‘Siens,’ ‘Hommes,’ ‘Retina’ Enter Locarno’s Open Doors

Locarno’s mini co-pro forum focuses on Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria

LOCARNO— Hassan Legzouli’s “Dieu reconnaitra les siens,” Mehdi Ben Attia’s “L’Amour des hommes” and Nejib Belkadhi’s “Retina” are among 12 projects to be pitched at Locarno’s Open Doors showcase, a co-production forum focusing this year on Africa’s Maghreb countries: Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria.

Taking place August 8-11 at the Swiss fest, the event will grant an Open Doors Award, worth CHF50,000 ($51,827); a €20,000 ($22,149) second cash kudo; and a new plaudit granted by a new initiative of the European Union’s Med Culture program –  ICAM (Investing in Culture & Art in the South Mediterranean). France’s CNC film-TV board and broadcaster Arte will also offer prizes.

Six out of 12 projects are debuts. The rest are mostly second or third features.

“Dieu reconnaitra les siens” is the third feature of Hassan Legzouli (“Testament”) whose Celluloid Dreams-sold “The Golden Calf,” a story about a disaffected teen, shared San Sebastian’s Cinema in Motion Award in 2012. A political thriller, “Siens” is the personal story of a soldier in the service of Islamist Internationale. Mohamed Ulad’s Zilis Films produces from Morocco.

In “L’Amour des hommes,” Mehdi Ben Attia delivers a portrait of Amel, a 25-year old photographer who has to find a new life after the devastating death of her beloved husband. David Mathieu-Mahias produces at 4 A 4 Productions, whose credits include Jacques Doillon’s “A Child of Yours” and Barmak Akram’s “Kabuli Kid.” Previous Ben Attia films include Claudia Cardinale starrer “The String” and “I Am Not Dead.”

“Retina,” by Nejib Belkadhi, centers on a Tunisian immigrant living near Marseille who suddenly has to take charge of his autistic son whom he has not seen in six years. Tunisia-based Imed Marzouk’s Propaganda (Leyla Bouzid’s “God Protect My Daughter”) produces. It marks Belkadhi’s third feature after “Bastardo” and docu “VHS-Kahloucha,” which won the top prize at the Dubai Fest and was selected for Sundance.

Locarno’s 2015 Open Doors lineup includes docus, dramas and animation. Despite multiple formats and tones, all the titles reflect economic and political concerns. Family immigrant dramas, the region’s dominant conservative mentality and Islamist terrorism are some main issues.

With regards to animation, Nadia Rais, whose shorts include “The Glasses” and “Survival Visa,” will present “Aller Simple,” a free adaptation of “Epistle of Forgiveness” from Arab philosopher Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri. “Forgiveness” is considered a precursor of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Tunisia-based Propaganda Productions, the company behind “Bastardo” and “VHS Kahloucha, produces.

Narimane Mari’s second feature, “Le Fort des fous” offers a story about “power and domination as fatal forces,” Mari has commented. Set in 1860 in the Algerian Sahara, “Fort” turns on a place where settlers dreamt of an extraordinary society in an uncharted and mystical land. Mari’s prior work includes “Bloody Beans,”a hallucinatory take on Algeria’s War of Independence.

Allers Retours Films (Bahia Bencheikh El Fegoun’s “Nous dehors”; Hassen Ferhani’s “L’Abattoir”) produces. Corinne Castel’s Centrale Electrique (Dyana Gaye’s “Des Etoiles”) co-produces.

Also set in Algeria are “Ruquya,” “Hirondelles” and “Sacrifie.” Yanis Koussim sophomore feature “Ruquya” turns on one of the five survivors –all of them amnesiacs— of the Sidi-Salem massacre, in which 13 citizens were brutally murdered on July 25, 1997, by an armed group. Koussim’s debut “Alger by Night” is currently in post. Paris-based Fares Ladjimi’s Mille et Une (Paula Markovitch’s “The Prize”) produces “Ruquya.”

“Le Sacrifie” is the first project from Amin Sidi-Boumediene, whose shorts include “Demain, Alger?” and “Serial K.” Faycal Hammoum’s Thala Films produces “Sacrifie,” in which two old friends search for a terrorist in the Algerian desert in 1994.

Karim Moussaoui presents Taj Intaj’s production “En attendant les hirondelles,” a family drama/road movie set in ’90s Algeria, and imprecisely evoking the country’s civil war in 1994. Sometimes compared to Xavier Dolan –Dolan and Moussaoui are repped by the same artistic agency, Adequat — Moussaoui’s works include shorts and medium-length feature “The Days Before.” Karim Moussaoui is an active member in one of Algeria’s most important independent film associations, Chrysalis.

A fourth feature debut: Fyzal Boulifa’s “Pagan Magic.” Louise Bellicaud’s Paris-based In Vivo Films produces “Magic,” a story set in Morocco in the ’60s about a woman and her adopted daughter embarking on a journey to the city for a better life. Fyzal Boulifa’s short “The Curse” won Directors’ Fortnight’s top prize in 2012.

Alaa Eddine Aljem presents his first feature “Saint inconnu,” where a burglar tries to recoup a small fortune she happens upon, which is buried in a place that has become a religious pilgrimage center. “Saint” is perhaps the only pic with comedic touches among this year’s Open Doors entries. Francesca Ducca at Casablanca-based La Moindre Geste produces.

“The Colonel’s Stray Dogs” marks Khalid Shamis’ opera prima. An experienced editor and docu helmer –“Imam and I” – he also directed a multi-awarded animated docu, “The Killing of the Imam.”

Cape Town-based Steven Markovitz’s Big World Cinema (Djo Munga’s “Viva Riva!”) produces. Khalid Shamis (docu “Imam and I” and animated short doc “The Killing of the Imam”) portrays a contemporary Libya trapped between its turbid past and uncertain future. One of the main characters is Shamis’ own father, a “stray dog” in exile during Gaddafi’s regime.

“Inhebek Hedi” is also the feature debut of Mohamed Ben Attia, who has directed five shorts so far. “Hedi” is “a love-at-first-sight” story set against a post-revolution Tunisia background fresco, according to its director. Attia’s debut is produced by Nomadis Images (Raja Amari’s “Anonymes,” Djaila Sahraoui’s “Barakat!”).

The average budget of the 12 projects stands at $1.1 million, and the highest budget is that of Hassan Legzouli’s “Siens” ($2.1 million).

Regions and countries framed in the past by Open Doors include Mekong (2004), South East Asia (2006), India (2011) and Sub-Saharan Africa (2014).

The 68th Locarno Fest runs August 5-15.

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