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  • Writer's pictureMajid Alhusseini

Lina Malaika- An Unstoppable Force In Saudi Arabia's Creative Industry

Lina Malaika, a trailblazer in the Saudi creative scene, has seamlessly blended over ten years of expertise in film, fashion, and design. Armed with degrees in Graphic Design, Fashion/Photography from Central Saint Martins, and Filmmaking from the New York Film Academy, she stands out as a visionary artist and filmmaker. Passionate about capturing authentic perspectives, Lina infuses her work with the richness of her cultural heritage. Additionally, she carries forward her grandfather's cinematic legacy by reviving Al-Nisr Al-Arabi Films, founded in the early '60s. Lina talks about her beginnings, being a Saudi filmmaker in the US, her new startup, and much more.

What was your first job?

I started my first business when I was 16, way before the social media era. Back in the early 2000’s, fashionable traditional clothing (Abayas & Theyabs) wasn’t very popular in Saudi, so I started designing colored Abayas, and also invented the مشلح abaya. It was a very successful business that I ran for 10 years. In parallel I worked at a local magazine as a photographer; researcher and graphic designer. Learned so much from that job!

-What was your first interaction with films and design?

Creativity has been my way of expressing myself from a really young age. I started to oil paint from the age of 7 for years to follow, I had my first art exhibition at 9 years old. As for the film, looking back, it reminds me of family time mainly. My father was really hard working and always traveled while growing up, watching movies was one of the main entertainment sources for family bonding time. And my love for cinema only grew from there, I remember watching The Sound of Music at least 100 times on VHS, that was one of my main inspirations.

-How was it, growing up as a creative in Saudi? Was the environment supportive? 

It was relatively. We were in a different era, I guess people didn’t appreciate arts at the time. Art was a niche interest, but my family was extremely supportive, and I still pursued it regardless of any setbacks.

How was your experience in the Saudi film/creative scene and how has it changed for you in the past years?

So far it’s been amazing! It is growing by the day and as we speak, going at full speed! So many initiatives and support from Saudi, it’s overwhelming in the best of ways!

-Being that you’ve worked in the film industry in the US and played a part in the production of movies such as “A Family Man” and “Escondete,” what was your experience like in the US and how did people react to you being a Saudi movie writer/director?

Back in 2013 NYFA, I believed I was the only Saudi on campus. But it was a very multinational school, people were always fascinated by my background, and the works that I produced always had elements of home. I love to create thought-provoking ideas, I always had a long Q & A session after my screenings. 

Also, those two films mentioned were my very first experiences in film back when I was at New York Film Academy. Both projects were my colleague's projects in which each student had to take a different role each time in order to learn the dynamics and functionality of each title. 

-What is your favorite film of yours that you’ve worked on so far and why?

My favorite film to date is an unreleased documentary. We are still in post-production, and hoping to have it released soon so I can talk about it openly.

-Along with your partner Farah Hammad, you’ve founded Clay, a modeling agency startup based in Saudi Arabia. What made you want to establish Clay, and what your vision is for the new company?

The idea came organically during COVID-19, I’ve had the idea for years, but I work best with collaborations by nature. I told Farah about the idea and she was on board the next day, if it wasn’t for her effort, Clay would have never come to life. I’m glad we’re able to fill in a market gap and help bridge between talent and local/ international brands! It's time for Saudi models to be showcased on the global map! 

-You’ve been able to use your creative prowess and turn into successful careers in film, design, and entrepreneurship. What advice do you have for up-and-coming creatives who are looking to find their creative outlet and make a career out of it?

The first step is always the hardest, but just take that first step, regardless of the fears and hesitations, everything will flow after!

Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?

I can’t, and I’ve never been able to answer this question. But I do have endless intangible creative ideas that I hope to bring to this tangible world by then! I want to help make Saudi female creatives rise to the top of the world

-From the beginning of your journey until now, what are the 3 most important things you’ve learned?

To always remain true to myself, and to never stop evolving to reach the best version of myself on a personal level, because that will ultimately reflect in who I am and my work.

Also, gratitude is my core value in life, I believe that by appreciating every small detail about you and around you, that by default will elevate the energy of everything that you are that you do.

Lastly, balance is the key to life, it’s a constant conscious effort. 

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