To assume that Emirati director Ali F Mustafa hit a few roadblocks in making his second full-length feature, From A To B, after his celebrated debut City Of Life in 2009, is an understatement. The gestation period lasted over four years.
“It’s been a frustrating gap, but we managed to get it out,” said Mustafa.
From A To B is the first Emirati film to open the 8th Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) this Thursday. The coveted berth of opening ADFF is usually occupied by star-laden Hollywood films such a Richard Gere’s Arbitrage (2012) and Jennifer Aniston’s Life Of Crime (2013).
“If anyone tells me that they want to be a filmmaker, I tell them ‘you must be mad’, because if you aren’t passionate, you can lose your sanity.” The good news is that he hasn’t lost his marbles nor has he gained the dubious distinction of being a one-film-wonder.
“I cannot be more proud. To open the film festival in my capital city for the first time in the history of ADFF is huge. It’s such an honour,” said Mustafa. From A To B is a road trip film about three Arab friends who embark on a journey from Abu Dhabi to Beirut in memory of their dead best friend.
“Road trip movies [are] a tried and tested genre around the world. But what is new to the table is that it has not been done in this part of the world, in the way we have done it. That’s a first for sure.”
The ADFF organisers couldn’t agree more. They chose From A To B for its merit rather than its home-grown qualities.
“It’s not just because a film is Emirati, and we want to support it, that we decide to put it in the opening. No. The film has artistic and technical standards, and it is a film that has mass appeal, both inside of the country and outside of the country,” said Ali Al Jabri, ADFF festival director, in a separate interview. While the date of its theatrical release hasn’t been set, the makers of From A To B are hoping to make an announcement on the opening night of ADFF.
On Thursday night, Mustafa and his film’s up-and-coming actors — Fadi Rifaai (a student at the University of Sharjah), Fahad Al Butairi (a Saudi stand-up comedian, a.k.a the Seinfeld of Saudi) and Shadi Al Fons (an Egyptian actor and writer) — are confirmed to walk the red carpet.
But wasn’t it better to include bankable Arab stars for his second full-length feature, especially since his Dubai-based expatriate drama City Of Life had amplified his clout as a director?
“We have got three leads and these are people that I specifically picked out as they are extremely talented. But you know, the people whom they meet along the way are extremely popular,” said Mustafa, rattling off names such as Egyptian actors Maha Abou Ouf, Yousra Al Lozy and Khalid Abol Naga; Palestinian actor Ali Sulaiman; and Lebanese actress Leem Lubani of Oscar-nominated Omar fame. They were all on board because they loved the idea of a pan-Arab collaboration.
“The good thing about being in this industry for many years is that you are able to connect with people and we become friends. When I told them that I have a project for them but it’s a small role, they said it was right up their alley. I told them clearly that I couldn’t afford their rates because From A To B is a low-budget film, but most of them were supportive. The idea of From A To B was refreshing to them.”
“Being a film in the Arab world, there will always be a bit of politics involved. We are never trying to take a side in this film and we are going to show the reality,” said Mustafa when asked if From A To B has political undertones.
Mustafa claims that his second feature, co-produced by Abu Dhabi-based media company twofour54 and production company Image Nation, was made on the quarter of the budget of City Of Life.
“Writing the script is hurdle for sure. But getting people to believe in you and making them put actual cash down is the most difficult part of making movies. There is no guarantee here. You can show them the best business plan in the world but there is no guarantee. It is a risky business. But if you are successful, the profits are unimaginable,” said Mustafa.
In April and May last year, Mustafa’s team began filming in Abu Dhabi and Liwa, before travelling to Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum in Jordan for the remaining scenes.
“One day, when I was with a location scouting staff in Petra, he showed me this place that he had shown Steven Spielberg for Indiana Jones in 1981. It was a source of huge excitement.” While the film will give you the illusion of traversing Saudi Arabia, Syria and beyond, most of the scenes were shot in Abu Dhabi and Jordan.
“The beauty of road trips is not just about taking you from one place to another, but taking your soul from one place to another. From A To B makes the characters realise who they are and that sometimes it’s not just about reaching the destination.”
— With inputs from Marwa Hamad, Staff Reporter.
“Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is enjoyable and has beautiful cars, beautiful girls and shows them having fun, throwing tomatoes at each other. It has colour and a vibe of a road trip. I liked it.” — Mustafa on his take on Bollywood road trip blockbuster ZNMD.