CANNES - A group of pioneering Arab filmmakers have come together to shoot a road movie in the Middle East that they hope will also draw audiences and make an impact outside the region.
Emirati filmmaker Ali F. Mostafa (City of Life), Saudi film producer Mohammed Al Turki (Arbitrage, What Maisie Knew), who has also started leaving his mark in Hollywood, and others on Friday announced plans for feature film A to B, which will mark the first time that several people considered to be among the Arab movie industry’s top pioneers will collaborate on a major release.
Mostafa, who spoke about the project here on Friday, will direct the movie based on a script from up-and-coming Egyptian writer and producer Mohamed Hefzy (My Brother the Devil). The other producers are Al Turki and Lebanese producer Paul Baboudjian, whose feature Here Comes the Rain won the Black Pearl Award at the 2010 Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
The team behind the project, which will begin production in the United Arab Emirates in October, said the film will be designed to "entertain audiences in the Arab world and beyond." The news comes at a time when Middle East filmmakers are increasingly looking to also make an impact overseas.
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"I've been looking for the right follow-up project to City of Life and think A to B will appeal to audiences internationally, as well as across the Arab region," said Mostafa. He told THR that he would love to premiere the film at the Cannes film festival next year.
The team behind the film is having talks with sales agents and distributors in Cannes about deals for the film.
"For me, it is even more important for people outside my region to see it," Mostafa told THR, saying he wants to entertain, but also educate. "The region has not had a good reputation for a long time. I want to help show the international culture we have."
A to B is about three young Arab expats - from Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, respectively - who go on a road trip from Abu Dhabi to Beirut in memory of their best friend. Their plan to cover the 2,500 kilometers in three days soon faces obstacles though.
Educated in a U.S. school, "they are very westernized, well traveled Arabs," Mostafa said. "The idea is they are finding themselves as people," a storyline he said would resonate with people in other parts of the world.
The film will be shot primarily in English, but in the different locations that the protagonists visit, local characters will speak Arabic.
In the script, Mostafa said the writer used "mainly humor that can be related to across the globe," but there are also local and regional references and jokes.
The project is also supported by media hub twofour54 Abu Dhabi, which nurtures and supports the emirate's media and creative industries and is also an investor in the film. "This is the first feature film project we have come on board with," said Wayne Borg, president and chief commercial officer of twofour54. "This has been an exception to the rule. Identifying and nurturing emerging talent is our main focus." But he said the coming-together of all the regional talent for the project made this an interesting movie to help with financing. Details of the financing weren't disclosed.
The filmmakers didn't disclose their budget, but Mostafa said it is "more of an independent film with a much lower budget than my last film."
In a statement, they described the film as "a heart-wrenching, yet humorous road-movie" and said it would feature cameo appearances by as yet unidentified stars from the Arab world.
The three heroes of the film are expected to be stars from different parts of the regional entertainment sector, such as music and stand-up comedy, Mostafa said. "The characters they'll be meeting will be major stars," he added.
The movie will also feature the Range Rover Evoque as the protagonists' car since Mostafa has an existing relationship with Land Rover. The filmmaker helped launch the car in the Middle East/North Africa region. This will mark the first major product placement deal for a film from the United Arab Emirates, the production team said. Land Rover vehicles have also been featured in such films as Skyfall.
A six-week shoot is planned across the region, including the United Arab Emirates' Abu Dhabi, as well as Oman, Jordan and Lebanon.
Hefzy lauded the story as "so universal yet so Arab," while Al Turki said "A to B will have international audience appeal" and highlighted that he was "very excited" about working on the project.
"We are very excited to support Ali’s new feature film, which tells a story about friendship that will resonate with regional and international audiences," said Borg. "The caliber of people working on this film is exemplary for the region’s expanding film industry, spearheaded by Abu Dhabi. It reflects twofour54’s commitment to supporting Arab creative talent and content from this region being exported around the world."
Among the projects that have previously shot in Abu Dhabi are The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz, which spent a few days in the emirate, Bollywood production Oru Maru Bhoomi Khatha and the BBC’s Wild Arabia.
Asked about the progress of the Arab film industry, Borg said "we already have a great pool of talent" and hope that Mostafa and other pioneers will inspire young people to take up careers in film.
"We need to focus on making as many films as possible. One a year doesn't count as a film industry," Mostafa said. Asked about potential Hollywood ambitions, he said: "I'm an Emirati filmmaker who will eventually make a Hollywood film."