LOCAL TALENT: Mohammed Mamdouh
“I think we’ve all had a serendipitous encounter,” says writer and director Mohammed Mamdouh, explaining the idea behind his short film, Before We Turn To Stone, which has just been accepted to the San Francisco Global Movie Festival this August – where it will be the only film from the UAE.
His boy-meets-girl tale is far from orthodox, though. Set in Dubai in the small hours, and with plenty of pleasing ambiguity about the eventual fate about the couple, the romance centres as much on his intimate portrayal of the city as on the lead characters.
Originally a five-minute short that was entered to Reel Dubai Short Film Competition, Before We Turn To Stone was shot entirely on a Galaxy 4. The results were such that it was subsequently re-edited into a 14-minute film that Mohammed has been submitting to international film festivals around the world. San Francisco is, he hopes, the first of many.
We grabbed a quick chat with the Fujairah-raised Egyptian and asked what inspired the film – and what doors he hopes it will now help open for him.
Congratulations on the film. What was the idea behind the love-story-at-night plot?
It was actually inspired by reality. I have a very good friend, an architecture student from Munich and was in Dubai on a stopover and wanted to see the city – but only had 12 hours and most of them at night! So we decided to do a tour of the city anyway and I realised how different the city was at this time, with no activity or people. It had a completely different feel.
As we were going around, we met a couple looking at the Burj Khalifa at 4am. Then we saw a German guy who was on the same flight as my friend – and even making the same onward connection – who was also trying to see something of the city. There was this entire tourist scene taking place in Dubai entirely at night, among people on stopovers. I thought it was something to explore.
You added an extra layer, though, the love story part…
Yeah, but with a slight twist on the formula. A guy (Lucas Brown) meets a girl (Laura Quirke) outside the Al Fahidi Fort. He’s not really your typical romantic lead, while she is pretty but very shy and awkward. He’s the extrovert, the outgoing one, which might be an inversion of the expectation. That was a conscious decision as we wanted to make it more real, more believable. We then follow them and their developing friendship as they explore the city.
I wanted the film to provide a totally different perspective on Dubai, to show all these buildings totally empty. The city at this time is incredibly silent. Magical, really.
Did you really make it on a Samsung phone?
Yes! I have a day job, as do all of the team, so sometimes we need something like a competition to give us the goal to go out and finish a project. The Reel Dubai Short Film Competition was organised by Dubai International Film Festival and all entries had to be made on a Samsung 4. I already had the idea for the script and the general outline so thought this was an opportunity to make it happen.
I did use special lenses to work in low light levels of night. The guy I had originally lined up for director of photography thought there was no way we could make my movie on a phone in the time we had. But we managed, shooting at 12 locations around the city. The whole shoot was less than 48 hours.
One of the final scenes shows thew couple sitting face to face in the middle of the road. Where was that?
Ha! Yes, that was real. We used an intersection in the Meadows. The roads were completely empty at 4am, although one car does move around the roundabout. That wasn’t staged. I’ve no idea what he thought we were doing…
So, what’s the day job?
I work for Dubizzle, handing all of their videography needs, creating branded content for them. But I have always been interested in film. In my free time I make short films and am working on a feature. I was an intern on Mission Impossible, which was an amazing learning experience and Emirati filmmaker Ali Mustafa [director of City of Life] has also guided me a lot.
I’ve sent the 15-minute cut to a whole number of film festivals. It’s now a case of waiting for a call…
Before We Turn To Stone
Starring: Laura Quirke and Lucas Brown
Written and Directed by: Mohammed Mamdouh
Director of Photography: Rene Auguste
Art Director: Zena Afara
Sound by: Farhad Katrahmani
Produced by: Pilar Rashad