City of Life: The Dubai Movie

Dubai’s first home-grown big-budget feature film hits cinemas this week. So why is its Emirati director, Ali Mostafa, so glum? 16 Comments

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Ali Mostafa seems frustrated. He should be pumped up because, at long last, his film lands in UAE cinemas this week, following its world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in December. This is a big moment in UAE history. The first feature-length film to be entirely set in Dubai and directed by an Emirati has arrived for all to see.

The film’s multi-million-dollar budget, international cast and high-profile production company (Dubai-based Filmworks worked on Syriana and The Kingdom) mean this movie is of a calibre never before produced by this country. It could make or break the beginnings of a home-grown film industry. So have you heard of it? Have you seen the posters and trailers? If the answer is no, you can understand why Mostafa is frustrated.

‘Unfortunately, there was a strange deal with the distribution where we were asked to hand over all publicity,’ he reveals. ‘And I’ve just found out that my film is releasing on the same day as Kick-Ass.’ Surely Dubai audiences will still be interested in a film about the city in which they live, we offer. ‘They will, but they need to hear about it,’ he fires back. ‘Word of mouth can only go so far. Kick-Ass has money behind its publicity. Unless we can visually stimulate a mass market with promotion, no one will hear about it.’

Since this interview, Kick-Ass – an adaptation of a violent comic book hotly anticipated by action fans – has been dropped from cinema schedules. This may have cheered up Mostafa if it hadn’t been replaced by Clash of the Titans, an even bigger movie.

For the young director (Mostafa is just 28), this is yet another example of Arab filmmakers being held back by underexposure. The buzz around Jordanian feature Captain Abu Raed, for example – which won the Audience World Cinema Award at Sundance – soon evaporated after its release here went all but unnoticed. ‘Amin Matalqa [Captain’s director] is a friend of mine,’ says Mostafa. ‘But when the film was launched in Dubai, I only found out about it the day before it closed. I had gone to the cinema to see another film and I saw his poster at the far end of the cinema as I was on my way to the toilet. It’s a shame that we’re trying to make films here, but our people aren’t supporting us [to ensure they’re seen].’

Mostafa seems worried that what happened to Captain will happen to City of Life. Dubai’s cinemas choose whether to keep a film running based on its performance in the first week, which is why so many films disappear from the multiplexes shortly after release. ‘It’s not just about getting the film into the cinema,’ Mostafa tells us. ‘If you don’t get bums on seats, what’s the point?’ That’s why he asks us to see City of Life before we see Clash of the Titans. ‘I’m not saying don’t see [Titans]. But it will be in the cinemas longer. See City first. Then we can have an honest first week.’

Of course, Mostafa isn’t all gloomy. The response at DIFF was overwhelmingly positive. ‘It was phenomenal. There were 1,300 people watching it and I could hear people laughing and crying.’ Since then, the film has been leaked and Mostafa has experienced adverse reactions, particularly to the scenes where Emiratis drink alcohol.

Ultimately, this week is the culmination of a long-held ambition. ‘I’ve always liked the idea of standing in line at the cinema and watching another line going to see my film. Now it’s going to happen.’ Keep ’em crossed.

By Laura Chubb
Time Out Dubai,

User reviews:

Posted by: shajaz jazz on 02 Jan ' 15 at 20:25

Michael on 15 May ' 10 at 12:37

took me 40 min buddy to find!!:))

the song name after the crash scene is

different stars by trespassers william!!

Enjoy !!its a epic song!!:)

Posted by: Idil on 05 Jun ' 11 at 01:29

AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH I want to watch it so bad but they are not showing it in america. If they were then i'm pretty sure he would have a bigger audience!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! well i guess i have to resort to Google-ing website that let me watch it for free :(

Posted by: Jarrad on 10 Mar ' 11 at 09:26

Great Movie... watched it on a flight back to Australia from Dubai over christmas... Very impressive

Posted by: Michal on 09 Jan ' 11 at 03:30

OMG, finally got to watch this film. Awesome movie. It had its moments where it was a bit comicy/poorly executed (fight scenes), but the movie was so good, you easily overlook its flaws.

