All aboard the new Marrakesh express

Film-makers such as Oliver Stone are slowly turning the Moroccan city into the Hollywood of Africa, Kaleem Aftab reports

The popular image of Marrakesh as the home of souks, camels and snake charmers is about to get a movie makeover if the organisers of the Marrakesh International film festival get to rewrite the script for the city. The festival is turning into a central part in the country's wooing of Hollywood and the attempt to establish the city as the Bollywood of Africa. There was no end to the glamour as stars including Sean Connery walked the red carpet and the royal family threw lavish parties for the guests and the press flown in for the festival.

Casablanca may have its place in Hollywood folklore but it is Marrakesh that has become the focal point of Africa's growing cinema industry. The city is called the New York of Morocco in acknowledgement of the liberal attitudes of the local population that set it apart from the rest of the country. The friendly vibe has not gone unnoticed by film-makers, and in the past year both Oliver Stone and Ridley Scott have make Marrakesh the home to their epic films.

While the government is encouraging Western film-makers to come to the city, it is Bollywood films that Moroccans want to see. Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachan remains the biggest film star in the country, and this year's festival contains a retrospective on the Indian diaspora aimed primarily at pleasing a Moroccan public usually turned off by Western fare.

Now in its fourth year, the festival has become a major promotional tool for the film industry. Sean Connery claimed "this is the genuine film festival" as he picked up a lifetime achievement award before a gala screening of Oliver Stone's Alexander. Stone followed him on stage and announced in French: "Without Morocco there would be no film. It is the place where the East meets the West."

The next day inthe Palais des Congrès, Stone elaborated: "We tried to make the film in Hollywood. But when we factored all the unit costs in California we were way over budget. In Morocco we could run 500 to 2,000 extras a day. It's not possible to do this kind of movie in America."

But it is not just the financial savings that are luring film-makers to Morocco. Stone added: "Morocco had five different looks we liked: we used Essaouira for Greece; we shot the Atlas mountains to double as Hindu Kush and we shot the battle on a broad plain outside Marrakesh. There was not a single dwelling or TV antenna."

There has also been an attempt to encourage Moroccans to make films, and last year a record 10 home-grown films were made. Nour-Eddine Sail, general manager of the Moroccan Cinema Centre, said, "We cannot expect Marrakesh to become a centre of films overnight, but the festival is part of the process of encouraging film-makers to come and also to get Moroccans to make films. Since the festival started four years ago, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of technicians and in casting."

British director Stephen Woolley, who recently shot scenes in Marrakesh for his forthcoming picture The Wild and Wycked World of Brian Jones, said: "The crew was very efficient and there was a sense of family. I have nothing but good things to say." Any worries film-makers may have in upsetting local Islamic sensibilities by shooting nudity are also dispelled by Woolley. "We shot nudity and there did not seem to be a problem with any of the crew."

Yet problems of the Islamic world have disrupted Moroccan attempts to establish itself. Stone revealed that production was almost stopped after Casablanca was bombed last year. "There was a tremendous pressure to quit the country, but we felt secure," he says. "The king and his ministers stepped in to help."

The number of celebrities on show at this year's festival indicates that the bombing in Casablanca has had no ill effects on Marrakesh. Indeed Sir Alan Parker, chair of the festival jury, added, "It is remarkable how the Moroccan authorities are using cinema as a political tool to bridge the gap between East and West. The festival is highlighting the importance of cinema in a way that the message inside movies sometimes does not."

Marrakesh is trying to be more than the Bollywood of Africa; it wants to be the Hollywood of Africa too. It's an ambitious plan that will need more than snake charmers wooing celebrities to succeed.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions