Ali Mostafa tells Vogue Man Arabia tells us why the Arab and UAE film industry is currently in good health… and about to get a whole lot healthier thanks to Saudi Arabia.
“The state of Arab cinema is currently really good and with The Insult, we had an Arab film being nominated for best foreign film at the Oscars. When you want to make Arab cinema, you don’t just want to make Arab cinema for the Arab audience, because you shouldn’t make a film just for any particular audience. Films should be global. But if an Arab film gets a big shout out from the West then that’s a good thing.
“Regional cinema is definitely in good health and soon it’s going to be in even better health with Saudi Arabia announcing they’re opening cinemas. It was decent enough that we already have quite a number of screens, but when Saudi opens we’re really going to be doing well. Then Saudi will start producing a lot more of their own Arab content.
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“It will also be a game changer for UAE films because a lot of people making UAE films are not just going to be thinking about the UAE market. Saudi is still fresh, we’re not quite sure what you can and can’t say or show, even though as Arab Muslim filmmakers we don’t censor ourselves but we just try to be a little bit more tasteful about how we do things.
“Of course, there is going to be censorship, but we got cinemas in Saudi Arabia and women can drive so time will change a lot of things for us. I’m sure that the censorship will be different there than in the UAE, but even in Kuwait the films get cut a lot more than in the UAE.
“Making films in this region, there’s no real formula to it. I did an ensemble film City of Life where we had English, Indians and Arabs all mixed in one film and that film did ridiculously well here. Then I did a film with all Arab cast with an Egyptian, a Saudi and a Syrian and that film didn’t get a lot of box office success despite doing well at festivals and with critics.
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“Egyptians would see Egyptian films, Emiratis would see Emirati films. I don’t think the Arab audience is ready for the pan-Arab film yet, but I think that will change because our borders are getting closer and we’re getting a lot more access. The Egyptian industry is the only one that has a history to it, all the other film industries around the Arab world are just picking up.
“Filming is never easy but over the last few years there are companies like Image Nation Abu Dhabi and grants from festivals that support filmmakers, although there are other ways of getting funding. That’s why they call it showbusiness – you have to have a bit of a business mind to get into it.
“Once our films start to make a strong return then you’ll be able to fund the next one and that’s when it becomes an actual industry – right now it isn’t. Now you get a few films every couple of years that break even and that isn’t an industry.
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“And hosting big films here is not taking away from local films. We want to be attracting films here to keep this engine going. Right now, though, if you want to shoot in Abu Dhabi you’ve going to need a lot of crew from Dubai. We’re not at a stage where we can facilitate three blockbusters at the same time so once we start having a lot more people and larger crews we can start facilitating more studio films per year. Not many countries can, but if we can then it will help to build our international recognition.”
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ALI’S PICK OF THREE RECENT REGIONAL FILMS
The Insult (2017)
After an emotional exchange between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee escalates, the men end up in a court case that gets national attention.
Sheikh Jackson (2017)
An Islamic cleric has a crisis of faith when he hears the news that his childhood idol, Michael Jackson, has died.
Set entirely in an 8m police truck, a number of detainees from different political and social backgrounds are brought together during the turmoil that followed the ousting of former Egyptian president Morsi from power.