I've never been to Dubai, always wanted to go, but I'm Israeli so unfortunately it will probably never happen. This was a great look into Emirati culture, free from the stereotypes of western media. Awesome, awesome, awesome movie.

Posted by: lnakde on 27 Nov ' 10 at 14:39

please tell me how to get a dvd of it or atleast an online site that sells it

Posted by: Abdulwahid Abdallah Othman on 30 Oct ' 10 at 15:44

Wallahy the movie is definately fascinating. I watched it couple of times with my roommate and i got the Theme of it. Ali Mostafa diserves An Award.He's a very charismatic and eloquent.
The most impressive part was when Khalfan tried to Rescue his Best friend when Rashid call him.
That precisely the lifestyle we experience in Dubai...Maashaallah Ali Mostafa keep it up.

Posted by: Parag on 11 Oct ' 10 at 08:25

Where can i get the DVD for this?

Posted by: Ramona on 29 Jul ' 10 at 07:03

where can I get the "City of Life" dvd?

Posted by: Meera on 30 May ' 10 at 02:48

I wish if they release it in the united states! So they can C how is the real uae ! not as sex n the city2, which shows that the uae are not united ! they tried to show there is a different between AD and DXB! I really didnt like wt American media wants to show about the UAE !! and also shows a lot of bad things that is not real in the UAE... they are like saying "HEY ppl dont think to go to the UAE" people are just jealous of what the UAE had in a short time!! LOVE UAE <3

Posted by: Ali on 21 May ' 10 at 18:01

Just watched it, Loved it, will watch it again and buy the dvd, more people need to see this, this is where we live and he has got it spot on.

Posted by: Dashenka on 19 May ' 10 at 11:03

AMAZING MOVIE! Especially since its linked to our lives n the protrayal of the different classes of living, it was just all so amazing! watched it 3 times and would watch it over and over again! great job knowing that it was done by some one very young! putting all that together is just phenomenal!!! I was personaly participating in one of the movie productions for the Dubai Movie Festival but honestly, THIS MOVIE TOPS IT ALL!

Posted by: Michael on 15 May ' 10 at 12:37

Great movie, watched it about three times so far.. but as far as i'm concerned i've tried to find the songs used in this film but I can't seem to find it at all! Does anyone know the song where after the car accident scene happens? The really sad song? If anyone could pass on their information i'd appreciate if you guys did so! Thanks

Posted by: on 28 Apr ' 10 at 16:13

A fantastic production...It's touches on reality in such a suttle way, yet has such a strong message. My favourite part is when the father said to his son "you didn't kill him, it's the lifestyle your generation is living that killed him" Wow! I'm definitely buying the DVD when it comes out. Way to go Mostafa - the Emarati people should be very proud to have him as a producer.

Posted by: Gerhard on 28 Apr ' 10 at 10:31

I would like to thank Time Out Dubai for bringing this movie to the public's attention. I took a friend on holiday from South Africa to see it, and we were both pleasantly surprised at the quality of Mostafa's debut feature. He has an amazing eye for detail, and Dubai looks particularly handsome onscreen in all its diverse locales. The intertwined narrative is also completely absorbing, and most of the dialogue and acting ring true -- which is no mean feat. Watching this made me realise how many thousands of stories and dreams there are out there in Dubai.

My only quibble is the poor quality of the subtitles on-screen, which were often white-on-white. Also, Cinestar is advertising this as an Arabic movie, and does not mention it is sub-titled for English speakers.

Posted by: Jenny on 28 Apr ' 10 at 05:33

Great movie that manages to take some of the 'typologies' of people in Dubai and make them come alive in a non-cliches way. It shows different facettes of a city that few people really know.
Impressive result for a director so young and the first Emirati big budget film.
A must watch for anyone who lives in UAE and anyone who wishes to learn about the real Dubai or even anyone who just wants to watch a good movie.

Posted by: sadiq batcha on 25 Apr ' 10 at 09:57

Good *** rating

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