EXCLUSIVE: Feature is an adaptation of Emirati bestseller about girl growing up in the region in the 1960s.

Lebanese, UAE-based producer Paul Baboudjian has signed Saudi actress and filmmaker Ahd Kamel to direct an adaptation of Emirati writer Maha Gargash’s bestseller The Sand Fish.

The adaptation, to be entitled Sandfish, will be the first project for Baboudjian’s new Dubai-based production house Tharwa Productions which is poised to open for business before end of the year.

The coming-of-age tale, set in the UAE in the 1960s, revolves around a beautiful young orphan who is married off to an elderly childless, pearl merchant as his third wife.

It follows her journey from child to mother and discovery of love, lust, hate, sorority, betrayal, manipulation, respect, maternity and growth along the way.

“When I came across Maha Gargash’s best-seller The Sand Fish, I was completely besotted by the story, the characters, the delicacy yet the harshness of the old UAE, all rotating around the adventures of this amazing little girl Noora whom we follow from rebellious youth to maternity,” said Baboudjian who is developing the project alongside Alessandra Priante.

“I believed in its cinematic potential and I felt the urge of bringing it to film audiences,” added the producer, who has been based in the United Arab Emirates for the last five years, recently working as creative producer on Ali Mostafa’s From A to B.

Writer Gargash said of the producers: “I like to think of the film’s producers as the fire-and-ice team. There’s the spirited drive of Alessandra Priante paired with the cool-headed methodology of Paul Baboudjian.

“From day one, they embraced the project of turning The Sand Fish into a movie with a passion that has grown stronger with each passing day. What more could an author ask for?”

Baboudjian, who is also known as the founding executive director of the non-profit film funding NGO ‘Screen Institute Beirut’, said that the project is in the early stages of development and that he envisages a late 2016 shoot.

“We’ve already put out feelers to potential European co-producers and had a positive response,” he said.

Actress and director Ahd, who is now just known by her first name, was one of the first Saudi women to travel out of the region to study film.

After gaining experience as an assistant on Peter Berg’s The Kingdom, she made the shorts The Shoemaker and La Sainteté which screened at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. International audiences will also know her as the glamorous school teacher in Wadjda.

New company

Baboudjian said he is planning a two-pronged strategy for his new company Tharwa Productions, which will both service productions shooting in the UAE as well as develop its own projects at the same time.

“The plan is to service the local commercial industry – Dubai is a hub for commercials in the region – as well as other productions – last year for, for example, I did the servicing for Dominique Deruddere’s Flying Home when it came here for five days,” says Baboudjian.