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Sales Agents Highlight Importance of Marrakech’s Atlas Workshops

Ten leading European sales agents attended the first edition of Marrakech Film Festival’s Atlas Workshops. In interviews with Variety the executives emphasized the importance of this new industry event, which will help leverage the importance of Marrakech as a key industry hub for Arab and African filmmakers.

Films Boutique’s Gabor Greiner said that the workshops provided an excellent opportunity to meet filmmakers and producers from the region, some of whom don’t travel very often to festivals in Europe.

“African cinema has tremendous potential and we’re keen to learn more about cinema from the region. As sales agents we’re on the lookout for something that stands out, and it can be easier to find unusual new voices in a region where cinema production is less common.”

Greiner cited examples of recent films that have raised visibility for Africa-related issues – such as Aalam-Warqe Davidian’s tragic romance “Fig Tree,” set at the end of the Ethiopian Civil War, which won the Audentia Award for best female director at Toronto. He emphasized the potential audience interest in films that portray the region.

Indie Sales’ Martin Gondre echoed this sentiment. “We are very happy to be here. It’s very nice to have a new platform for Arab cinema after the end of Dubai. Marrakech is close at hand, only a two-hour flight from Paris. The fest happens at a good time of year and the workshops are curated by Rémi Bonhomme, who has very good taste. The fest’s official selection is extremely interesting. It’s a really good new platform for us.”

Gondre says that he already had a few of the projects at the workshops on his radar, but has discovered new projects and filmmakers that he believes may evolve into deals.

He cited examples of recent successes from the region such as the 2017 Lebanese drama film “The Insult,” directed by Ziad Doueiri, which premiered in Venice and was nominated for the foreign film Oscar at the 90th Academy Awards. “We’re particularly interested in cross-over films that have real artistic vision combined with commercial potential.”

He is upbeat about the growing presence of Netflix and other platforms in the region, especially for first-time filmmakers, but emphasized the importance of the festival and theatrical window. “If we sell to a streaming platform and then can’t get festival time or the chance to build media coverage then it’s not a good deal.”

Kinology’s Gaelle Mareschi is familiar with the region having repped Zambian-Welsh helmer Rungano Nyoni’s 2017 feature debut, “I Am Not a Witch,” which screened in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, and was selected as the British entry for the foreign-language film Oscar.

“We are really excited by the projects at the workshops and believe that Africa as a whole is a really exciting potential source of stories,” Mareschi said. “There are many countries where nobody has ever shot before. We work a lot with both commercial and non-commercial circuits all across Africa.”

Alpha Violet’s Virginie Devesa is very enthusiastic about Marrakech, with two films playing in Official Competition – Mexican film “The Chambermaid” by Lila Avilés and Bulgarian film “Irina” by Nadejda Koseva. She has previously repped several pics from the Maghreb region, including Moroccan film “House in the Fields,” by Tala Hadid. Her editorial line focuses on women filmmakers and she believes there are major talents in the Arab and African region.

Urban Distribution International’s Frederic Corvez underlined the importance of having a new industry hub in the Western Mediterranean.

In the past UDI has repped several films from the region, including Moroccan films “The Rif Lover” by Narjiss Nejjar and “Death for Sale” by Faouzi Bensaïdi, and the Lebanese film “Lebanese Rocket Society” by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige.

Corvez is convinced that Arab and African cinema have major potential.

“Over the past 10 years, cinema has developed a lot in Asia and Latin America and there is now rising interest is Africa. This also coincides with investments made by groups such as Orange, Netflix and other platforms that want to tap into this expanding market.”

He was very enthusiastic about the Atlas Workshops: “I am talking with producers about different projects and there is one in particular that has triggered my interest and I aim to follow up after the event.”

“There’s a real wave of cinema in the Arab world. Suddenly it’s happening,” enthuses Georges Schoucair, CEO of Schortcut Films and Abbout Productions, who finances and coproduces independent films, including Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult,” Rana Eid’s Locarno-player “Panoptic,” and Alain Gomis’ Senegalese pic “Felicity,” which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize in Berlin in 2017.

Schoucair had a project screening in the post-production competition – the documentary “We Are From There” by Wissam Tanios, that provides a personal view of two cousins who are Syrian refugees.

“It’s been a very good workshop. It’s a very homogeneous group, with a well selected group of projects and guests. A very good match between festivals, producers and projects. It’s very important to create bridges within the region and with Europe. I’ve done 15 meetings here and there are some very interesting projects.”

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