Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 March 2018

Bordering on Bad Behavior — the controversial comedy that is scooping up awards

New Dubai-produced movie cleans up at Ohio's Indie Gathering Film Festival

A scene from Bordering on Bad Behavior. Courtesy Muddville
A scene from Bordering on Bad Behavior. Courtesy Muddville

A new Dubai-produced movie swept the awards at the recent Indie Gathering International Film Festival in Hudson, Ohio.

Bordering on Bad Behavior, directed by the long-time Dubai resident Jac Mulder, picked up no fewer than three awards at the event, rated by Movie Maker Magazine as one of the world’s top 25 film festivals.

The film was named the Best Feature Comedy , picked up the Audience Choice award and Oz Zehavi won Best Supporting Actor.

Mulder was nominated for Best Director and the actor Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan, Natural Born Killers) was up for Best Lead Actor, but both lost out.

The movie reads like a particularly off-the-wall reimagining of the set-up for an old joke — an Israeli, an American and an Arab walk into a top-secret military communications centre.

Or, specifically in this case, a Lebanese soldier walks into an Israeli communications centre on the Lebanese border and encounters an Israeli soldier and a CIA agent. A scuffle ensues and, in the melee, the centre’s emergency lockdown mechanism is triggered, leaving the sworn enemies trapped together for six hours and having to survive the ordeal without killing each other.

The film explores some of the serious issues affecting the Middle East, but succeeds in doing so with its sense of humour intact — the frequent confrontations between the Australian/Lebanese Baz, played by Bernard Curry (The Dish), and Zehavi’s Israeli Ari are often as hilarious as they are heartfelt.

Sizemore’s CIA agent, Bob, spends much of the movie manipulating the other two and goading them into striking out at each other, a reflection of reality that it’s safe to say Mulder did not introduce by ­accident.

The team Mulder gathered around him for the film’s South African shoot was an impressive bunch, with collective CVs that included work on the likes of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Dredd, Homeland and World War Z.

As a first-time feature director — Mulder has previously directed short films, including the Abu Dhabi Film Commission-supported A Genie Called Gin, as well as hundreds of TV commercials — it could perhaps have been a daunting debut, but he seems to have risen to the challenge with ease.

“From the moment I started to plan the movie, I had such a detailed picture of how I wanted everything to look, right down to how worn the carpets should be, the exact colour of the walls and what the lampshades should look like,” he says. “I’d sketched all of it out and I had props, wardrobe, the art department and production design, basically everyone all together, and showed them the sketches and briefed them that way.

“I’d gathered a great team that really understood my vision, and I explained to them that I had too much to do to be checking on the set build every day, so I’d be back the day before shooting started.

“I think the production designer might have thought I was crazy. He couldn’t believe this was my first feature. He said: ‘You’re the first person I’ve ever met who knows everything he wants on his film. Usually it’s all ‘err’ and ‘I’ll get back to you’.”

The challenge was just beginning, however. Having completed filming his first feature, Mulder next had the small matter of premiering a movie that seeks to offer an objective look at Middle Eastern politics and even dares to laugh at the process at a United States festival — hardly a market renowned for its ability to look objectively at the region’s ­troubles.

“I’d shown early versions of the film to Arabs and to Israelis, and everyone had laughed,” Mulder says. “I hadn’t had one piece of negative feedback.

“But my big fear was America. I went over to the festival and was sitting there at the screening knowing I had a Q&A to do afterwards, and really not knowing what to expect.

“The very first question was basically: ‘The situation in Israel and Palestine is dire — do you really think it’s appropriate to be making a joke about it?’ I replied: ‘You’re right, the situation is dire and it’s not a joke. But the reason they’re fighting is, as far as I’m concerned, a joke. If this film can bring all you people together here, make you laugh, make you learn something about the situation and maybe encourage some discussion, then I’ll be doing a good thing.’”

The film certainly asks some awkward questions and touches on some tricky historical and political issues that rarely get an airing in Hollywood, but Mulder doesn’t want to dwell solely on the serious side.

Ultimately, he says: “The real message of the film is simply: ‘Why can’t we all get along?’”

In addition to the awards, Bordering on Bad Behavior has already picked up an international distribution deal. Mulder concedes that how wide an international release it gets will depend crucially on how the American market receives the movie, which has a tentative January release date.

But there seems to be a very real possibility that this movie of equal parts entertainment and education has the potential to be one of the most unexpected breakout hits from the region to date.