French-Moroccan director Sofia Alaoui made a splash at Sundance with her sci-fi thriller “Animalia,” which used genre to explore dark sides of Moroccan society. The filmmaker is now employing similar tropes on a TV series in early stages titled “Let the Earth Burn.”
“Animalia,” winner of the Special Jury Award for Creative Vision within Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition, is about a pregnant young woman from a rural Berber background who winds up emancipating herself as aliens land in Morocco.
“Let the Earth Burn,” unveiled during the Doha Film Institute’s Qumra Arab film and TV series projects incubator this week, takes its cue from real abductions and slayings in remote areas of Morocco of kids known as “Zouhri” whom the kidnappers believe have supernatural powers.
“I read about these kidnappings in the newspaper, and I thought, ‘This is crazy!'” Alaoui told Variety. “The [medieval] practice is that they sacrifice these young children in order to gain some supernatural force themselves. I said to myself: how can this still exist? And I wondered whether these crimes say something about the society.”
In “Let the Earth Burn,” a rookie female police academy graduate named Kenza is posted to a remote station in a small town in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Surrounded by misogynistic, unwilling colleagues, Kenza learns, despite their indifferences, that some shepherds’ children have gone missing and decides to investigate. The Arabic-language detective series, which Alaoui says is “tinged with fantasy and social drama,” will lead Kenza to explore “a fractured country” and its social inequalities and power struggles.
Like “Animalia” and Alaoui’s previous short “So What If the Goats Die” – which won both the Grand Jury Prize for shorts at Sundance in 2020 as well as France’s César for best short – the TV series will combine supernatural and sociopolitical elements with Alaoui’s trippy visual flair.
Producer Sophie Penson is working with Moroccan producer Saïd Hamich Benlarbi’s Paris-based shingle Barney Production on the project. She said the “Let the Earth Burn” pilot and screenplays are being co-written by Alaoui with a Nordic noir scribe, whose name is still being kept under wraps. “It’s great to mix Sofia’s talent with someone who is used to writing thrillers,” she noted.
“We have great characters and the right plot for a thriller with mystical elements,” Penson pointed out, adding that they are now working “to improve the arc of the story to make it really surprising and give it greater international appeal.”