Arab Spring signals return of foreign films

Fest Traveler: Marrakech Film Festival

Every cinemagoer is familiar with Morocco’s photogenic landscapes, voted as one of the top five international locations in a 2009 Variety poll.

Over the past 12 months, major productions that have lensed in the Western Kingdom include Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion,” Joe Wright’s “Hanna” and Lasse Hallstrom “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.”

But the economic crisis has left its toll, with total foreign production spend in Morocco slumping from a record high of $110 million in 2008 to $13 million in 2010, with a particularly marked drop in European TV movies.

The Marrakech cafe bombing in April delivered a further psychological blow, given that the Red City is a key hub for foreign shoots.

Zak Alaoui, a key local producer, has diversified his activity and produced two major U.S. reality shows in Morocco in 2011, Mark Burnett’s “Expedition Impossible” and Bravo’s “Around the World in 80 Plates.”

“These reality shows are a new departure for Morocco and offer great free publicity for the country,” Alaoui says.

Amine Tazi, general manager at CLA Studios Ouarzazate, a joint venture of Dino De Laurentiis, Italy’s Cinecitta and Morocco’s Sanam Holding, also remains upbeat. CLA Studios has been attracting new clients from Germany, Egypt, Belgium and Syria, with revenues rising since 2009, including nine productions this year.

“Morocco continues to offer major advantages,” Tazi says. “In addition to our good studio facilities, technicians and low costs, we have strong government support. This can be a major plus, since some countries governments can be very strict on certain topics, for instance, those involving sensitive political issues.”

Alaoui says opportunities lie on the horizon, with a big-budget studio feature and a European co-production lined up for 2012. “The momentum created by the Arab Spring is attracting more U.S. and Euro production companies to Morocco,” he says. “We offer a safe harbor to explore new story opportunities.”

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