by Sherif Awad
A wave of new films coming from the Arab Gulf is starting to take a remarkable position among the repertoire of our region. There have been trials not only to make shorts and documentaries in the Gulf but also to create features with quality competing with Egyptian and Maghreb films. Among the new films that recently got a good acclaim in national and international media is the road movie From A to B that was written and directed by Emirati filmmaker Ali F. Mostafa. Modelled after a mix of The Big Chill (1984) and Road Trip (2000), the Emirati film has three friends reuniting to take a car trip to Beirut in memory of their lost fourth companion. The three friends are played by the Saudi Fahad Albutairi, the Emirati Fadi Rifaai and the Egyptian comedian Shady Alfons. The Egyptian co-star was raised in Kuwait and was acting at a young age in his school’s theatre run by London Academy for Dramatic Arts. When he returned to Egypt with his parents, Alfons started to work as a copywriter for advertising agencies and as a voiceover actor in TV ads and independent shorts even before graduating in the class of 2006 of the American University in Cairo with a degree in Performing Visual Arts. During this period, his most famous appearance was an actor in Nokia campaign playing Qwerty Man and co-starring with Asser Yasseen in Wadaa Helmak (Say Farewell to Your Dream) a cautionary short about drug that was directed by Amr Waked. After spending three consecutive years in Canada where he continued to work in TV ads, Alfons returned to Egypt in 2011 only to be cast in the once-popular al-Bernameg hosted by Bassem Youssef. Alfons worked as a co-writer and co-star in the show’s various comic sketches until al-Bernameg was pulled off from the air this year. Alfons has also guest starred in numerous hit TV shows including al-Kabeer Awi starring Ahmed Mekky and Donia Sameer Ghanem and Ramadan Galak with fellow co-stars of al-Bernameg. “While al-Bernameg was still on the air, I took a one month leave to fly to Emirates to shoot my role in From A to B”, said Shady. “In the film, I play Ramy, an internet activist who joins his friends Omar and Jay in roadtrip to revive the memory of their diseased friend Hady by driving from Abu Dhabi – via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria to arrive in Beirut, on what would have been Hady’s twenty-fifth birthday. The events of the film take place in 2011 while Hady was dead in the 2006 events that took place in his country Lebanon”.
The film’s first script draft was co-written in English by its Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy few years ago until the funders decided to make the shooting in Arabic language due to their belief that they have a project with some kind of potential success across the Arab world. “They relied on my previous talent as copywriter to translate all the English language jokes into an Arabic equivalent”, revealed Alfons.
The team then went to shoot across the Arab countries and all the surrounding deserts. It is not only a funny journey full of breakdowns, wrong turns, shady mechanics and camels but most of all it is a sf-discovery for the trio of friends. The shooting went smooth under the direction of Emeriti director Ali Mostafa and his professional multinational team. Hence, the final result. “According to my experience at the film premiere in Abu Dhabi Film Festival last October, audience from different age groups and backgrounds positively reacted to the story and the jokes of the film”, said Alfons. “This success surpassed our expectations”.
“I have always had this idea about doing a road trip film set in the Middle East”, said director Ali F. Mostafa. With his father from Dubai, and mother from London, Ali grew up in the UAE with a love for cinema. Following his passion, Ali went on to pursue a Master’s degree in Filmmaking from the prestigious London Film School. In 2006, Ali established a production company called AFM Films to have the creative freedom to write and produce innovative work. In 2009, he released his debut feature City of Life that broke box office records for an Emirati film. After City of Life, Ali conceived the idea for From A to B and developed it into a script in collaboration with Mohamed Hefzy. In 2014, Image Nation and twofour54 co-produced the film in collaboration with Rotana, making it the first Emirati film to open the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF). “Because my first film City of Life was a drama, I really wanted to try something that had some comedy. When discussing the early concept, I wanted to follow a route that would be interesting for Arab audiences. Abu Dhabi was my first choice being the capital city of the UAE – and being that my first film was about Dubai, it was important for me to start there. On the journey from Abu Dhabi to Beirut, the landscape changes so drastically from one place to the next. I love being able to show that. There are also significant cultural changes as you cross the different borders. My ultimate goal is to make films that are accessible to all audiences, but I especially hope that From A to B resonates with the Arab audiences”.