H I G H F LY E R S

ALI F. MOSTAFA IS DETERMINED TO PUT UAE CINEMA ON THE INTERNATIONAL MAP.
BY // GEORGINA WILSON-POWELL

“I want

that little gold statue,” says Ali F. Mostafa, the young Emirati film director of his future career goals. His desire

an Emirati man trying to find his place in life, an Indian taxi driver who bears more than a passing resemblance to a Bollywood actor and a Romanian woman who is a former ballet dancer now working as a flight attendant. Describing the initial trigger for the movie, Mostafa says: “It all started when I walked into a place called The Bollywood Cafe with a friend.” He continues: “It was a place that had some Indian look-a-likes performing and my friend found it interesting enough to do a documentary about them. I liked the idea a lot but… tried to see how I could incorporate that with a fictitious character and turn it into a film. [Having developed] the Indian look-a-like character I needed to add a couple more storylines and nationalities to the mix if this was going to be my first feature that I was shooting in my city. So I then added the Emirati storyline followed by the western storyline, and after many drafts I came up with the film City of

to win an Academy Award may on the surface appear to be a lofty ambition, but his first feature length movie, City of Life, which premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival last year, is garnering growing international attention both for Mostafa and the UAE film-making industry.

City of Life is the UAE’s first ever big budget feature film and as writer, producer and director, Mostafa has many reasons to be proud. However, when he initially mooted the idea of the film, the reception was far from positive. “I was once told to lock it up in a safe and think about making it in 10 years,” he recollects. “This wasn’t enough to stop me… With perseverance we are proud as a national to have an international feature under our belt. I’m so proud of what we have achieved with City of Life.” The film is a snapshot of modern Dubai with its multi-cultural community and the seeming disparate yet intertwined lives of those in the community. City of Life follows three different characters, each with their own unique experience of Dubai: There is

IMAGES: LYUBOV GALUSHKO / ITP IMAGES & SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Life.”

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H I G H F LY E R S

H I G H F LY E R S

HIS PASSION FOR FILMMAKING, HOWEVER, HAS LONG BEEN WITH HIM. “THIS IS SOMETHING I HAVE BEEN DOING SINCE BEFORE I CAN REMEMBER – IT’S IN MY SKIN, IT’S WHAT I LIVE FOR.”

much critical acclaim. The short was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the San Fernando Valley International Film Festival in North Hollywood, California, USA and won the Best Emirates Film 2006 in the annual Emirates Film Competition in Abu Dhabi. This short film clearly demonstrated his talents as a film-maker and further fuelled his own love of the film production process from writing to producing and directing. Whilst he has always worked as both director and producer it’s directing that has his heart. “Directing is definitely my forte and it’s something that I will

Each character offers a different representation of Dubai – from the low key, backstreet Indian cafes in the old part of the city down by the creek, to the new glitzier skyscrapers that are home to the western contingent of expats and beyond to an even more privileged world. As the storyline of City of Life evolves the lives of the three main characters become interconnected and each of them begins to discover who they truly are. Although this mode of storytelling isn’t new to the multiplex, the fact that no one has employed it before to recreate life in Dubai is surprising, seeing as the fast-paced city can be a continual series of transient meetings and connections – but it takes a life-long resident to see the city for who it really is. “Living in Dubai inspired the story,” elaborates Mostafa. “We are living in such a melting pot that this ensemble type of script was almost inevitable to make.” Inspiration for the script may have been imbued within Dubai, actually bringing it to the big screen however was more of a challenge. The movie took Mostafa three years to make and each character’s story is played out in a different language: Hindi, Arabic and English, all of which needed subtitling. The filming process, carried out with co-production company Filmworks meanwhile, was determinedly compact,

shot in just five weeks. It united a multinational cast of actors including Egyptian-American comic Ahmed Ahmed, Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcicyst, British stars Jason Flemyng and Natalie Dormer and Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara, among others. There was also the small matter of funding for the project. For this a number of key sponsors and supporters were sought. Dubai Airports, Dubai Duty Free and Nakheel were among those to offer backing, whilst the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority provided its endorsement too. Mostafa, admits however that making a film in the UAE isn’t particularly easy, he has been quoted as saying that the process is far more costly, estimating that it took 40 per cent more funding to ensure production than it would have in the States. There are also other challenges to be faced in the region. “We have censorship here you go wild with your imagination, especially when you’re trying to write a script,” he says. “You face challenges in anything you do but when it comes to film-making I guess it would be the limit to your own creativity.” Mostafa, however, remains undeterred. Along with pursuing his dream of a golden statue, he is also keen to help the UAE and the Middle East film industry establish itself on a global so you’re always thinking twice before

stage. “I want to be able to make films without budgets getting in my way. I want to represent Arab film-making in a very big way internationally,” he says. “I am indeed very ambitious and that’s why I am where I am today.” This year, Mostafa has been representing the UAE at legendary actor Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival in the United States at the request of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, acting as an ambassador for the future of Arab film-making. He hopes that films such as his will broaden the understanding of the Middle East, presenting the UAE through themes that anyone can understand. “I and a few others feel that way. We are making waves and breaking through and it feels good,” Mostafa explains when asked whether he sees himself as an ambassador for filmmaking in the UAE.

Left to right: Stills from City of Life. Ali Mostafa and Tim Smythe, the producer of City of Life and CEO of Filmworks attend the Dubai International Film Festival.

Nowadays, Mostafa’s film career is taking him all over the globe and bringing him a great deal of attention and praise. His passion for film-making, however, has long been with him. “This is something I have been doing since before I can remember – it’s in my skin, it’s what I live for. Being creative has always been part of my life; both my parents are creative people. My father is an architect and my mother owns a floral, events and design company,” he explains. Mostafa’s creative talent was nurtured from a young age and his love of film was cemented by his time at the London Film School, emerging with an MA before returning to the Middle East to make commercials, attracting blue chip clients such as Nissan and Etisalat and forming production house AFM Films. “As a child I used to do a lot of stop motion animation with my toys. I also
IMAGES: COURTESY OF CITY OF LIFE & SUPPLIED

always do,” he explains. “They [producing and directing] do differ quite a bit. I do enjoy producing because it’s still part of my field but it involves a lot more managerial skills.” Recently the director and producer has been involved in making commercials once again. This time for Peace One Day, an international collaboration between artists and individuals trying to raise awareness of International Peace Day, which takes place annually September 21. This global effort that highlights the destruction of war is the brainchild of British documentary maker Jeremy Gilley and Mostafa was only to willing to lend his talents to the cause. The buzz surrounding City of Life continues, but Mostafa is not one to rest on his laurels and he is already back in the studio working on new projects. He remains tight-lipped about their exact content simply saying: “There are some other projects I am currently working on… I hope to share them with you soon.” Whatever these new projects prove to be, they are certain to raise Mostafa’s profile further, inching him closer to the goal of achieving that acclaimed gold statue, and providing another boost to the UAE’s growing film industry.
WWW.AFMFILMS.COM WWW.CITYOFLIFEFILM.COM

made lots of action films as I loved doing stunts back then. I also made a few mock TV ads and experimented quite a bit with the camera,” he reveals. “Seeing something evolve from A to B is an amazing feeling. It’s the same with making a film. You have pre-production, production and then post production.” Before making City of Life, Mostafa mixed making commercials with short films, including Under The Sun, which has toured the film festival circuit to

“LIVING IN DUBAI INSPIRED THE STORY,” ELABORATES MOSTAFA. “WE ARE LIVING IN SUCH A MELTING POT THAT THIS ENSEMBLE TYPE OF SCRIPT WAS ALMOST INEVITABLE TO MAKE.”

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