Morocco's film, TV push barriers with high-quality fare
CASABLANCA — Secret love,” cooes Ahmed as Lola opens the door of her New York bedsit, dressed only in a pink-pinstripe shirt.“Slut!” Ahmed adds in mock reproof. Lola (Laura Ramsey) pouts, slams the door. “And cut and print,” says director Nabil Ayouch. He has just wrapped another shot on the costliest pic ever from a Moroccan filmmker, Pathe’s English-language, $12 million “Whatever Lola Wants,” a New York-Cairo femme friendship tale. A few days later, directors Khalil Benkirane and Nour-eddine Lakhmari sit on an uptown Casablanca cafe terrace. They chat excitedly. Benkirane has docu “The White Thread” near completion. It follows San Francisco deejay Cheb i Sabbah as he records and remixes Moroccan villagers’ ancient songs with New World rhythms. One of its points — it has many — is that not only the music but also the musicians’ feelings, their glee as a song comes together, can be totally accessible for Western auds. Lakhmari’s TV movie “The Affair” aired in October. It stars the sassy Noufissa Benchehida as the first-ever femme cop protag on Moroccan TV. And in the Ain Leuh Moroccan backwoods, she kicks the red-necked establishment’s ass. “TV’s opening up so much. We’re part of something new, a movement,” Lakhmari glows. As in ’70s Spain or ’90s Korea, growing freedom has energized Moroccan film and TV. Ayouch, Benkirane and Lakhmari are all thirtysomething directors, all are pushing back barriers. But there are barriers: 48% of adult Moroccans are illiterate. Many feared speaking out under former King Hassan II. In such a climate, film and especially TV directors “establish a balance of what can be said and how to say it, we try to help things move forward,” Benkirane says. Morocco needs modernization. The alternative could be retrenchment in Islamic fundamentalism. Bollywood holds sway at rural hardtops; high-bracket Egyptian and Mexican soap operas play in primetime. Moroccan films score festival kudos. But producers and execs are taking inventory. “We’ve finished a first stage: producing quality films. The next stage is international distribution,” says vet director-producer Latif Lahlou, who is shooting marriage-on-the-rocks drama “Les jardins de Samira.” “We’ve built up some momentum; now we have to accelerate,” says Faical Laraichi, prexy of pubcasters SNRT and 2M. Public and private sectors are driving toward the same goals:
- State Fonds d’Aide film subsidies rose 66% in 2006 to MAD50 million ($5.8 million).
- Pic production levels are creeping up — 10 completed movies through October with another six in post, not to mention 50 TV movies, 16 from the independent production house Ali’N/SNRT Film Industry project, some already with film fest exposure.
- TV is goosing Moroccan production. From 2006, first-ever Cahiers de Charges TV quotas oblige pubcaster SNRT, including channel TVM, to co-produce or pre-buy 20 movies, 15 telepics, four series and 12 documentaries a year; the pubcaster must spend 30% of its production budget on independently produced shows.
- More big foreign shoots are rolling in Morocco: New Line’s “The Nativity Story,” U’s “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
- Morocco is plexing. Having run a 14-plex in Casablanca, distribber/exhibber Megarama is opening a seven-screen multi in Marrakech next month. Multiplexes are expected to follow in Agadir, Tanger and Rabat.