawshank Redemption. Other than that, some of my top films are Forrest Gump, Rushmore, Requiem for a Dream, The Usual Suspects, 500 Days of Summer...I could go on and on. For foreign films, I've rarely seen a story told better than Children of Heaven, and also like films like Amores Perros and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. For TV, I'm waiting to be able to have time to watch Breaking Bad which I'm certain I'll love, otherwise I like shows like Modern Family too. And old episodes of Frasier I still think are impeccably written.

How would you describe your film education?

My film education is still going, and when you are a filmmaker it is always continuing. I started dabbling in making films in high school and did it a bit more in college. After, I went to UCLA Film School to have a more formal education, and then started making my own commercials, short films and music videos--learning from each and every one.

Was there anyone that tried to talk you out of pursuing your dream of filmmaking?
I get aunties or uncles or emails here and there advising me not to go into it, but for the most part people have been quite supportive.
What are some of the challenges you face as a muslim woman filmmaker, and how do you deal with them?
The challenges are there, and sometimes I see them or don't. It's a male dominated industry and I'm sure when people see me at first they think I'm foreign or have less skills. But I just don't think about it, and concentrate on my work. That's usually what wins out.
What advice would you give an aspiring muslimah who wishes to pursue a career in this field?
I would say to prepare for a lot of struggle, a lot of personal sacrifice, and a career that is extremely demanding. On top of that, be good at what you do and always try to become better. It's an extremely competitive career, and if you aren't willing to put in 500%, be willing to look past initial failures, and have a certain amount of's hard to survive. But if you have all that - by all means go ahead and the sky's the limit. 
What are some of the projects you have done in the past? Can you share any of them, or parts of them with us? 
In terms of my own work, I'd done a lot of short films. A few comedies, or dramas. In college I'd done a short film about a veteran who came back from the war, only to have developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that rendered him homeless and unable to reconnect with his family. In recent years I've done a lot of music videos for artists such as Maher Zain. You can see them on my website at : 
Tell us about some of your current projects that you're working on? 
Currently, I'm working on a feature film, a full-length dramatic comedy called The Tiger Hunter. Mostly, it's about a young South Asian man and his quest for success when he comes to 1970s America and gets roped into the escapades of a group of misfits and roommates. A lot of people in the Muslim community have heard about it because it happens to have a Muslim character (it's subtle), but I think it's a story people will love, and one that hopefully also helps a small bit in introducing our community to the big screen in a positive way.
How can our readers support you? 
Mostly, we really need support for the online fundraising campaign we are running for the film. We only have until the end of the week to reach our goal, otherwise we don't get any of the contributions (and over 600 people have pledged so far). The best way a reader can support? By visiting our website here and pledging whatever they can, even if it is only $5, $25, $100 or whatever they can do.
Here is one of our favorite videos that Lena made:

Thank you Lena, for your time and for sharing your story with our readers.   I'm sure you will be a role model to many of them. We wish you the best in the future, and pray that Allah(swt) give you the best in both worlds.

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