Moroccan-French writer-director Nabil Ayouch, whose last film “Razzia” was Morocco’s entry for the foreign-language film Oscar, is completing principal photography on “Positive School.” He spoke to Variety about the project.
“Positive School” is a realistic drama set in the cultural center he set up in Casablanca’s Sidi Moumen neighborhood, a poor suburb that became infamous in 2003 due to a terrorist attack perpetrated by locals. Ayouch has been prepping the film for a year and a half, working with non-professional actors attending the center.
The film is shot in a documentary style, and is centered on former hip-hop singer Anas, who begins to teach music, dance and creative writing at the center, and inspires his students to question stereotypes about Morocco and themselves. Ayouch describes the film as a mix between “Fame” and Laurent Cantet’s “Entre les Murs” (The Class).
The helmer grew up in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, an area largely composed of public housing with a mixed ethnic community, and says that the cultural center in Sarcelles, the Forum des Cholettes, was a key formative influence. He is keen to extend this culture to Morocco via his Ali Zaoua Foundation, which he set up in 2009. He has just finished building a second cultural center in Tangier, with two further centers planned for Fez and Agadir. The foundation has funding from private companies and donors, and recently received a donation from the Swiss foundation Drosos, whose mission is to support disadvantaged people.
“I learnt how to tap dance, sing and saw my first concert and first Chaplin and Eisenstein movies in the Sarcelles cultural center. That’s exactly what we’re doing here. We’re screening films, putting on plays, organizing debates and have professors of French, English, dance, music and painting,” Ayouch says.
“Positive School” has funding from Morocco’s Cinema Center, Canal Plus in France, the CNC’s Aide aux Cinémas du Monde and French distributor Ad Vitam, and will be released next year.
Ayouch was subject to a major polemic in 2015 due to his prostitution drama “Much Loved,” which was fiercely criticized by conservative sections of Moroccan society. He says that “Razzia,” a complex inter-generational tale linked to the 1942 classic “Casablanca,” helped him rebuild his connection with Moroccan audiences, as he toured the country with his leading cast and crew, with many sessions sold out.
Playtime sold the film to several international territories, with a release in Spain by Pirámide Film up next.
The helmer is also producing “Adam,” the debut feature from his wife, Maryam Touzani, lead actress of “Razzia,” who previously lensed two award-winning shorts – “Aya Goes to the Beach” and “When They Slept.” “Adam” received a production grant from the Doha Film Institute in its spring 2018 grant cycle. Starring Lubna Azabal (“Paradise Now”), the film is about a 30-yearold pregnant woman who travels from the countryside to Casablanca, after the father refuses to recognize the about-to-born child. In Casablanca she bonds with a 45-yearold widow who lives alone with her daughter.
“Marian’s film has beautiful, frozen images,” says Ayouch. “Its artistic line is a bit like Alexander Sokurov’s films – very simple, straight, and formal.”
Ayouch is also prepping an eight-part European TV series, which he says he has embraced because it gives him a bigger canvas to explore characters.