Mohammed Saeed Harib on Arab creativity and directing his first feature film Rashid & Rajab
- Mohammed Saeed Harib, the creator of animation giant Freej, is launching his first live-action film, Rashid & Rajab
- Rashid & Rajab is the new film from Image Nation Abu Dhabi and will hit cinemas in Eid 2019
- This is the first project where Harib hasn't written and owned the project
Mohammed Saeed Harib’s uncle once told him never to say no to an opportunity. “Just say yes, and figure it out later. If someone asks you to make a chair, you make a chair,” recites the film director. He pauses to take a sip of Red Bull, points to a chair on the other side of his office and casually says: “I’ve made a few chairs”.
We’ve been chatting for the best part of an hour but that one moment says more about Harib than he probably realizes. The 41-year-old Emirati is already one of the most respected creatives in the UAE today with a CV that boasts theatre work, TV presenting, corporate branding (he designed the logo for the Dubai International Film Festival), directing an animated film with Selma Hayek and Liam Neeson, but it is his near-constant creativity, work-rate and ambition that continues to set him apart.
Of all his accolades, Harib is perhaps best-known as the creator of the award-winning cartoon TV series Freej. Always open to turning his creative talents to new avenues, this month Harib adds another feather to his cap with the cinematic release of his first live-action feature film, Rashid & Rajab.
The Arab-language, body-swap comedy from Image Nation Abu Dhabi premiers across the MENA region on Eid weekend, and has been a long-time coming. Harib first received the script in 2013, when Image Nation reached out to him. True to form, he considered it, read the script and accepted. “I had never directed a feature film before so, I thought, why not tick that box?” he explains. “I normally write and own my own material, but this was different, they just wanted me to direct it. It was a unique challenge.” A combination of previous commitments, the day-to-day running of his company and script re-writes saw three years pass before filming was able to start.
Esquire actually spent a day on the set of Rashid & Rajab in late 2016. It was day three of the 36-day shoot, and Harib and his team were shooting on location in the Dubai district of Barsha. “I remember the first five days were quite an adjustment,” chuckles Harib. “I am very confident when it comes to animation, but I was new to filmmaking so was kind of terrified. I remember on my first day I shouted “Action!” and a couple of people laughed. My producer turned to me and quietly said ‘Mohammed, you don’t call action, the Assistant Director does.’”
To know Mohammed Harib is to know that he’s very much someone who will shake that off and get on with the job at hand, constantly looking to push himself and challenge himself creatively. “It is up to us as artists to always push that envelop, and take the audience along with us,” he says. “I’ve been in the creative industry for 15 years, and while Freej was hugely successful, I think that it was a little ahead of its time. We wanted to push the boundaries of what an animation could be. At times I wanted to make people cry and not laugh. Other times I wanted to kill off characters, and people would tell me I couldn’t because it was a cartoon. We wanted to be daring, because that is what sets you apart from other people.”
One thing is clear, Mohammed Saeed Harib is someone who moves to the beat of his own drum. In fact, we wouldn’t be suprised if he’s actually made a few of those drums too.