Emirati director Ali Mustafa. Image Credit: Image Nation

Emirati film director Ali Mustafa will be the first to admit it: His latest project, a futuristic action/thriller, is way out of his comfort zone.

“But it doesn’t scare me,” he quickly asserts himself. “It’s different and therefore more exciting. I feel the need to do these things because it shows that you can be versatile.”

Less than a year after his second feature, the critically-praised From A to B, opened the Abu Dhabi Film Festival last year, Mustafa announced The Worthy at Cannes last week.

Set in a future plunged into chaos due to chronic water shortage, the story follows a group of survivors who seek refuge in the only remaining water source in the area. Two people who infiltrate their refuge become pawns in a test for survival, where only one of them will be chosen worthy.

To be financed by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, which also funded From A to B, the film will have two Hollywood veterans: Peter Safran (The Conjuring, Annabelle) and Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity, Insidious) as producers, along with Rami Yasin, who also produced From A to B. And, for the first time, Mustafa will direct a film he’s not written.

“The story was written not set anywhere in particular. So we took it and started Arab-ising it,” says Mustafa, who began location scouting around the UAE about a month ago. “We’ve changed the characters, their story arcs and the location.

“It’s a really interesting look at what would have happened had something gone drastically wrong in Arabia in the future. We tried to imagine [it] bearing in mind what’s going on currently and the history of the region. Would it go a certain way if so and so happens? 10 years from now how would what’s happening now shape the region?”

Mustafa’s debut 2009 film, City of Life, is considered a pathbreaker of sorts, and often referenced as a leading light in UAE filmmaking. It revolved around three main characters whose very different lives come crashing into each other in the city of Dubai. From A to B, released in January, was a coming-of-age story, told through three friends who set out on a journey from Abu Dhabi to Beirut in memory of a dead friend.

With The Worthy, Mustafa wants to tap into a whole new set of audience.

“This genre has a really strong niche, even here in the region. My goal is to target people who are interested in this kind of films. There are people who only watch fantasy fiction films. And cosplay is big here. So that’s the kind of people I’m looking at. Because if they like it, that means I’ve done a good job,” he explains.

“But as a filmmaker, you want to cater to as many people as possible.”

With production set to begin later this year, Mustafa hopes to release The Worthy by next year.

After the praise he’s received for his last two films, he’s not worried about the pressure to deliver, he says.

“I think what’s most important is you make an honest film. People appreciate that.”