x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Now we’re getting somewhere

Ali F Mostafa finds the fifth gear with his forthcoming road movie by adding Saudi internet star Fahad Albutairi to the main cast.

The Saudi comic Fahad Albutairi will star in A to B, by the Emirati filmmaker Ali F Mostafa. Jeff Topping/The National
The Saudi comic Fahad Albutairi will star in A to B, by the Emirati filmmaker Ali F Mostafa. Jeff Topping/The National

It’s been a long time coming, but finally it seems the wheels are gathering speed on A to B, the Emirati director Ali F Mostafa’s forthcoming road movie and follow-up to his 2009 debut feature City of Life. With filming set to start in January, the comedy – or “dramedy” as Mostafa calls its – now has a major lead in the shape of Fahad Albutairi, the Saudi stand-up comic.

“He’s very big in Saudi,” says the producer Mohammed Al Turki, who was also behind last year’s tense, Richard Gere-starrer Arbitrage, which opened the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. “He’s a comedian who has always wanted to act. Ali actually wanted him as his first choice to play the Saudi character and when we saw the audition tapes we knew it was meant to be.”

To claim Albutairi is big in his home country is a bit like suggesting King Abdullah has a few riyals in the bank. Described as the “Seinfeld of Saudi Arabia”, the Khobar-born 28-year-old is one of the masterminds behind the phenomenally successful YouTube comedy sketch show La Yekthar, which regularly draws in millions of viewers to each episode. From this, Albutairi has become something of an online celebrity, attracting more than one million followers to his personal Twitter account.

Speaking to Arts & Life in March, he said he wanted to expand his international appeal and had already received interest from Hollywood. Giving him a role in his next film is a shrewd move by Mostafa.

A road movie about a trio who drive from Abu Dhabi to Beirut in honour of a friend who is killed in Lebanon during the Israeli invasion of 2006, A to B was first discussed openly by the filmmaker in 2011. Last year, the script was among four finalists vying for a US$100,000 (Dh367,000) grant as part of the IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Award at the Dubai International Film Festival, but lost out to the Iraqi filmmaker Maysoon Pachachi’s Nothing Doing in Baghdad.

At the Cannes Film Festival this year, the film was finally given the backing it needed with the announcement that it was being supported by Abu Dhabi’s twofour54, along with bringing on board Al Turki, plus the Lebanese producer Paul Baboudjian (A World Not Ours) and the prolific Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy (Microphone, Rags & Tatters). Hefzy was also brought on to help work on the script.

According to Al Turki, joining Albutairi behind the wheel will be the Syrian-American hip-hop artist Omar Offendum, whose song #Jan25 went viral in 2011 during the Egyptian revolution. Offendum was last seen on screen rapping in the documentary Lyrics Revolt, which premiered in Doha last year.

While Al Turki wouldn’t confirm, IMDB also has the fellow musician The Narcicyst, who appeared in City of Life, in the line-up of A to B.

“We’re getting cameos with a lot of Middle East actors and also a lot of Hollywood actors,” adds Al Turki, without going so far as to actually name names. Given that the Saudi producer from the Eastern Provinces has already amassed a rather chunky Rolodex of A-listers in his brief career, it’s worth speculating as to who the Hollywood cameos might be. Long-time buddies with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, the 27-year-old also counts Zac Efron and Michelle Rodriguez among his friends and has worked with the likes of John Cusack, Emma Roberts, Julianne Moore and Heather Graham. Most recently, he was spotted shopping in London with the British model Kelly Brook. But will he be calling on any of his showbiz mates for a trip to the Gulf? “Maybe. You never know,” he laughs.

While getting either Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton over to the Middle East, especially for a road movie, might seem like a tall order (is Lohan even allowed in a car?), Al Turki has clear and ambitious aspirations for where he wants the film to open.

“We want to premiere here, at the opening night of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival next year.”

Here’s hoping Al Turki stuck around for the closing ceremony of ADFF 2013 and managed ­ to catch a few words with its un­expected last-minute guest. Surely, if there was ever a perfect cameo for a road movie, it’s David Hasselhoff.


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