Abdullah Al Ka'abi can hardly believe his luck. It's only been just over a year since the 24-year-old Emirati moved to Paris from Dubai to study filmmaking. Now, even with a year left for graduation, he's packed up his first short starring celebrated French actor and Hollywood regular Jean Reno and is ready to take it to the world.
"I have been blessed," says Al Ka'abi, a former model and TV presenter. "I always knew I wanted to be behind the camera. I guess it shows that if you really want something that bad, it will happen."
The first stop: Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), where Reno and the other cast and crew of Al Ka'abi's film, The Philosopher, will be on hand to promote it at the premiere in December.
A spokesperson from the programming department of DIFF told tabloid!: "We are confident Abdullah Al Ka'abi is a rising Emirati talent and with such an impressive short from a first-time filmmaker, this would be a perfect match for the Dubai International Film Festival's mandate in supporting Emirati films and talents. We are proud to introduce the film in December 2010."
The film's script is an adaptation of Baggio's Story, a short story by American author Charlie Fish, about a man determined to give up everything he owns but who finds out it's not so easy.
"I read the story and knew it would be perfect for a film," recalls Al Ka'abi. "So in April, I contacted Charlie [Fish] to ask if I could adapt it. He immediately agreed. And I set out to write the script.
"The underlying themes are very Middle Eastern in a way," he adds. "It's about companionship, brotherhood, friendship and hospitality — things that are ingrained in Arabic culture."
Writing the script for the 20-minute film took Al Ka'abi all of two months. Then he turned to friend, and now producer, Cyril Deleye, who immediately agreed to adopt the film.
"I was impressed by his vision and how he saw it all being translated into film," recalls Deleye, who owns a production company, Oursin Films, which has offices in Paris and Dubai. "The ideas were great and I liked his determination and I couldn't let the opportunity pass."
Deleye, who's worked with famed directors such as Luc Besson and Roman Polanski, then agreed to finance the film, originally budgeted at 160,000 euros (Dh810,520).
"It's now 200,000 euros and rising," he joked, when tabloid! spoke to him in the midst of post-production.
"But we are excited to bring it to Dubai to show this amazing work by a very talented Emirati."
It was through Deleye that Jean Reno was finally approached.
"We met him in the South of France over lunch, discussed the film and got along immediately. He was very interested in the script and then agreed to do it," says Al Ka'abi about his celebrity scoop.
First day of filming
Reno, who has starred in major Hollywood films, including Mission: Impossible, The Da Vinci Code and Pink Panther 2, is a well-known actor in France, featuring in internationally acclaimed films such as Le Grand Bleu (The Big Blue) and Léon (The Professional), among others.
French actor Cyrille Thouvenin was then drafted after a round of auditions.
Al Ka'abi says he will never forget the first day of filming:
"It was all so surreal. I had to be on set at five in the morning. I was up at three and headed to the location. As soon as I got off the car, there were about seven trucks, more than 80 crew members who I haven't met before, security, a trailer… For a good hour, I don't think I said a word. I thought I was dreaming.
"Then, as soon as the sun came out, we had to take the first shot. Thankfully, it all went well from there."
Born in Fujairah, Al Ka'abi moved to Dubai for higher studies, eventually deciding to do his Bachelor's in Marketing. Through college and post- graduation, he dabbled in modelling and hosted shows on Sama Dubai and Dubai TV.
"That is where my love for films was bred. The rush of being a part of a production gave me a high and that is where I knew I wanted to be behind the camera," he says.
With his parents' blessings, he packed off to Paris to do a Master's in Fine Arts, specialising in filmmaking.
"What I love about France is that they believe in art, they believe in talent and giving chances to anyone with an idea. If food is for the hungry, Paris is for the artist," he says.
Still in post production, Al Ka'abi says he plans to take The Philosopher to the global festival circuit, starting with DIFF.
Then, Hollywood calls. "I have two scripts ready and we are already in talks with some major stars," he says, refusing to divulge any details. "But right now, I want to focus on The Philosopher."
The young director says his Emirati upbringing will stand him in good stead along the way.
"My ambition is to bring the heritage and traditions and morals that I have learnt back home into the international film industry via my films. I want to introduce that ethos to the world.
"But I don't want to follow the cliché."