x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Director learns job on blockbuster

Mohammed al Ibrahim worked alongside Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto on $55m movie.

DUBAI // In the Gulf Film Festival, he is the novice director of a 10-minute short. But just a few months ago, 26-year-old Mohammed al Ibrahim was working alongside the likes of Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto on a $55 million (Dh200m) Hollywood blockbuster.

Al Ibrahim, who now works in the education section of the Doha Film Institute, was given a chance to spend time as a student on the Tunisian set of Black Gold last year.

By the time the shoot on the Jean-Jacques Annaud film had finished, he had worked his way up to third assistant director.

The yet to be released film is set in the 1930s and deals with the early days of the oil industry in the Gulf. It is a co-production between the institute and Quinta Productions, and the makers were keen to welcome students on set to learn about the movie business.

"I had never been on a big set and when I heard about the opportunity I said 'yes, sign me up', and two days later I was on a plane to Tunis," al Ibrahim said.

"The first location was in Tozeur, which is in the desert six hours south of Tunis, and it was all exterior shooting. This was the first week of December last year.

"At first my role was to learn, to sponge in as much as possible, and get used to the atmosphere of a big set, because I'm used to a small set where there are only five people.

"In the first week I wasn't given any responsibilities, I was just told to learn everyone's role, how they communicate, what they do, and I did.

"In the second week I became a runner, a guy who does nothing but run around and deliver objects or messages."

The production took a break at the end of the year, and then al Ibrahim returned to Tunisia for further shooting at Hammamet.

"This was mostly interior shooting in studios.

I was given more responsibility because they trusted me. They saw I had been doing a good job as a runner, and I said I wanted to learn more.

"I eventually became a third assistant director. It was fantastic, there was a lot of responsibility and a lot of hard work.

"My role, which I also did when the shooting came to Doha, was basically managing the actors - their time, their transportation, when they had to be on set.

"Even though some of them had assistants, the big guys like Antonio, they still needed to know where to go and what to do, so that was my job. There were some days when I had to manage up to 12 actors."

He found the stars remarkably straightforward to deal with. "For the most part they were quite down to earth, they're human so they understand. Of course there were times where you had to go above and beyond, but that's your job."

Al Ibrahim's entry to the film festival, Land of Pearls, a short film about tradition, heritage and culture, screened on Sunday. "It's also about generation gaps," he said. "Because of the fact that in the Gulf, and in Qatar especially, a boom is happening, I feel there is a gap between the generations.

"The possibilities now are completely different from a long time ago. Before we had to rely on fishing and the pearl industry, and I feel like our youth are a bit apathetic now because we lack that responsibility of feeling fatigue as our ancestors did back in the day."

csimpson@thenational.ae