Born in Sidon, Lebanon, and raised in Michigan, Rola Nashef is a writer, director, producer and multi-media artist who draws upon her extensive experience in the arts and involvement in Detroit’s diverse communities as a catalyst for creative expression and social movement.
Named Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Cinema" (2011), Nashef has received the prestigious Kresge Arts in Detroit Award (2014) for her long-standing work, and has been awarded the Adrienne Shelley Director’s Award (2014) for her second feature film, Nadia’s House, currently in development. Nashef is a recipient of the Detroit Knight Arts Challenge (2014) for her work with Detroit Film Labs, a project that fosters dynamic storytelling in Detroit by offering a series of workshops to first-time filmmakers.
Nashef’s debut, award-winning feature, Detroit Unleaded, holds its place in American cinema history as the very first Arab-American romantic comedy portraying second generation Arab characters specific to Detroit & Dearborn. A slice-of-life dramedy that centers around an Arab-owned 24-hour gas station in Detroit, the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (2012) where Nashef won the inaugural Grolsch Film Works Discovery Award. Prior to it’s release, Detroit Unleaded was supported by the Sundance Institute Screenwriter’s Lab, IFP New York, Emerging Visions, Lincoln Center and the A2E Distribution Lab, SFFS.
"Growing up, I never saw people like me and my own experience in the movies...our experience as Arab Americans makes for great storytelling."
Rola Nashef, Filmmaker Magazine
In 2007, prior to her debut feature, Nashef released Detroit Unleaded, the 20-minute short film version which garnered international recognition through its official screenings at 26 film festivals, including Seattle True Independent Film Festival, East Lansing Film Festival, and the Bronx Film Festival. The film's awards include “Best Short Film” at the Trinity Film Festival, and “Best Performance” at the New Haven Underground Film Festival.
Nashef began her filmmaking career with 8:30, (15min Short, 16mm, 2001) a romantic comedy that was presented at the Arab Screen Independent Film Festival in Doha, Qatar 2001. She then expanded her work and served as a multimedia artist on Facing Identity, a permanent installation in the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI, Exquisite Crisis and Encounters, a multidisciplinary exhibition at NYU and more recently, The WOMEN Show in Detroit, MI and the Los Angeles Islam Arts Initiative show in 2014.
In addition to her work as an artist, Nashef lectures extensively on a wide-array of topics, from the practical elements of screenwriting, producing and directing, to the portrayal of Arabs and Arab Americans in the media and in popular culture. Drawing upon her 16 years experience and in-depth knowledge of independent filmmaking, Nashef leads workshops that guide students and practitioners alike in developing sound media and art-based projects. She appears as a guest speaker on radio and television shows including NPR’S Michelle Martin, The Story with Dick Gregory and WBAI’s Prairie Miller Show.