Amjad Al Rasheed’s “Inshallah A Boy,” Luck Razanajaona’s “Disco Afrika,” and Boubacar Sangaré’s “A Golden Life” claimed a trio of post-production prizes at this year’s Atlas Workshops, which ran from Nov. 14–17 as part of the Marrakech Film Festival.

The Moroccan festival’s industry platform, this 5th edition of the Atlas Workshops saw a return to in-person events after two years online, and with it, a welcome reception from the 250 professional delegates who turned out to support the 23 selected projects – in development, production and post-production – with mentorship sessions, targeted consulting and, finally, $109,000 in prize money split between the eight winning titles.

Directed by Amjad Al Rasheed, produced by Rula Nasser of The Imaginarium Films, and winner of this year’s top prize at Venice Final Cut, the Jordanian drama “Inshallah A Boy” can now add a $25,000 Atlas Workshops post-production grant to an already hefty list honors (that also includes honors from the El Gouna and Fribourg festivals).  The much-acclaimed project follows a young widow navigating a harshly patriarchal legal system in the wake of her husband’s unexpected death. The only solution to a system designed to add humiliation to heartbreak? Give birth to a boy.

“So many people ask us: ‘Is this real? Do you really have this law?!’ It’s inspired by the experience of someone I know, someone close to me. But when we started to develop the story, we were surprised to find out how common this practice is,” the director told Variety out of Venice.

Disco Afrika Courtesy of Marrakech Film Festival

Described as “similar to the Dardenne brothers, set in Madagascar, and with really great music,” Luck Razanajaona’s “Disco Afrika” took home $15,5000 in post-production funds. The ten minutes of footage screened in Marrakech found a young sapphire miner narrowly dodge death in a tension filled nighttime escape before finding new work as a dockworker – and with that, the pull towards revolution. Upon returning to his family home, the twentysomething lead also discovers his father’s enviable collection of Afro-Funk vinyls – lending this project a toe-tapping beat.    

“A Golden Life” director Boubacar Sangaré described his gold-mining doc as “a film for the big-screen” and the footage screened in Marrakech certainly proved his point. Set in the mines of Burkina Faso, the feature debut evinced a taciturn and rugged splendor as it explored the work conditions and natural surroundings of a group of (quite literal) gold-diggers trying to extract for themselves a better life. Produced by Faissol Gnonlonfin, the project received $10,300 in completion funding, and should be ready for early next year.

On the development side, Saïd Hamich Benlarbi’s “La Mer au Loin” (The Sea in the Distance) received a grant to the tune of $15,500. Produced by Sophie Pinson of Barney Production and Manuel Chiche of The Jokers, the 1990s-set project follows a paperless immigrant living in exile in Marseille. While prepping this second feature, the Moroccan-French filmmaker has emerged as one of the industry’s most dynamic young producers, with credits on films from Nabil Ayouch, Faouzi Bensaïdi, and Ismael El Iraki.

Other development prize winners included “Pigeon Wars” from Dania Bdeir, “Demba” from Mamadou Dia, and “Lënde” from Katy Lena Ndiaye, together claiming $20,7000 in grants. Finally, Sameh Alaa’s “Whale Belly” won the Artekino International Prize to the tune of $6,200.  

One of the biggest buzz projects at the Atlas Workshops’ development strand,  “Pigeon Wars” marks the first feature from the Canadian-Lebanese filmmaker Dania Bdeir, whose short “Warsha” has won over 60 awards –  three of which are Oscar qualifying, at Sundance, Outfest and Tokyo’s Short Shorts.

Produced by Lebanon’s Pierre Sarraf from Né à Beyrouth Films, behind Conecta Fiction winner “Status Quo,” and Sahar Yousefi (“Play, Rewind, Play”) at Canada’s Nava Projects, “Pigeon Wars” turns on a young woman seeking glory in Beirut’s male-dominated world of pigeon racing. 

Mamadou Dia’s “Demba” was another Workshops standout, his follow-up to his 2019 Locarno best first feature winner “Nafi’s Father.” Set up at U.S.-Senegal based JoyeDidi, it turns on a 55-year-old widower unable to shake off the death of his wife in a Senegal where grieving and depression remain taboo.

Produced by Senegal’s Sunuy Films, France’s Tact Production and Belgium’s Neon Rouge, “Lende,” Ndiaye’s second feature, looks at a fisherman’s neighborhood sinking under rising Atlantic water levels in St. Louis, Senegal. 

Directed by Ala whose 2020 short “I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face” was first Egyptian film to win a Cannes Palme d’Or, his debut feature “Whale Belly” turns on a 17-year-old daughter battling to save her ailing father’s life.