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Films from Africa and the Middle East have enjoyed significant festival presence this year – such as Mati Diop’s French-Senegalese pic “Atlantics,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. “In 2019 we saw a new generation of filmmakers emerging on the scene,” says Rémi Bonhomme program manager of Critics’ Week in Cannes and the coordinator of the Atlas Workshops, which run Dec. 3-6 at the Marrakech Film Festival.

At Cannes, in addition to Diop’s prize, Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman won a Jury Special Mention award for his satire “It Must Be Heaven,” and seven African and Arab films screened in the different competitive sections. At Locarno, Senegalese writer-director Mamadou Dia’s won best first feature for “Nafi’s Father” and Algerian helmer Hassen Ferhani won best emerging director award for his documentary “143 Rue du Désert,” which won a postproduction prize at the 2018 Atlas Workshops. At Venice, Lebanese helmer Ahmad Ghossein won best film in Venice Critics’ Week for “All This Victory.”

The Atlas Workshops aim to capitalize on this rising festival presence by offering a sneak preview of new projects from African and Arab filmmakers for television buyers, festival directors and sales agents. The four-day event includes two sections: with 10 projects in the development competition and six projects in the pix-in-post competition. Projects will receive mentoring from guest consultants, and will pitch or screen their projects to industry guests, while competing for grants totaling MAD640,000 ($66,000). The specialist advice covers aspects such as script, editing, music composing and international sales.

Many of the projects in the two main competitions are by upcoming filmmakers, but also include established names such as Egypt’s Tamer el Saïd (“In the Last Days of the City”), who has a second feature in development, and Morocco’s Leïla Kilani (“On the Edge”), who will present the roughcut of her second feature, “Joint Possession.”

This year’s edition includes two new initiatives – the Atlas Close-Ups program for six Moroccan projects, and the Atlas Films Showcase with three completed films by established African and Arab filmmakers that will be screened to festival directors and programmers.

A third new initiative is co-hosted with Canada’s Hot Docs, and will screen pics by Four African documentary makers that have been supported by the Hot Docs – Blue Ice Group.

In total, 28 projects in development and post-production will be presented, selected from 130 submissions, with 13 Moroccan films and 14 countries represented. This includes countries with low film production levels – such as Comoros, Djibouti, Mozambique, and Tanzania.

There will be panel discussions on the writing, production and distribution of films from Africa and the Middle East, including a session dedicated to writing for genre cinema.

The opening panel discussion will be by Diop, who will talk about her supernatural-themed pic “Atlantics,” which bows on Netflix on Nov. 29.

“The new generation of filmmakers is inspired by both independent filmmaking and also by genre films,” says Bonhomme. “I’m very interested in filmmakers who are flirting with genre. This is a very interesting development in Arab and African cinema. We will also explore how this new trend is reflected in Arab literature. For example there is a very strong genre-themed literary tradition in the Arab world, such as Ahmed Saadawi’s horror-fantasy “Frankenstein in Baghdad,” which has enjoyed huge success and won many awards, and will soon be adapted as an international feature.

“Another example is the Maskoon Fantastic Film Festival in Beirut, which is dedicated to genre filmmaking. I think this is a moment where audiences and filmmakers in the Arab world are interested in this type of filmmaking. For example, Mati Diop explores traditional Senegalese beliefs in her film, ‘Atlantics’.”

There will also be a panel discussion on exhibition strategies in the region, which is a major challenge due to the low number of screens. Sixteen members of the Network of Alternative Arab Screens will attend.

In total 270 international professionals will attend the workshops, including festival directors and programmers such as Alberto Barbera (Venice), Sarah Dawson (IFDA), Emilie Bujès (Visions du Réel), Daniela Persico (Locarno), Paul Federbush (Sundance Institute), Olena Decocks (Hot Docs), Joseph Fahim (Karlovy Vary), Mohamed Hefzy (Cairo), and Claire Diao, Fabienne Hanclot and Christophe Leparc (Cannes).

Sales agents, distributors and TV buyers attending include Eva Diederix (Wild Bunch), Yohann Comte (Charades), Hedi Zardi (Luxbox), Thomas Pibarot (Le Pacte), Martin Gondre (Best Friend Forever), Aida Benelkhadir (Orange Studio), Elia Suleiman (Doha Film Institute), Alexandra Henochsberg (Ad Vitam) and Laurent Hassid (Canal Plus).

Netflix is once again sponsoring the event and will have three executives attending, headed by Claire Willats, who is also a jury member for the workshops.

The other jury members for the two competitions are Lebanese producer Georges Schoucair, Moroccan director Laila Marrakchi, Senegalese producer Oumar Sall, Tunisian producer Chiraz Latiri, and French sales agent Juliette Schrameck.

PROJECTS IN DEVELOPMENT
ASKHKAL by Youssef Chebbi (Tunisia)
COURA + OLEYE by Iman Dijonne (Senegal)
HEIRLOOM by Larissa Sansour & Søren Lind (Palestine)
IKIMANUKA – SEASONS OF THE WEARY by Samuel Ishimwe (Rwanda)
THE MOTHER OF ALL LIES by Asmae El Moudir (Morocco) – documentary
LES MEUTES by Kamal Lazraq (Morocco)
PERFUMED WITH MINT by Hamdy Muhamed (Egypt)
A SECOND FILM by Tamer el Saïd (Egypt)
SWEET ANNOYANCE by Hiwot Admasu Getaneh (Ethiopia)
ZAÏRIA by Machérie Ekwa Bahango (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

FILMS IN POST-PRODUCTION
THE GRAVEDIGGER by Khadar Ahmed (Djibouti)
JOINT POSSESSION by Leila Kilani (Morocco)
MICA by Ismaël Ferroukhi (Morocco)
RED CARD by Mohamed Said Ouma (Comoros) – documentary
A TUG OF WAR (VUTA N’KUVUTE) by Amil Schivji (Tanzania)
ZANKA CONTACT by Ismaël el Iraki (Morocco)

ATLAS FILMS SHOWCASE
ON THE WAY TO THE BILLION by Dieudo Hamadi (Democratic Republic of the Congo) – documentary
COLLAPSED WALL by Hakim Belabbes (Morocco)
OUR DARK 70S by Ali Essafi (Morocco) – documentary

ATLAS CLOSE-UPS
ATTEINTE A LA PUDEUR by Mohamed Bouhari (Morocco)
LA CAMEL DRIVING SCHOOL by Halima Ouardiri (Morocco)
LE CHAMEAU MANQUANT by Cheikh N’Diaye (Morocco) – documentary
KHOURIBGA BLUES by Andrea Parena and Omar Kamel (Morocco) – documentary
LE MUR DE LA MORT by Amine Sabir (Morocco) – documentary
LA TEMPETE by Sofia Alaoui (Morocco)

HOT DOCS-BLUE ICE GROUP
THE NIGHTS STILL SMELLS OF GUNPOWDER by Inadelso Cossa (Mozambique) – documentary
THE RADICAL by Richard Finn Gregory (South Africa) – documentary
ZINDER by Aïcha Macky (Niger) – documentary