MARRAKECH, Morocco — Many of Morocco’s best-known filmmakers will be releasing films in 2017 which are expected to have a significant impact on both the international festival circuit and the domestic box office.
Noureddine Lakhmari will complete the trilogy formed by “Casanegra” and “Zero,” with “Burn Out” which is the first major Moroccan production backed by Dubai-based VOD platform, icflix, and is being readied for Berlin.
Nabil Ayouch (“Horses of God”) will release “Razzia,” an international co-production set in modern day Casablanca, that revisits themes related to the 1942 Humphrey Bogart classic “Casablanca” and has a soundtrack featuring tracks from Queen. The picture is produced by Bruno Nahon’s Unité de Production in Paris, Ayouch’s Casablanca-based production house, Ali’N Productions, Les Films du Nouveau Monde, France 3 Cinéma, and Belgium’s Artemis Productions.
Faouzi Bensaidi (“Death for Sale”) will release “Volubilis,” a love story, set in Bensaidi’s home town of Meknes, between a shopping mall guard and a maid in a rich condominium. Bensaidi says that his aim with the film is to explore how love can exist in modern Morocco where social forces are increasingly pushing people apart.
Narjiss Nejjar (“Cry No More”) is completing “Apatride,” set against the background of the deportation of 45,000 Moroccan families from Algeria in 1975. The pic is a Moroccan-French co-production, coordinated by Moroccan producer Lamia Chraibi, producing via her Paris-based company Moon & Deal and her Casablanca-based outfit La Prod. The pic has received support from the Moroccan Cinema Center, the Doha Film Institute and will be presented at the Dubai Film Connection.
The director of short film “Short Life,” which won multiple festival kudos, Adil el Fadili is prepping his first feature, “My Dad Isn’t Dead,” about a 9-year old boy with a vivid imagination, living in 1955 during Morocco’s “years of lead.” After the death of his mother, he lives with his father in a fun fair, but after being separated from him he is magically transported into tableaux pictures, on a quest to reunite with his dad. Fadili’s rich imagination is reminiscent of the fantasy world of French helmer, Jean Pierre Jeunet, who met with Fadili during the Marrakech fest last year and after seeing his short wrote to him encouraging him to direct a feature.
Leila Kilani (“On the Edge”) is also developing a new feature, to be released in 2017.
Sarim Fassi Fihri, president of the Moroccan Cinema Center (CCM) explains that several of these projects, including the films by Lakhmari, Nejjar and Fadili – were involved in an intensive three-month scriptwriting development program between 2015 and 2016, which meant that their release has been delayed to 2017.
The CCM is currently upping its support to new filmmakers via the Cinecoles short film competition which is run by the Marrakech Festival Foundation. It will now organize two competitions per year, with scholarships for the winners to study abroad.
In 2017, the CCM also expects its new statutes to be enacted, which will enable greater possibilities to support TV projects and foster further cooperation with public broadcaster SNRT.
This year, the CCM and SNRT signed a protocol that will increase the collaboration between the pubcaster and the CCM in terms of promoting Moroccan films. The two main channels, SNRT1 and 2M, can now co-produce up to 12 films per year on each channel, and in several cases both channels will support the same film, which means in practice that around 12-15 Moroccan films per year will involve a co-production with the pubcaster.
Faical Laraichi, head of the country’s pubcaster, that encompasses SNRT and 2M, is implementing a major overhaul of operations, which he expects to generate a new generation of creative talent in Morocco, initially focusing on new media.
Laraichi is implementing three main pillars of change. First, the transition to HD broadcasting which is already effective for SNRT1, and will apply to the other eight channels by the end of 2017.
Second, there is a major investment in the internet, including making all channels available via live streaming, which is very important for the Moroccan diaspora throughout the world, and the creation of dedicated internet content by a new young team at SNRT. The pubcaster is also launching its own free VOD platform, available across multiple devices.
“The most important question facing the future of public service media,” says Laraichi, “is how are we going to attract young audiences – our future audience. All our new programs will come with websites dedicated to these programs that provide real time information that complements the show.
He added that SNRT will be “massively” using social networks, with new teams working exclusively on creating editorial content. “We are building a new team that will be located in Casablanca. It has a completely different culture to standard TV, and primarily involves people aged under 25, with supervisors under 30. There will be total freedom to propose new ideas. We have to change the paradigm of Moroccan TV,” Laraichi added.
The final pillar of change is that SNRT1 will now dedicate the second part of the evening, after primetime, to high-end cultural programming, including documentaries and magazine shows.
“Our aim is not to get bigger audiences, but to give better programming to our audiences, as part of our long-term vision.”
Primetime in Morocco is occupied primarily by news and TV fiction, where the room for innovation is more constrained due to government guidelines on content. The main series that are broadcast either focus on social issues or are family-based sitcoms. Two of the most popular shows are “My Misery” a 30-seg one hour, now in its second season, and “The Daughters of Lalla Mennana” an adaptation of the work “The House of Bernarda Albas,” by Spanish poet and playwright, Federico García Lorca. Such series can generate up to a 60% share in Morocco.
SNRT also produces 20-30 TV movies per year.
Fassi Fihri, head of the CCM, is also in discussion with the country’s main trade associations to introduce a new film law, given that the existing law was enacted in 2001, and does not contemplate digital technologies.
The final element in this overall strategy is the introduction of a 20% tax break for film productions, which was initially promised for 2016 but is now expected to be enacted in 2017, providing a significant boost to both domestic productions and foreign shoots.