When Paris-based Moroccan filmmaker Ismaël El Iraki worked with actress Fatima Attif in his 2020 breakout debut feature Zanka Contact, he knew he wanted to revisit that collaboration.
Attif went on to win best actress in a supporting role at the Tangier National Film Festival in Morocco, where Zanka Contact (released in France under the title Burning Casablanca) also won best film.
“I wanted to work with her again because she has something that is very ancient, for lack of a better word,” says El Iraki. “When you look into her eyes you feel there are thousands of years looking back.”
That “ancient” feel is exactly what he needed for his next project, Wolfmother, now in development and participating in Marrrakech International Film Festival’s talent development programme Atlas Workshops. Wolfmother — which is Moroccan slang for a strong, single mother, but also means businesswoman — centres on Amira, a cigarette smuggler in the north of Morocco, and her two sons, Dollar and Assil, as the family is drawn into the violent world of cannabis barons and drug trafficking.
El Iraki describes the project as “film noir, equally inspired by real Tangerine drug lords and ancient Greek tragedy”.
Wolfmother is produced by David Grumbach and Alexis Hofmann of France’s Bac Films Production, in co-production with Karim Debbagh of Morocco’s Kasbah Films, Adrià Monés of Spain’s Fasten Films and David Ragonig of Caviar in Belgium.
The current script won the development prize at the Red Sea Souk in Saudi Arabia in 2022 and the team is looking to polish it further in Marrakech, while also raising the profile of the project and assembling some additional financing. Hofmann and Grumbach, says El Iraki, are looking “to think outside the box for the financing — the little sandbox of Moroccan movies, because we used that on my first film and it’s too small for this one”.
The total budget for Wolfmother is expected to be a little over €3m. “It’s a pretty ambitious project,” notes El Iraki. “There is one thing genre movies cannot stand and that’s being subpar in the mise-en-scène department.”
This “stage setting” includes showing “a totally unknown part of the Moroccan experience — that of Moroccan gangsters, drug smugglers,” which El Iraki says will have an international feel. To achieve this the production will need to shoot in different countries, among them Spain and Morocco.
Among El Iraki’s influences for Wolfmother are Medea, the play by Euripides, but also the 1969 film version by Italian auteur Pier Paolo Pasolini, starring Maria Callas. “It also made me think of Sergio Leone, who used to say that gangsters, prostitutes, bank robbers consider filmmakers as confessors,” El Iraki reveals. “And it’s true, it’s something I used a lot in my first film.”