To mark UAE National Day, twofour54 has commissioned a short film to accompany a reworking of the country's national anthem. We spoke to its director, Ali F Mustafa, and students working on the project.
National anthem gets cinematic treatment
As well as the pageantry, car parades and the festooning of streets with lights and flags, some of the UAE’s top filmmakers have just finished their own tribute to mark the country’s 42nd National Day.
Abu Dhabi’s media and entertainment hub twofour54, in conjunction with Abu Dhabi Media and the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, commissioned a reworking of the country’s national anthem Ishy Bilady (Long Live My Nation) and a special short film to accompany the tune.
The person chosen to produce this video was Ali F Mostafa, the renowned director who’s best known for his 2009 debut feature City of Life, which examined the interactions between the various cultures that exist in Dubai.
Mostafa has been busy preparing for his latest feature film From A to B, but when twofour54 approached him to make the National Day video, he made time to accommodate the project.
“I was very honoured to have been asked by twofour54 to direct what I understand is the official film for the national anthem,” he says. “I have so much pride that they asked me to do this project. But I’m also excited because I don’t think people will have seen our country portrayed in this way before.”
Mostafa was even more enthused to take part when twofour54 promised him plenty of creative leeway.
“They gave me the freedom to do something different. We are used to seeing stuff on TV that is shot in a very traditional way, or a corporate way. We have seen this kind of thing again, again and again,” he says.
“We are trying to do it in a very stylistic way. We are shooting the same things, but differently.”
Mostafa chose to create the video in the style of the renowned advertising filmmaker Bruno Aveillan. The French director is known for highly stylised commercials and his clients include Shangri-La hotels, Louis Vuitton and Coca-Cola. Aveillan’s most famous work is the award-winning short film L’ Odyssee de Cartier, which recounts the history of the jewellery House of Cartier through the journeys of a panther.
“Aveillan does very artistic work and I really admire his style. So when I heard they wanted to do something like this for the UAE and they wanted it to be original, I thought why not do it in that style?” says Mostafa.
So, in this film, we follow the story of the nation, from the signing of the declaration of union on December 2, 1971, to meetings of the GCC council and beyond.
The team traversed the country, taking in locations such as Masdar City and the Grand Mosque. Mostafa insists these places will be portrayed in a new, interesting fashion.
“We’re deliberately not doing the big landscapes. It’s more about the people as well as some really cool re-enactments,” he explains.
“For example, we do this one scene – without showing his face – of the moment when Sheikh Zayed signed the union of the Emirates in 1971.
“We also show a shot of Sheikh Khalifa stepping into the GCC summit. We then cut to the actual footage, so it’s very innovative. We try to go into that moment, then snap out of that moment, then we see people watching it on TV.”
Assisting on the set have been aspiring filmmakers from twofour54’s Creative Lab, the organisation that offers financial and technical support to those wanting to pursue a career in the media.
One of these helpers is Shaima Al Ammari, a 21-year-old recent graduate from Zayed University, who helped out in the wardrobe department, choosing abayas and kanduras for the cast members.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” she enthuses. “I am really proud to be on this project, because National Day is a really important day for us Emiratis.
“As it will be on TV, a lot of people will hopefully see it and I can say I helped out for the project.”
Another assistant, Mariam Khanji, 22, was also full of patriotic pride at her involvement in the filmmaking process.
“As Emiratis, we should be involved in this kind of project. It makes me feel very excited. It’s not like being on a shoot for a normal advert or film, you feel a great sense of pride that you are creating a part of the history of the nation,” she says.
Mohammed Al Khoori, 22, took time off from his job as an account manager for the advertising agency TWBARaad to work on the film.
“It’s been very inspiring to me,” he says. “Ali was very friendly and not scary at all to work with – I’ve worked with scary directors – and he is very calm and helpful,” he says.
Waheeda Al Hadramu, 21, says being involved in the project had inspired her to look at filmmaking as a possible career.
“This is the first time I have had the chance to see how a film crew works. It’s very interesting. Filmmaking might be a career one day for me, who knows.”
• Ishy Bilady premieres on November 25 on ADM channels
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