Marrakech Takes First Steps Towards Market

CCM prexy Sarim Fassi Fihri has $1.5 million to invest in Moroccan hardtops

Sarim Fassi
Photo by Martin Dale

MARRAKECH: Now celebrating its 15th edition, the Marrakech Festival has succeeded in becoming a major international film event in a relatively short space of time.

One of the fest’s key characteristics is its relatively informal atmosphere, enabling proximity between filmmakers and the audience, and numerous opportunities to talk about the art of filmmaking, including master-classes that consistently play to packed audiences.

Over recent years, the fest has also hosted industry meetings and this year includes two workshops organized by Europa Distribution and Europa International which represent European distributors and sales agents, respectively.

Europa International professionals attending this year’s fest include execs from Doc & Film, Films Boutique, Films Distribution, Gaumont, Level K, TrustNordisk, UDI, Versatile, Wild Bunch and Wide Management.

To date such meetings have maintained a separate slot, apart from the rest of the festival, with few opportunities for Moroccan filmmakers to present their films directly to sales agents and distributors.

Taking the first steps towards building a market at the Fest, this year the organizers have scheduled a two-hour session on early Saturday afternoon, in which a panel of sales agents and distributors will have the chance to meet a group of Moroccan directors and producers repping their films.

The films to be presented include titles screening at Marrakech – Youssef Britel’s “The Green March,” Jawad Rhalib’s “Rebellious Girl” and Ahmed Boulane’s “La Isla” and also recent local box office successes such as Abdellah Toukouna’s “Le Coq” and Said Naciri’s “Les Transporteurs.”

Other Moroccan films to be presented during the 2-hour session take in Mohamed Chrif Tribak’s “Petits Bonheurs,” Hicham Lasri’s “The Sea is Behind,”  Jérome Olivar Cohen’s “The Midnight Orchestra,” Tala Hadid’s “The Narrow Frame of Midnight,” and Driss Mrini’s “Aida” -Morocco’s entry for the Foreign Language Academy Award.

“This is the first step towards creating a kind of a market,” explained Sarim Fassi Fihri, president of the Moroccan Cinema Center (CCM). “Since the outset, the Marrakech Film Festival has served as an important platform for forging closer ties between foreign professionals and Moroccan cinema. This year we hope that this meeting will reinforce this connection and we plan to expand the initiative next year.”

In the past, the festival has established links between visiting helmers and Moroccan directors on an informal basis. For example, Jonathan Demme met Nabil Ayouch at Marrakech in 2011, saw Ayouch’s “Horses of God,”and on this basis decided to become the official presenter of the film for its U.S. release.

Creation of a formal meeting between sales agents and Moroccan professionals will further leverage the links between the local film industry and the international market.

The industry meet is one of several strategies being pursued by Fassi Fihri.

In early December, he saw an important film incentive package thwarted in the Moroccan parliament – the introduction of a 20% cash-back incentive for foreign shoots and an exemption for smaller Moroccan screens from sales tax.

He explained that the main reasons for failing to pass these measures in Morocco’s finance law were procedural rather than policy issues and is confident that it will be possible to introduce such measures. But they will probably only enter into force in 2017 rather than in 2016, as he had originally planned.

Despite this short-term setback, the CCM prexy is trying to revise the terms of the 2012 cinema law, in order to enable the CCM to provide subsidies to local cultural centers that also screen films and thus achieve a stronger park of cinemas across the country. In 2015, cinema admissions will be only slightly over 1 million, whereas in 2014 they were 1.7 million. Admissions have been sliding progressively over recent years, but the significant drop in 2015 will have a dramatic impact on the survival of small local cinemas, which have borne the brunt of the fall.

Fassi Fihri has a base funding of $0.8 million to support cinemas, and this amount has recently been reinforced to establish a total $1.5 million that will be invested in 2016, to support local cinemas. If the 2012 law can be altered, the CCM prexy would also like to provide subsidies to cultural centers in towns with populations of around 200,000 that at present have no cinemas.

Moroccan films play a key role in attracting audiences to Moroccan cinemas and in 2016 Fassi Fihri expects that there will once again be popular comedies that will attract audiences, including Ahmed Boulane’s “La Isla” which played out of competition at Marrakech and stars popular Moroccan actor-director Abdullah Ferkous.

Another measure introduced by Fassi Fihri during his first year in office has been the organization of screenwriting workshops. In June, twelve filmmakers who had received subsidy support via the CCM’s Advance on Receipts scheme were invited to a one-week workshop, attended by eight script tutors, one Moroccan and seven French specialists. In the subsequent six months, the filmmakers continued to develop their projects with the tutors. “This initiative has clearly improved the quality of the scripts involved, and equally importantly the filmmakers are all extremely pleased with the results.”

“Moroccan cinema has made important strides ahead over the last decade,” concludes Fassi Fihri. “Our key priorities now are to reverse the slide in admissions, reinforce the quality of our scripts and production, strengthen our ties with the international market, and introduce incentive measures which will further expand the number of international shoots in the kingdom.”

2016 will be a key testing ground to see whether he can achieve these goals.