Egyptian cinematographer Haya Khairat will receive the prestigious Special Encouragement at the Pierre Angénieux Tribute at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. This year’s tribute ceremony will mark the tenth edition of the celebration and honour world-renowned DP Barry Ackroyd BSC. This article aims to give insight into the life story (so far) of this talented, multifaceted, and pioneering young woman.
What happens if your father gives you a Polaroid camera for your 8th birthday? If you were to ask Haya Khairat, this simple act ignited her passion and life-long pursuit of artistic expression through the lens.
From that moment onward, she spent every Sunday of her childhood taking pictures with her father around different areas of Cairo. She admits that this is all she ever looked forward to; nothing else was as important to her. Both seemed to instinctively know this was more than a hobby, and all gifts turned photography-related in order to support her craft. In time, her skills grew through consistent practice and her father’s unwavering belief in her talent. By age 16, she had begun working as a professional portrait photographer.
Naturally progressing, her interest extended from still photography to the moving image. Bravely trailblazing as a woman in a gendered profession, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in cinematography from The High Cinema Institute Of Cairo, the first and oldest film school in the Middle East and Africa. Khairat states:
“It is challenging being a woman in the filmmaker’s world in Egypt, especially at the beginning of my career. That was one of the main motivations behind wanting to thrive and reach my dreams. The fact that we have it tough here for women makes me want to push further and further so I can also pave the way for other women coming after me.”
And she hasn’t stopped pushing since. As a novice cinematographer, she trained for TV, commercials, and music videos. By 2015 Khairat was already working as a lighting script and 1st AC in multiple projects like the top-rated Egyptian series Afrah El Qobba, La Totfe’ Al Shams, and El Rehla.
Soon, the much-deserved accolades began rolling in. In 2019, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture honoured her for her achievements for the future of women in Egypt in the filmmaking industry. That year she also started working on her first short film as a director of photography, Dark Chocolate. Directed by Amr Mossa, it was awarded “Best Short Film of the Year” by the audience at the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF). In 2020, Khairat was awarded a Silver Lynx at 2020’s Dubai Lynx Awards for her work as a director and DP for Zero Tolerance Ribbon, a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) campaign.
International brands such as Vodafone, Kiri, and Emaar have also recognized her amazing talent and hired her to film and direct their commercials. In parallel, she has continued to pave her way in professional photography, working on campaigns with Pepsi, Uber, and Okhtein.
When it comes to the inspiration behind her distinct visual style, and her ability to capture stories on screen that reflect the beauty and complexity of life, she cites the work of her fellow citizens Abdelsalam Moussa, Ahmed El Morsy, and Nancy Abdelfattah, one of the few female cinematographers in Egypt. Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki also influences her work behind the lens.
At this year’s Pierre Angénieux Tribute ceremony, she will be honored with the Special Encouragement – a testament to her talent, perseverance, and promising contributions to filmmaking. She will be awarded a special endowment that will allow her to utilise the best of Angénieux technology to create the images of her next project. Commenting on the news, Khairat posted on her Instagram:
“Daddy, I’m going to Cannes! Grateful, happy and humbled beyond words to be selected for an @angenieuxlenses encouragement award this year alongside the great DP Barry Ackroyd taking place at the @festivaldecannes. A dream coming true to be there as a filmmaker. This is only the start, won’t stop till my film gets screened there one day.”
We also look forward to her bright future in film and will no doubt witness her screening at the most prestigious festivals around the world. Meanwhile, we can’t wait to celebrate her on Friday, May 26, at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes!
Haya Khairat succeeds the previously honoured young cinematographers Evelin van Rei (Netherlands), Pamela Albarrán (France/Mexico), Modhura Palit (India), and Cécile Zhang (China).