N. African country nurses film biz

With the race for the Palme d’Or reaching its climax, film execs have been searching for any edge over rivals, from marketing campaigns to lavish parties.

The answer, however, might lie in jumping on a plane and heading to Morocco.

The North African country has long been a fave for big-budget Hollywood sword-and-sandal romps like “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Alexander.”

However, the appetite for political pics in the wake of the war on Iraq has seen Morocco become the location of choice for helmers wishing to get their work taken seriously.

Two pix in competition shot in Morocco: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s “Babel” and Rachid Bouchareb’s “Days of Glory.” Irwin Winkler’s Iraq war veteran drama “Home of the Brave,” which unveiled a 45-minute preview at Cannes, also shot its war scenes there. Bruno Dumont’s “Flanders,” which also is in competition, was shot in neighbouring Tunisia.

This contrasts to the attitude in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 Casablanca bombings when even Dino De Laurentiis, a Moroccan shoot vet, said he would take Baz Luhrmann’s “Alexander” outside the country.

Now De Laurentiis has opened the CLA studios in Morocco in partnership with Italy’s Cinecitta Studios and local businessmen.

“Morocco has become a very important site for filmmakers,” said Inarittu. “Many American studios are shooting there. There are three studio lots there, which are American-owned, and the natural resources are beautiful.”

In a separate development, “Babel’s” Gael Garcia Bernal has finished shooting his directorial debut, “The Deficit.” Pic is in post and was produced through Bernal’s Mexican shingle Canana.

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