-The Esquire 100 - Ali F. Mostafa
From his anointment as the “most stylish man of 2011” to the cover of the December 2016 issue, the relationship between Esquire Middle East and the golden boy of Emirati cinema goes back a long way.
Here, Esquire’s Matthew Baxter-Priest recalls his culture-altering impact:
It says a lot about the young UAE filmmaking industry that, at only 30-something years old, Ali F. Mostafa is a revered senior figure. Following the box-office success of City of Life (2009), Mostafa was catapulted into the spotlight as the fresh face of a new vanguard of filmmakers from the Gulf region.
Born in London to an Emirati father and a British mother, Mostafa grew up in Dubai, attending schools in Mamzar and Jumeirah before eventually enrolling at the London Film School, where he graduated with an MA in film technique. It was there that he began to realise that the impression the Western world had of his hometown — at least on film — was at odds with what he knew to be true.
“What I wanted to do with City of Life was to create a more accurate account of Dubai,” Mostafa said to me once. “Frankly, I was sick of hearing people think of Dubai as a Disneyland. That’s not the city that I knew, and I wanted to do something about it.” And do something about it he did. Although it took him the better part of four years to make, City of Life was eventually given a seven-week run at cinemas across the UAE and went on to set box-office records for a locally-made film.
“I’ll never forget the day it came out. It was April 22, and it was released in the same weekend as Iron Man 2 and Clash of the Titans. They were on 60 screens, and we were showing on 12, yet that weekend we ended up second in the box-office,” he recalls.
That was a big moment for the industry. Mostafa had shown that not only could the production values of a locally-made film be on par with the likes of Dubai-filmed-but-Hollywood-produced Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Syriana, but that there was an audience interested in locally made films.
With later successes including A to B, and more recently The Worthy, it is an audience that he has gone on to ‘wow’ ever since.