Pan-Arab film distributor Empire Intl. will release Abu Dhabi fest opener “From A to B,” by Ali Mostafa, in the Middle East, starting on Jan. 1.
Empire has a close rapport with “A to B” co-financer Image Nation, having successfully released Image Nation-produced chiller “Djinn,” by Tobe Hooper, in 2013.
The Lebanese company sub-distributes for both Sony and Twentieth Century Fox across the Arab world.
Young Emirati director Mostafa has broken new ground with “From A to B,” a pan-Arab road movie in which three Western-educated youths from different Arab countries travel 1,500 miles from Abu Dhabi to Beirut, amid the region’s turbulence, in memory of their deceased best friend.
Mostafa spoke to Variety‘s Nick Vivarelli about the challenges of getting the tone right.
Q: You’ve taken a typical Hollywood genre, the road movie, and transposed it to an Arab setting. Was that difficult?
A: I love road films. I always wanted to make one. So coming up with the journey was the part that I really needed to think about. I thought: what would be something that could be really unique for the Arab world? Instead of having Emiratis as protagonists, I thought: Why don’t I depict Arab nationalities who grew up in Abu Dhabi? Also, they are Western-educated Arabs who went to an American school. I wanted to make something that was very relatable for the Arab world, but at the same time also for the West, who could watch these guys and understand them. In terms of the route itself, Abu Dhabi has become such a modern place, so when they go to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, the change is drastic both geographically and culturally. This makes it interesting. I wanted to end it in Beirut because it’s a place that’s dear to my heart, and also a great party town.
Q: There is a strong pan-Arab element to the film. How important was this?
A: My goal, as self-righteous as this may sound, is to help create a film industry here in the Emirates. So it was very important for me to see that we can venture out. To have Egyptian and Lebanese producers and a pan-Arab cast who can support it. I’m very glad that we were able to achieve that.
Q: From a production standpoint, working with Image Nation is the closest thing in this region to working for a Hollywood studio. As a director, this can mean some constraints. How was it for you?
A: For my first movie, “City of Life” I had all the freedom in the world because I raised the financing myself. This time coming in knowing that I would have to go through approvals of everything was quite daunting at first. I wondered if it would affect my creativity. But it turned out to be the complete opposite. I could not have been happier to have such a cool team back me in the right way. When decisions were made, they were made constructively. There was always a discussion. To have that experience with guys, who are obviously very experienced, was a huge blessing.
Q: What’s next?
A: My first film was an ensemble piece drama; for my second film I wanted to tap into a genre which is very difficult: comedy, but not pure comedy. For the third one, I’m looking forward to making a horror/thriller type movie. Something completely out of my comfort zone.