NORA NABILA AHMAD SABRI, 28, Documentary Filmmaker
Dress, shawl, and shoes, Nora’s own.
The reason Nora Nabila continues to create documentaries is to make sure they lead on to important discussions within communities in our society. From taboos to bringing forward the struggles faced by monorities, each story matters. Being the voice to the people who are often left unheard, Nora continues to break barriers between people with her love of filmmaking.
Tell us a little bit about what you do.
I joined the industry professionally in 2013 when I was selected as one of the directors for a storytelling movement called ‘Ikal Mayang’, a WOMEN:girls core project at the time. The film was banned from public screening by the Malaysia Censorship Board due to the “explicit content” that was discussed in the film based on the struggle we face as women in Asian society. Regardless, the film was screened in elsewhere in 5 different countries and it’s still being discussed until now.
When WOMEN:girls invited me to join them as a production coordinator and in-house director/editor back in 2015, I was given another chance to use my expertise as a visual storyteller to tell more than just stories. I was given an opportunity to make a change. To share with people people the issues that are left untold and be the voice for the unheard. To date, I’ve made more than 20 documentaries revolving around various communities.
What kinds of stories do you wish to tell?
I want my documentaries to be points of discussion. This includes taboos in our society, struggles faced by minorities and stories that inspire people to stand up and take action.
How does being a Malay-Muslim woman influence your storytelling?
When I did ‘Haus’ in 2013, people were shocked when they saw an innocent-looking-girl-next-door type of woman when I walked into the room. Being raised as a Malay-Muslim, I grew up seeing a lot of things. I was raised to voice out my opinion, to understand the difference between every living human, to respect every idea. On that basis, I became someone’s not easily silenced and I will use the strongest medium to be among the loudest voices. That’s why I chose to do what I’m doing now. To make sure everyone knows that they deserve to be heard.
Of course, being a woman in the big boys club is not easy. I’m not a technical person, that is for sure but I am able to guide this technical experts to use their skills in telling better stories because regardless of how many production houses you’ve been with, every director is different. It’s very important for a director to know what they want.
Where do you get your inspiration from and what fuels you the most?
I get my inspiration from the people I meet every day. The stories they share with me, and sometimes even fortunate and unfortunate situations that I’m involved with.
The profiles that I have interviewed have made even the strongest person in the room cry, and mobilised activists and others to make a change. – Nora on the most empowering thing in her industry.
What’s one flaw of yours that you’ve embraced and turned into strength?
As I said, I’m not an expert when it comes to the technical side of production. I figured that the best way to deliver your story is by taking advantage of the gadgets we use with maximum creativity. For example, in one of the classes that I joined with Mustapha Davis, he wanted us to tell a story within 2 minutes without any editing. What we shot is what the story is going to be. So we have few guys who have all the fancy technical gadgets where they played around with different angles and camera movements. Whereas my team only had a DSLR camera on hand. So we did one full shot of a girl talking in a disturbing way in black and white and we won the best video! That’s when I really understood that fancy gadgets will only fulfill your vision, but how you work an idea is more impactful.
What are you looking forward to in the future?
Collaboration on the international level and more representation of women, especially those in hijabs, as directors and cinematographers. In my experience, based on various reasons and assumptions, people don’t have stronger faith in women especially hijabi who seems delicate and soft.
How can a person in your position, press for progress in an industry like yours?
Complain as much as you want, scream as loud as you can but when you’re done, FIGHT. Fight for what is right, bring your community forward, let them be heard and give everyone the same kind of opportunities. Gender is not a barrier, age is just a number andexperience is something that can be gained through time.