Ali F. Mostafa Image Credit: Megan Hirons Mahon/Gulf News

At one point during my interview with Emirati filmmaker Ali F. Mostafa on Monday, he excuses himself to answer his phone that wouldn't stop buzzing.

"I'm in the middle of an interview, is it important?" he asks the caller.

Long pause.

"Who said this to you?" he asks again, sounding a bit surprised.

Another pause.

"Wow, that's amazing," adds Mostafa.

A few metres away, it turns out, at the nearby First Group Theatre, English actor Colin Firth was in the hot seat at the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) segment "In conversation with..." and someone asked him if he was familiar with cinema in the Arab world.

"I don't really know enough about it to comment," The King's Speech star had said. "Except for City of Life, of course."

The 400-plus crowd was on their feet, applauding.

"It's a great example of young filmmaking. It's a great example of multicultural filmmaking," added the star.

Back at the terrace of the Al Qasr hotel where we were seated, the young director was all smiles. "That feels good," he says. "That's quite nice."

Last year, Mostafa's breakthrough film was the highlight of the festival. Set in Dubai, the film, which had a record run at the UAE box office, was praised for its international appeal. Critics also said it more than proved the Emirates had the talent to produce world-class cinema.

This year though, Mostafa, who also directed the official Diff promotions, is attending the festival to network, "hopefully see some films" and promote the recently released DVD of City of Life.

"I wanted it to be a double-disc edition, with one disc purely focusing on the making of City of Life. So there was a lot of editing to be done."

To promote the DVD, Mostafa, along with stars from his hit film, will be at a signing event hosted by retailer Virgin Megastore later on Wednesday.

New film

That's not the only thing keeping him busy though. He is already putting the finishing touches to the script of his next feature film, to be produced by Abu Dhabi-based twofour54 and with production scheduled to begin in the middle of next year.

"It's going to be a genre that I find very difficult: Comedy," he reveals exclusively to tabloid!

"It's something I want to challenge myself with as a filmmaker. It will be a road movie, based between Abu Dhabi and Beirut... kind of like an Arab version of a cross between Little Miss Sunshine and The Hangover."

I ask him if there was a reason behind the Abu Dhabi setting, since City of Life was his ode to Dubai.

"I want to show we are one nation. It doesn't matter if I go to Sharjah, Fujairah or Ras Al Khaimah. I am an Emirati first and I will make a film as an Emirati," he says. "Plus, they have all these initiatives that a filmmaker can't refuse."

He also wants to cast Canadian-Iraqi rapper The Narcycyst, one of the leads in City of Life, again.

"I am going to get four international Arab rappers from around the world and put them in one car. And they are all people, besides The Narcycyst, who have never acted before but have a following as musicians in their own right.

"They have charisma. A good filmmaker can make anyone who has charisma an actor. I am also looking at cameos by a number of major stars from the Arab world."

Other scripts that will come later include a film based between Iraq and London and something he calls a "patriotic film", which is going to be an autobiographical epic, he adds.

Mostafa has spent the best part of the year writing scripts, travelling and making commercials. His Diff appearances, he says, are also a chance for him to promote British luxury brand dunhill, of which he is the brand ambassador.

Earlier this year, the Richemont-owned brand announced it had chosen Mostafa to be its "face" in the region. With that, the director became one of the first Emirati personalities to be chosen to officially represent a major global brand.

‘Quite crazy'

"It's one of the most exciting things that have happened to me," he says of the union. "I grew up loving and using a lot their accessories, so I agreed immediately.

"Also, maybe because I am half-British, it just seems like a natural fit."

I ask him if he has always been into fashion.

"I've always been quite crazy from a young age. From dyeing my hair blonde to doing all sorts of crazy stuff that was not really normal, I've always been into trends and am quite aware of how I represent myself. So working with dunhill has been a great opportunity."

At this year's Diff, Mostafa says he is most looking forward to watching films by his compatriots. Responding to record number of entries, organisers have set up a separate category for Emirati filmmakers.

"I am most looking forward to Nayla Al Khaja's film Malal and Abdullah Al Kaabi's The Philosopher. And of course the closing gala, Tron: Legacy."

He might not be showcasing a film but this year, it seems, is turning out to be as exciting as last year.

"I was walking the red carpet the other night and they were announcing the names of people on the red carpet. When my name was called out, I heard a lot of cheers and it felt really good," he says, thoughtfully.

"It feels great to know people respect and appreciate your work. Last year, City of Life was in the spotlight. But to still get that kind of reception this year is amazing."