Dubai: For the Emirati filmmaker Ali F. Mustafa, life has come full circle at this year's Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF).

Two years ago he won the Best Emirati Filmmaker at the DIFF and last night he returned to the festival with the world premiere of his full-length feature film City of Life.

Billed as Dubai's first home-grown feature film helmed by an Emirati, Mustafa has tried to capture on celluloid the true spirit of Dubai with a multi-ethnic ensemble cast.

"I was tired of people comparing Dubai to a Disneyland. Most of them take one look at the glitzy buildings and assume it's an artificial place. My film has none of that. It has real people with real problems. Like any other city in the world, my film shows both the positives and the negatives," says Mustafa.

For this, the 28-year-old director herded a set of actors from across the globe. If the film marks the debut of the Emirati TV presenter Saud Al Ka'abi, British actors Jason Flemyng and Natalie Dormer lend an international flavour to the project. Mustafa has also roped in Bollwood stars Sonu Sood and Javed Jafferi.

‘Intense need'

"I had this intense need to showcase the UAE on a global level. It was almost like my duty to do it. And one of Dubai's biggest strength is its mix of people from different cultures and continents. Everybody living in the UAE will be able to identify with the film," says Mustafa. But he is quick to add that the film is not a dolled-up version of Dubai. The film was shot entirely in Dubai spanning more than 40 locations.

"With this film, I hope to change the global perception of Dubai. I know, of late there has been a tendency to bash up Dubai. I hope my film changes all that. The film shows us as a set of confident people — some good and some bad. I have shown the rich, the middle-class and the poor," says Mustafa.

British actress Natalie Dormer is quick to second his opinion. She plays Olga, a Dubai-based Russian air-hostess who dreams of settling down by marrying a cash-strapped man.

"The beauty of the film lies in its characters. Olga represents one of the many Eastern European girls who come to Dubai chasing a dream of having a better way of life," says Dormer. Best known for her work in the TV costume drama The Tudors as Anne Boleyn, Dormer also learnt to cultivate a Russian accent for her role.

‘Instantly fascinated'

"When Ali approached me for the role, I was instantly fascinated at the prospect of acting in a venture made in Dubai. But he gave me two options: he said either I could play an Eastern European expatriate or I could play a Brit. But I chose the more challenging bit. Olga took me out of my comfort zone. It was an incredible experience to shoot the film in a place I have never been," says Dormer. The project was also a first for Emirati TV presenter Saoud Al Ka'abi.

"I play a rich Emirati boy. Like many locals, he too has no definite goals or dreams. He lives for his friends and is busy having fun. But towards the end, it shows him returning to his roots. The movie has a good message behind it," says Ka'abi.

No negativity involved 

Director Ali F Mustafa on Friday squashed rumours that his latest film ‘City Of Life' showed Dubai in a negative light. Addressing a press conference prior to the world premiere of his film, Ali said his debut drama is likely to place Dubai on par with cities such as London and New York.

"Personally, I don't think there is any negativity surrounding the film. It shows reality and puts Dubai on par with cities such as London and New York which have real problems. In my film, the stories are real and their problems are real too," says Mustafa.

Rapper-turned-actor Yassin Al Salman, better known by his stage name ‘The Narcicyst', had a different take. He plays a street-savvy Arab in the film and said backlash of any kind was welcome.

"I am into hip-hop, so backlash is a part of the game. The film does not present a hypocritical image about us. My character is a metaphor for many Arab who are out there," says Narcicyst.