x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Freej creator to take director's chair in new Abu Dhabi sports comedy film

Mohammed Saeed Harib will lead a local crew and cast when filming for a new comedy feature film starts in the UAE this spring.

Emirati director Mohammed Saeed Harib, the creator of the animation TV series Freej, is set to direct a new film in the UAE.
Emirati director Mohammed Saeed Harib, the creator of the animation TV series Freej, is set to direct a new film in the UAE.

DUBAI // The Emirati creator of the animated TV series Freej is to direct a live-action sports comedy that will be shot in the UAE next year.

Mohammed Saeed Harib will lead a local crew and cast when filming starts in the spring, and the yet-to-be-named movie is scheduled for an autumn release.

The Arabic-language film will be aimed at a family audience and the majority of shooting is expected to take place in Abu Dhabi. The budget has not yet been finalised.

The project was announced yesterday at the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF). It will be produced by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, which is owned by the same company that owns The National.

The plot involves a disgraced ex-footballer living in the UAE who seeks a second chance by coaching a team of students from different backgrounds at a public school.

The filmmakers plan to run a campaign promoting the importance of sport to coincide with its release.

"We aim to produce something that is entertaining and viable both commercially and artistically," said Mr Harib. "This film will be a local, creative comedy - an entertaining comedy. And hopefully I will be able to contribute my experience with Freej into this production."

Though best known for animation, Mr Harib said he was looking forward to working with actors on a film set.

"I've been playing with live action, like commercial work, but nothing of this sort. Working on animation is one of the hardest feats of media. You have to do a lot of work to get a second, so I'm hoping that moving into film will be as challenging or less challenging."

The script is by the Pakistani-American writer Sameer Gardezi, and Mr Harib plans to inject elements of his own style of comedy.

"I hope I can bring a lot of humour into it," he said.

Mohammed Al Otaiba, head of Image Nation, said: "This project falls within our commitment towards the local industry and the development of talent as it will provide opportunities for Emiratis in front of and behind the camera."

He said casting would begin early next year.

"We hope to build a social action campaign behind the film to address youth fitness and health with the support of many of the agencies in the UAE," he added.

"The students [in the film] are in their early teens, are looking to have their impact or, say through football, to develop themselves. That's why there's that social message about sport, health and how they are important towards building a healthy society.

"We'll be incorporating these messages in our campaign."

Mr Harib said: "Football is a very much-loved thing and then you have high levels of diabetes and obesity and stuff like that, and we need to find a balance. We need to really educate the upcoming generation.

"The positive messages are not just about fitness, they're about achieving your dreams, believing in yourself, conquering your fears. These are important messages for the youth to learn."

The film will be the third feature to be produced in the UAE by Image Nation. Sea Shadow, a coming-of-age drama set in Ras Al Khaimah, was released last year, and the supernatural thriller Djinn is due to appear next year.

Freej, the region's first 3D animated series, was created by Mr Harib while he was studying in the US. It follows the comic adventures of four elderly Emirati women living in modern-day Dubai and is broadcast by Cartoon Network Arabic.

csimpson@thenational.ae