Written by David Lewis on Sep 18, 2008. Posted in On Location

Country Focus: Morocco

There has been significant activity in Morocco recently and while not all of it has been good news, much has been achieved to raise the profile of filming in the region. One of the main messages to emerge from industry insiders is that the country is working to ensure that its reputation for inspiring scenery is matched by increased resources and improvements in the technical expertise available to filmmakers.

The major setback this year has been the delay in releasing Disney’s, serviced in Morocco by Dune Films, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The delay has attracted some high profile publicity and pushes the film’s release from it’s 2009 slot to 2010. Michael Singer is the unit publicist for the film. He explains: “The delay in releasing the film is to allow for more post production time on the film given the amount of visual effects that are required.”

It is not all bad news, however, as far as this particular production is concerned, and the country’s film industry will benefit in terms of the resources and personnel employed. Singer asserts: “Many local Moroccan resources are being used in the filming: production personnel of all kinds, actors, extras, craftsmen, artisans etc.”

Saloua Zouiten, Head of Production at the Moroccan Cinema Centre, also emphasises the high levels of Moroccan technicians and craftsmen working for the production and points out that it will ultimately provide good promotional opportunities for Morocco as a location. Zouiten adds that Prince of Persia also represents the most important investment in Morocco by foreign productions in the last five years.

Furthermore, Morocco has already attracted a good deal of successful filmmakers and A list stars. The Warner film Body of Lies, due to be released in October, has reportedly been partly shot in Morocco. Other blockbusters which have drawn on the region’s diverse landscape over the past five years include Rendition, Babel and The Kingdom of Heaven.

Morocco also maintains a thriving commercial filming industry. Olivier Lefèvre, Artistic Director at Videorama, says this is due to developments in the country’s infrastructure and also points to improvements in resources and skilled professionals. The statistics are also encouraging. In 2007, France shot 15 commercials in Morocco, with the USA, Germany and Spain each shooting two commercials there. The trend appears to have continued so far this year, with 10 commercials shot in Morocco by French production companies in the first six months.

As far as particular locations are concerned, Lefèvre says the old Medinas continue to be a significant attraction and that commercial filmmakers tend to be particularly keen on the desert scenery as well as the Ouarzazte countryside. These sites have become more attractive thanks to better transportation in the form of new highways.

In addition to general improvements in infrastructure and resources, there have been a number of specific developments which are contributing to Morocco’s success as a film location, Lefèvre observes: “Marrakech has had a cinema school since last year and Casablanca might have one too in a couple of years. The Ouarzazate studios are internationally well-known and provide a good example for other studios. You can now find good Moroccan dop's and a nouvelle vague of young directors is pressing ahead.”

Other initiatives that will certainly help include the launch earlier this year of the new Film Commission in Ouarzazate, South Morocco. Ouarzazate itself is often referred to as the Hollywood of Morocco and long ago earned its place in film history as the backdrop to seminal films like Lawrence Of Arabia, Jesus Of Nazareth, Gladiator and Alexander. The new film commission aims to continue the good work by making the city a major African film production centre by 2016.

In addition to these new developments, Morocco continues to benefit from its age old advantages of spectacular scenery and varied landscapes. Indeed industry experts are keen to emphasise that while it is a cost-effective place to film, the scenery itself remains a huge draw for filmmakers.

The Moroccan Cinema Centre points out that in recent years, Morocco has attracted international directors and producers. It says in particular that in addition to American filmmakers, French, Italians, British and Dutch also find this region a stimulating place to film. Lefèvre adds: “More down to earth reasons for the popularity of Morocco would simply be its weather. It's good all year long and sunsets in the Ouarzazate region are considered the most beautiful in the world!”

It is also worth noting that The Prince of Persia has indeed been delayed and not cancelled. When it is released in two year’s time, it will feature a variety of locations. Those involved in the film have been vague about precise locations but Singer reveals: “We are filming in and around the cities of Marrakesh, Ouarzazate and Erfoud.” Certainly, any disappointment over the delayed Disney film should be seen in the context of a thriving film industry in Morocco, and one which looks set to go from strength to strength.

Obtaining a Permit
Moroccan production companies need to obtain a special permit if they want to take charge of the executive production of foreign films shot in Morocco. Saloua Zouiten at the Moroccan Cinema Centre outlines the details:

A company needs to be authorised by the Moroccan Cinema Centre (CCM) to produce any kind of domestic movie, commercial, or music video. This is to ensure that all the paperwork is legal and in order.

The social capital of the company must be at least MAD300,000.

The company must have already produced at least one feature film or three shorts.

Features or shorts must be of an acceptable level of production.

If a company carries out services in Morocco without having the right registration (as above), the CCM can fine the production between MAD50,000 ans MAD100,000. These “illegal” companies can then only work on short movies, commercials, music videos or small TV programmes (a large movie could be detected too easily).

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