x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Young Saudi will secure Hollywood reputation with Richard Gere film

The Saudi producer Mohammed Al Turki has turned a love of European cinematic realism into a burgeoning career producing independent films.

In autumn, when the Richard Gere movie Arbitrage reaches cinemas, months after its supposed premiere in January, the Saudi producer Mohammed Al Turki's Hollywood reputation will be secure. At just 25 years old, the film obsessive has already turned a love of European cinematic realism into a burgeoning career producing independent films, starting with Zeina Durra's controversial The Imperialists Are Still Alive, a film that was in the 2010 Official Selection at Sundance.

It was a punchy beginning for a man who hails from an important Saudi family, as much a philanthropist as a filmmaker, but making an impact is not something he flinches from.

He can afford to be cheerful because the trajectory of his career has been phenomenal.

Yet it could all have been so different. "When I graduated [from Regent's College, after studying film and media communications] I did what everyone would expect," he says, with a wry smile. "I worked in a corporate communications department in an oil and gas company. Next thing I know, my friend, who is British but originally Middle Eastern, asked me if I wanted to produce her film, which she wrote and directed."

That was the feminist filmmaker Durra, and the film, The Imperialists, was her political satire on the immigrant's role in the fashionable art world of New York City. It was an international success, and Al Turki was suddenly in the game.

Still, even he didn't expect his next film to star Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling and Laetitia Casta. Nor did he expect to be working with producers such as Laura Bickford (Che, Traffic, Duplicity) and Robert Salerno (A Single Man, We Need to Talk About Kevin).

"Nick Jarecki, the director, is in his late 20s - he's very young to be directing a movie like that. We'd sent the script out and Richard Gere gave Nick a call straight away, and he's like, 'I love this, Nick. Fly over, I wanna meet you.' And it was like love at first sight."

The movie itself has had distribution delayed until autumn for one simple reason: Gere's performance, which has gathered serious Oscar buzz. "We're working on Gere's Oscar campaign," says Al Turki. "He's a Hollywood legend and I can't believe he hasn't got an Oscar yet."

In what may be the performance of his career, Gere plays Robert Miller, a hedge-fund billionaire about to be exposed for his fraudulent activities. The story bears a striking resemblance to the Bernie Madoff scandal, but for Al Turki, there is a message within the film that makes this more than just a financial thriller.

"His life is beautiful. It's a painted world of luxury and goods, where you think this guy is a father, he's a philanthropist. But this person that you think is running this industry can be a crook, this loving father can have a mistress. And it's very timely as well – we are going through a financial crisis." While Hollywood might be suffering as a result of that crisis, concentrating on big-budget money-spinners such as the Marvel films, Al Turki sees the recession as beneficial to creative filmmaking. "A lot of the big actors want to do passion projects, want to send a message, want their voice to be heard, want to do something of importance," he says. What that means in practice is that even with independent films, he and his fellow producers can call on the likes of Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, for an as-yet-untitled film directed by Ramin Bahrani; John Cusack and Emma Roberts for Adult World; or Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan for What Maisie Knew.

So where can he go from here? "I'm still at the beginning of my career," he says, "but I am looking for films that would send bigger messages. I would love to work on films that raise awareness of stuff that's going on in the Middle East – like the Egyptian revolution, how the Egyptian people dealt with it. We are 21st-century people, we are connected through social media, we are connected through globalisation, and I would love to have movies to send messages like that."

 

artslife@thenational.ae