A visit to Ali Mostafa on the set of A to B
t’s been a long time coming – we first reported on the City of Life director Ali F Mostafa’s second feature From A to B two years ago – but with Image Nation now on board to complete the film’s line-up of co-producers, shooting has finally started in Abu Dhabi, with the crew set to head off on location across the region over the course of the five-week shoot.
We caught up with Mostafa and his team on set to find out what had finally kick-started the production.
“I thought we’d get into production two years ago,” Mostafa admits. “But, finally, we’re here. The film was originally a twofour54 development, and they were funding the first 50 per cent. I had a private investor, but still needed more. Image Nation [which is owned by The National’s parent company Abu Dhabi Media] heard about the project and we had a meeting, found we shared the same views and partnered up. You’d expect it to be easier to get your film into production the second time round, but that’s just the name of the game in movies. You could be Scorsese with your own script and it could still take years to make it. However recognised you are, luck and fate has a lot to do with it. Timing is everything and it just happened that at the start of this year, the planets finally aligned.”
The film is essentially a road movie following the exploits of a group of expat Arab friends who decide to take a road trip from Abu Dhabi to Beirut in honour of their dead friend who always wanted to make the trip. In true road-trip style, what should be a two-day trip at most stretches out to five days with plenty of drama and adventure along the way.
“It’s all about the character arc they go through due to events on the road,” says Mostafa. “The trip helps them as friends as well as people. It’s a comedy with a human story that’s also a drama, so a dramedy, kind of an Arab Sideways.”
The nature of the film’s narrative means the crew will be shooting all across the region, though for obvious reasons the scenes crossing Syria will be shot elsewhere, alongside the Saudi ones.
“We have some great locations and the look of the film is phenomenal,” says Mostafa. “We have the modern style and the fantastic architecture in Abu Dhabi, then the remote areas, desert and dunes of Saudi, the ancient historical wonders of Jordan, war-torn Syria and, finally, urban Beirut. It’s visually stunning.”
The cast is big news, too. Two of the three leads will be familiar names to many viewers – the Saudi comedian Fahad Al Butairi is a YouTube and Twitter sensation with more than a million followers, while Shadi Alfons is a writer on the Middle East-wide sensation that is Bassem Youssef’s show. The third lead, Fadi Rifaai, is a new talent who Mostafa thinks is headed for big things. “He auditioned just a couple of days before shooting was due to begin and was so talented that we took him on straight away,” Mostafa says.
The three are backed by a phenomenal supporting cast, with the likes of the Egyptian legend Khaled Abol Naga and Omar’s Leem Lubany making appearances en route.
Mostafa is a well-known hip-hop fan and the film’s soundtrack will reflect that, with Dany Neville set to appear DJing in the Beirut scenes, although despite having talked to hip-hop stars such as Lowkey and The Narcicyst (who starred in City of Life) about appearing in the film, they haven’t made it to the final cut.
“Yeah, I did talk to those guys, but that was years ago,” he explains. “Sometimes as time goes by you start finding people that might suit the role better. It was an idea we had, but nothing was confirmed. Those guys are all my friends and, God bless them, but it just wasn’t right for this one.”
With Fast & Furious 7 now shooting in Abu Dhabi, too, it’s a busy month for the capital’s film industry, but the arrival of the Hollywood giant brought an unexpected hurdle for Mostafa’s team.
“There was this one location we wanted and they kept saying: ‘No, no, no,’ and we kept asking: ‘Why, why, why?’ They said: ‘We don’t want cars flipping and crashing and racing in our location.’ I said: ‘I think you’re talking about the wrong movie – we’re not Fast & Furious’ – and we got it.”
Building the local industry is more complicated than you might think, it seems. Sadly, Mostafa won’t be able to raise it with the FF7 team while they’re here – he’d already packed up and headed off to shoot in Jordan .