Rome to emerge from the desert

Sanam to build permanent set of Eternal City in Morocco

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Sanam Holding, the Moroccan investor in Morocco’s CLA Studios, where it partners with Italy’s Cinecitta and Dino de Laurentiis, is planning to build a permanent set of ancient Rome at Ouarzazate, Morocco’s main desert-center for big international productions.

Rome won’t be built in a day. According to Sanam director general Ismail Farih, construction, which is about to begin on the built-to-last set, will allow it to open for shoots next spring. Occupying a 50,000 square-meter site, and built opposite the CLA Studios, the set will take in four tem-ples and two basilisks, plus Nero’s house, affording a view-from-the-Senate perspective of imperial Rome.

Sanam’s Rome has a rival in Tarak Ben Ammar’s set south of Tunis, which includes an imposing Senate House, surrounding temples and squalid back-streets.

According to Farih, Ouarzazate’s Rome will be “bigger and higher.” One of the temples, which rise to 17 meters, could double for the Senate, Farih added.

The site allows for Sanam or a producer to construct higgledy-piggledy Rome back streets as required.

“Total cost of the project is around $2 million, but we can take our time. If we were building in a rush for a big shoot, the costs would triple,” Farih said.

Morocco’s Ancient Rome can play off Ouarzazate’s two-decade reputation for plasterers, craftsmen and costume-makers. It will also be another way of luring big international shoots in a highly competitive market.

Farih points to the example of the crusader fortress in “Kingdom of Heaven,” which CLA bought from Scott Free and Fox after the pic’s wrap. New Line’s “Nativity” shot using the fortress for four weeks earlier this year.

Sanam, a Moroccan construction and agro-industrial holding, owns 40% of CLA; Cinecitta 30%, Dino de Laurentiis 30%.

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