Jury members (from left to right) French director and screenwriter Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Japanese director and screenwriter Naomi Kawase, Dutch director and photographer Anton Corbijn, Indian actress Richa Chadda, US director Francis Ford Coppola, Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, Italian actor Sergio Castellitto, Moroccan actress Amal Ayouch and French actor Sami Bouajila pose during the opening ceremony of the 15th edition of the Marrakesh international film festival. — AFP
Jury members (from left to right) French director and screenwriter Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Japanese director and screenwriter Naomi Kawase, Dutch director and photographer Anton Corbijn, Indian actress Richa Chadda, US director Francis Ford Coppola, Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, Italian actor Sergio Castellitto, Moroccan actress Amal Ayouch and French actor Sami Bouajila pose during the opening ceremony of the 15th edition of the Marrakesh international film festival. — AFP

Saul Dibb’s “Sand and Blood,” starring Russell Crowe will be one of the main shoots in Morocco next year. Produced by The Independent Film Company, it is line produced by leading Moroccan outfit Zak Alaoui’s Zak Productions. During 2015, twenty-one long features and sixteen TV skeins were shot in Morocco through Nov 30, per Ouarzazate Film Commission sources. Total features should reach 23-24 by year-end.

Foreign shoot numbers in Morocco has edged down vs 2014 (27 features and 12 TV skeins); in terms of spend, the amount reaches $40 million, vs. 2014’s $110 million. However, Sarim Fassi Fihri, the new head of the Moroccan Cinema Center (CCM) head, the nation’s film agency, pointed out to Variety that real investment could be level since, due to new accounting regulation, producers must provide a bank certificates regarding spend associated with projects at the end of the shoot.

In terms of titles, 2014 was an especially good with shoots such as Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert,” Christopher McQuarrie’s “Mission Impossible 5,” and Tom Tykwer’s “A Hologram for the King.” Led by comedies, Morocco saw four US shoots: Todd Philips’ black comedy “Arms and the Dudes,” starring Jonah Hill and Ana de Armas, Larry Charles’ comedy “Army of One,” with Nicolas Cage and Wendi McLendon-Covey, Alexandre Moors’ Iraq War drama “The Yellow Bird,” toplining Will Poulter, Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston and Ian Olds’ drama “The Fixer,” with Melissa Leo, James Franco.

“2015 was not as good as 2014 but Morocco still hosted very interesting projects specially in Marrakech and Ouarzazate. And 2016 will be as good if not better than 2014,” said Amine Tazi, a producer at CLA Studios, who cannot announce several big projects for reasons of confidentiality. Morocco still offers exuberant landscapes, competitive prices and a highly rated know-how from technical crews. Add the enthusiasm from locals and their understanding about possible complications caused by shoots, and a movies loving King and you have noteworthy assets for a consolidated servicing option.

Abderrazzak Zitouny, topper of the Ouarzazate Film Commission, lists more advantages: “Foreign crews are exempt from paying VAT (20%), and all materials and services used in the filming of foreign films in Morocco are VAT exempt; facilitatation of the import of technical equipment and machinery needed for filming; the intervention of some state agencies, the Royal Armed Forces of the Royal Gendarmerie and National Security, and others, to provide the necessary facilities for teams’ photography; and the simplification of administrative procedures regarding the granting of licenses of shoots.”

Cash rebate?s for foreign productions may now add to these lures. Denise O’Dell, who presented Zak Aloui with an honorary prize at the Marrakech 2014 Fest, is currently shooting Terry George’s historical romance “The Promise,” starring Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Oscar Isaac at Figueras, near Girona in Spain). O’Dell’s Kanzaman, a production and financing services outfit, with bases in Spain, Monaco and France which co-produced Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” and Ridley Scott’s “The Kingdom of Heaven,” both Moroccan shoots, said that tax breaks are “the only thing Morocco lacks.”

“For us, it a Spain-Morocco combination would be perfect. We could add up the tax incentives in Spain and those from Morocco, by shooting indoors at Alicante’s Ciudad de la Luz and outdoors in Morocco,” she added, expressing concern about the future of Alicante’s Ciudad de la Luz. A new film law including a tax break system is currently being discussed by Morocco’s parliament. Its mechanisms would be close to South Africa’s stipulating a minimum spend of $1 million, a minimum 18 days of production work (not including pre-production) in Morocco. In that case, producer could get a 20% cash rebate on elegible expenses, Fassi explained to Variety.

The Paris attacks in November have not impacted shoots, said Aloui. “We had a major American shoot here last week, concluding a 15-day shoot. I see no difference,” Aloui told Variety. Honestly, since the Paris attacks in early November, I have sensed no change in terms of security consideration for foreign productions. Zitouny added: “Morocco offers the best work safety conditions. It’s proved by the boost in foreign productions these two last years. Morocco has a real policy to strengthen safety for Moroccans, all visitors and especially for cinema crews.- Reuters