x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Zero-budget film sparks interest from distributors

Film distributors are interested in Sharjah university crew's rite-of-passage movie featuring an Arab Muslim struggling to cope with tragedy.

Library Girl played by Reena Sadek, an American/Palestinian business student who plays the muse in the film Moments of Fiction.
Library Girl played by Reena Sadek, an American/Palestinian business student who plays the muse in the film Moments of Fiction.

DUBAI // A coming-of-age film about an Arab Muslim and the friendships that help him cope with a past tragedy form the fabric of a movie being readied for release by expatriate film school students.

The English-language film, Moments of Fiction, has been made on a zero budget with none of the 20-strong cast and crew or 80 extras receiving a fee. Shot in Dubai, Fujairah and on the American University of Sharjah (AUS) campus, the 90-minute film has been made by university students who have grown up in the Emirates.

"I'm not even going to say low budget because it's a no-budget movie," said Mohammed Mamdouh, a 21-year-old AUS student and the film's director and lead actor. "There is disbelief when people see our work. They say: 'You've spent money on this, there is no way you did this with a couple of your buddies'."

In fact, Mr Mamdouh and his producer friends did raise a shoestring expense account of about Dh20,000 for transport, food and a camera to shoot the movie for 60 days spread over five months until filming finished in March.

Strong interest has arisen among distributors and film festivals after he posted a teaser trailer on YouTube. The film will be ready by October.

It tells the story of a university student struggling to deal with his past revealed over the course of the film. He then meets a girl who works in the library and she revives his interest in life.

"He sort of navigates grief and once he meets her, he wants to give life another chance," said Mr Mamdouh, an Egyptian expatriate who has lived in Dubai all his life. "He doesn't know anything about her. What attracts him is that she is passionate and unpredictable. It's about dealing with grief, believing in your dreams and following them through."

Enthusiasm and the desire to prove themselves drives the team with no feature-length film experience and only two actors more than 30 years.

Although the young filmmakers did initially approach companies for funding, it was an uphill task. So they posted news about auditions on Facebook and last October about 200 people turned up over two days.

"Nothing was really working out for funding so we decided we would do it whether we got the money or not," said Nabeel, 21, an Indian who uses one name and is the movie's co-producer, having developed the story with Mr Mamdouh. "It has been an incredible experience."

The cast included expatriates from the US, Europe, Sudan and Sweden with strong theatre experience.

The motley bunch also comprised a stand-up comedian, a high school student, a dental hygiene therapist and a university professor.

Anthony Tassa, 42, an associate professor of theatre at AUS, said he had to be at the top of his game while portraying a film professor since he was acting alongside his former drama students, including Mr Mamdouh.

"I put my faith in the director who may be young but is motivated and talented," said Mr Tassa, an American who has lived in Sharjah for three years.

"It's an absolutely exciting environment with different cultures blending together. It is something to celebrate because students growing up in this culture are showing the energy to take the lead."

He believed the movie held the promise of succeeding in markets beyond the Middle East due to its universal theme of love and loss.

"It's a love story with a lot of heart," Mr Tassa said.

"It follows the main character through his journey of letting go of the past. What makes this one really enjoyable is the vitality of the love story."

The UAE too features in the backdrop with shots of Emiratis in khandouras, Dubai's dancing fountains with the Burj Khalifa and slices of Fujairah and Sharjah.

Mr Mamdouh said he aimed to capture the varied cultures among the expatriate community in the UAE. "More than anything else it's about cultural bridges," he said. "You have a lead actor who is Arab Muslim and he is surrounded by a group of friends from around the world - that is the reality here."