A still from the 'The Tainted Veil'. Image Credit: Anasy Media

A documentary film co-directed by an Emirati could potentially make history when the short list for the Oscar awards are announced in December. The Tainted Veil, a film about how people around the world view the hijab, has made it to the longlist of 124 feature films to be considered in the Documentary Feature category for the 88th Academy Awards to be held next year. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences announced the list on Friday.

The film, directed by Nahla Al Fahad, Mazen Al Khayrat and Ovidio Salazar, recently had a theatrical run in Los Angeles, thereby qualifying for the voting process. A shortlist of 15 films for the Oscars will be announced in December followed by the main award nominations on January 14.

“I’m so proud that we have gotten this far. It’s hard to describe the feeling because it has been such a long road,” says Al Fahad, who, along with her co-directors began working on the film in 2008.

Shot across nine countries, from France to Turkey to Egypt and the UAE, the 78-minute film looks at the hijab’s place in today’s world, how it’s being perceived and why people choose to wear or not wear it.

The scope of the film and the fluid political scenario in the Arab world led to the delay of the film’s release, says Al Khayrat, also a director.

One of the film’s subjects, the renowned Muslim scholar Dr Mohammad Said Al Bouti, was tragically killed in bombing in March 2013 during the Syrian civil war.

“After we started filming, the political situations kept changing, so it took time. Also, we wanted to cover as many diverse perspectives as possible spanning many countries. We wanted to do it properly,” he says.

Having three directors helped because it was shot across so many countries, adds Al Khayrat, a Syrian director and producer with the Abu Dhabi-based Anasy Media, which produced the documentary film. Salazar, an American, is based in the UK while Al Fahad lives in Dubai.

It was Emirati artist, Shaikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al Nahyan, the executive producer of the film, who came up with the idea for the film, says Al Fahad.

“We didn’t want this to be a religious debate. We just wanted to look at this piece of cloth, its history, and showcase where it stands from different perspectives and cover all aspects. We wanted it to be educational and start a debate.” The film was first screened in London this June.

“The feedback was really positive, with a lot of people coming to tell us they learnt so much about the hijab, which is exactly what we wanted to achieve,” says Al Fahad, whose past work includes directing a number of pop music videos and commercials. She is now working on her next documentary film, based on the lives of UAE soldiers, and first feature film.

If the film makes it to the shortlist, it will be the first time an Emirati director has achieved the distinction.

The Tainted Veil will next be screened in New York and there are plans to bring it to the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) in December. The Oscar awards will be held on February 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and will be televised live worldwide.

Al Khayrat says the film is a message of peace, and nothing else.

“As one of the subjects, Sarah Joseph, the editor of British Muslim lifestyle magazine says, ‘At the end of the day, it’s a piece of cloth. Let’s not overblow it.’”