Niya Abdoullahi learned how to make documentaries by picking up a camera, trying things out, and watching a whole lot of ‘how-to’ videos, or as she says, “YouTube was my best friend to help me learn about everything.”
With no formal training, Niya wasn’t confident that she’d be accepted into the Doc Accelerator Emerging Filmmaker Program, supported by Netflix through the Hot Docs Canadian Storytellers Project, but decided to go for it. “I just told them the truth….that I just want to learn more about documentary.” Her hunger, honesty and obvious talents were noticed, and Niya was selected as one of the 11 participants in the 2021 programme.
In April, participants were able to attend as many films and talks as possible at the annual Hot Docs Festival. Since then, they’ve been learning everything from how to best pitch your doc to securing funding and distribution. For Niya, the Doc Accelerator Programme has already been both game-changing and enriching, and the official mentorship lies ahead. “This experience has opened my eyes,” she says, encouraging all who are curious to consider applying. “The greatest value in this experience is that it eliminates barriers.”
Currently, Niya is working on two documentary projects. Her docu-series Muslim Love is set to launch in Spring 2022. “I wanted to share the richness of the Muslim experience, show diverse Muslim narratives, and allow people to talk about certain things that I feel should be discussed. I’m Ethiopian, and even within the Black Muslim experience there’s so much diversity!” The series is an extension to the anti-racism and anti-Islamophobia work that Niya has been facilitating around the GTA for years.
“There are so many people who aren’t Muslim sharing Muslim stories and doing a terrible job at it. A lot of times there’s a white gaze over it. Unfortunately what we have right now is a lot of stereotypes, a lot of harmful stereotypes that have negative connotations,” says Niya, listing off examples of writing and casting choices that directly lead to racism. “A lot of Muslims are seen as terrorist types, and a lot of Muslim women are shown as oppressed, like girl characters that are just created to rebel against their parents, and her dad forces her to wear hijab’ and that’s not true, that’s not true for everybody. That’s not my truth.”
Beyond the workshops she leads, Niya also created @Habasooda, an Instagram account and digital platform dedicated to sharing the richness of the Muslim experience. But for Niya, documentary film is where she sees the greatest potential for impact, “It’s such a powerful way of storytelling. Everyone has a story, everyone has a truth.”
We’re excited to see what lies ahead for Niya and look forward to the release of Muslim Love, certainly a series that Canada needs to watch, now more than ever. For more information on the Hot Docs Emerging Filmmaker Doc Accelerator program go here.