The region gets its first homegrown roadtrip comedy
By Sherif Awad
New films from the Gulf are earning a place in the repertoire of our region, with a regional push to not only make shorts and documentaries but also to create quality features capable of competing with Egyptian and Maghreb films. One feature winning acclaim from national and international media is the roadtrip movie From A to B, written and directed by Emirati filmmaker Ali F. Mostafa. In October, it became the first Emirati film to open the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF).
Combining the plot devices of Hollywood hits The Big Chill (1984) and Road Trip (2000), From A to B has three friends reuniting to drive from Abu Dhabi to Beirut to visit the grave of their childhood friend. The second feature for Mustafa, the film marks the movie debuts of three regional comedians: Saudi Arabia’s Fahad Albutairi, the UAE’s Fadi Rifaai and Egypt’s own Shady Alfons.
“Because my first film City of Life was a drama, I really wanted to try something that had some comedy,” Mostafa says. “I have always had this idea about doing a road trip film set in the Middle East.”
With a father from Dubai and mother from London, Mostafa grew up in the United Arab Emirates with a love for cinema. He pursued a Master’s degree in filmmaking from the prestigious London Film School, and in 2006 established a production company called AFM Films.
In 2009, he released his debut feature City of Life, a drama which broke box office records for an Emirati film. After City of Life, Mostafa conceived the idea for From A to B and developed it into a script with Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy. In 2014, Image Nation and twofour54 co-produced the film with Rotana.
The first draft of the script was written in English a few years ago. But the funders, believing this project could be a success across the Arab world, decided to shoot the film in Arabic. Enter Alfons, who at the time was working as a writer and troupe member on Bassem Youssef’s satire show Al-Bernameg.
“They relied on my previous talent as [a] copywriter to translate all the English language jokes into an Arabic equivalent,” Alfons explains. “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.”
“In the film, I play Ramy, an internet activist who joins his friends Omar and Jay on a roadtrip to honor the memory of their deceased friend Hady by driving from Abu Dhabi via Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria to Beirut on what would have been Hady’s 25th birthday,” he continues. The film is set in 2011, five years after Hady died in the 2006 war in Lebanon.
Alfons was raised in Kuwait and began acting at a young age in his school’s theater, run by London Academy for Dramatic Arts. When he moved to Egypt for university, Alfons worked as a copywriter for advertising agencies and as a voiceover actor in TV ads and independent shorts even before his graduation in 2006 with a degree in Performing Visual Arts from the American University in Cairo. During this period, his most notable acting appearances were as Qwerty Man in a Nokia campaign, and as a co-star with Asser Yasseen in Wadaa Helmak (Say Farewell to Your Dream), a cautionary short about drugs directed by Amr Waked. After a three-year stint in Canada, Alfons returned to Egypt in 2011, when he landed the spot on Al-Bernameg. He has also guest starred in hit TV shows such as Al-Kabeer Awi starring Ahmed Mekky, and Ramadan Galak with fellow co-stars of Al-Bernameg.
Filmed across the Arab countries and the region’s deserts, the movie is more than a funny trip full of breakdowns, wrong turns, shady mechanics and camels; it is also a journey of self-discovery.
The film has been well received, Alfons says, pointing to the reaction at its premiere at October’s ADFF. “Audiences from different age groups and backgrounds positively reacted to the story and the jokes of the film. This success surpassed our expectations.”
The director notes that the film’s roadtrip has something familiar for everyone in the region. “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 Arab audiences.” et
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