Noir thriller “Zero,” helmed by Noureddine Lakhmari, has topped the Moroccan box office since its release in December 2012, generating more than 200,000 admissions.
“Zero” played at the Marrakech and Dubai fests in December 2012, garnered five awards at the Tangier national film festival in February, including best film and best actor, and won jury prize at the Tetouan Mediterranean film festival.
Lakhmari’s 2009 breakout hit, “Casanegra” clocked up 241,000 admissions and was a game-changer for the local industry, introducing elements such as extensive swearing, graphic violence and biting criticism of Moroccan society that had hitherto been more muted in national films.
Both pics were lensed by Italian cinematographer, Luca Coassin, scored by New York composer Richard Horowitz and featured extensive night shooting to explore the dark underbelly of the poorer and seedier zones of East Casablanca.
In his next project, “Burnout,” due to shoot in September 2014, Lakhmari will use the same creative team to weave a tale between the city’s richer and poorer zones – West and East Casablanca respectively.
“It’s time for Moroccans to look at their own cities and see the beautiful things there”, suggests Lakhmari.
“There’s a huge social divide in our country between the rich and poor – they don’t mix with each other; I want to show how one can go from one side to the other and that both sides actually have a lot of things in common.”
“Burnout” is about a group of kids who travel from East Casablanca – filled with crumbling Art Deco buildings – and are amazed by the big buildings, fancy restaurants and posh shops of West Casablanca.
Lakhmari will coproduce the pic with Norwegian production house, Filmhuset, and has already secured a $0.5 million grant from the Moroccan Cinematographic Center.
The helmer worked 18 years in Norway and when he returned to Morocco he was viewed with suspicion.
After directing his film “Casanegra”, he was accused of trying to undermine Moroccan cultural and being a Zionist. But he feels that it was essential to confront prevailing taboos and that such tensions are inevitable to the creative process.
He considers that the country now has a much more open attitude, notwithstanding the electoral rise of conservative and Islamic political forces.
At the fest, Lakhmari is prexy of the Cinecoles short film competition and when he came on stage to award the career tribute to veteran Argentine helmer, Fernando Solanas, he received an extremely enthusiastic reception.
“At first people really attacked me, but now they welcome me,” he explains.
In addition to “Burnout” Lakhmari has several other projects up his sleeve – including a film set in Tangiers. “I want to demystify the view of this beautiful international port city, that’s intimately linked to writers such as Paul Bowles and William Burroughs. I want to show what life is like on the streets.”