Emirati director Ali F Mostafa talks about his next film The Worthy

From A to B director Ali F Mostafa talks exclusively at Cannes about his just announced next film, as Image Nation looks to the Emirati director to take locally-made horror films to the next level.

Emirati filmmaker Ali F Mostafa's next film, The Worthy, is being backed by Hollywood producers. Silvia Razgova / The National
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Image Nation Abu Dhabi is about to begin production on a psychological horror/thriller movie directed by leading Emirati filmmaker Ali F Mostafa.

The Worthy will be set in a future wasteland where survivors are forced to fight for water, which leads to some unexpected consequences for the two main protagonists, we are told.

Perhaps even more excitingly, Friday's announcement also revealed that the film will be co-produced by Hollywood ­heavyweights Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity) and Peter Safran (The Conjuring), suggesting that horror in the region could be the next genre to get a boost here after sci-fi (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens filmed here last year and Star Trek is coming this year, according to our sources) and action movies (Furious 7, in which Abu Dhabi was a key location).

Of course, Image Nation has already attempted to mix horror, Emirati cinema aspirations and big-name Hollywood ­horror players. However, Djinn — ­directed by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) — was not as successful.

Mostafa seems certain he can shake off the legacy of that ­collaboration.

“It doesn’t worry me at all,” he says. “It’s two different scripts, two different casts, directors and producers. With this particular film, I think we have something kind of special when it comes to genre films.”

This will be Mostafa's third ­feature film — after City of Life and From A to B, the latter of which opened the Abu Dhabi Film Festival last year — and will be the first with which he has not been involved in the writing.

This is perhaps a sign of his growth as a director and his ­increasing reputation, as he was brought in to direct an existing script — and he certainly seems pleased with the project he has been offered.

"There's this great writer Vikram Weet (Twisted, Keeping Up With the Kardashians) who wrote the script a few years ago, and we're basically Arabising it," he says. "The Hollywood guys were already attached, then they had a conversation with Image Nation and I was brought on to Arabise it. It will be in Arabic, ­although we will subtitle it, too."

Co-producer Rami Yasin, who worked with Mostafa on From A to B, says that The Worthy is more than just a remake of Hollywood post-apocalyptic horrors — it will offer a realistic version of what could become of the Middle East if humanity doesn't begin to learn from its errors.

Davis Guggenheim — the ­Oscar-nominated director of An Inconvenient Truth, who recently directed the soon-to- be-­released documentary He Named Me Malala for Image Nation — about Malala Yousafzai, who was wounded when Taliban gunmen opened fire on her school bus in Pakistan's Swat Valley — may well agree.

“It’s inspired by a vision of what the region could be if we keep going down this road,” says Yasin. “It’s not just a matter of adapting the dialogue or changing the names of the characters and adapting the background of the story to the region.

“What would happen if things went a certain way here? We go to the heart of it and ask some of the meaningful questions for our region. We can’t say much more about that right now, but it’s really a grass roots-level adaptation, not like a remake of some old film.”

For Mostafa, it's clearly a defining moment in his career to have moved from the high-­profile From A to B to begin work on his latest opus almost ­immediately, but I can't help wonder ­whether in a wider context, this is a ­reason for celebration as the Emirati movie industry kicks up a gear — or debate as the same faces appear to be carrying the flag once again.

Mostafa seems confident any concerns are misplaced.

“My first film took four-and-a-half years to get made,” he says. “My second film took me four-and-a-half years too. I’ve just finished one and I’m on ­another one. It’s a huge testament to what’s happening in the ­industry.

"I've announced this film, but there are actually a few ­Emirati films coming out this year — Abood Kandashian, ­Grandmother's Farm 2 — there's lots going on. Zinezan should be out ­later this year or early next year, ­another one around the same time — and actually there are a few more announcements to come, so it's definitely not just me, no."