Morocco may be feeling the economic benefits of foreign productions coming to the country to shoot, but local film-makers this week voiced concerns that the influx of foreign money and crews was having no significant knock-on benefits to indigenous production.
In a frank and wide-ranging round table discussion at the Marrakech International Film Festival (Oct 3-8) delegates heard how important inward investment had become to the Moroccan economy. In 2002, in the province of Ouarzazate alone, 52 features were shot with total budgets of $166m.
These productions created 91,000 temporary jobs. "The Moroccan state is starting to feel the economic value of this film production," said Andre Azoulay, counsellor to king Mohammed VI and deputy vice chairman of the Marrakech International Film Festival Foundation. "And it has tried to follow it up with incentives, financial and otherwise."
Morocco is currently attracting a slew of mega-budget productions, such as Oliver Stone's $150m Alexander and Ridley Scott's Kingdom Of Heaven - which starts shooting in Morocco in January - because of its low costs and stunning locations.
A free trade agreement with the US, currently under discussion and reportedly to be concluded by the end of the year, could open Morocco up to US productions even further.
But some local film-makers at this week's round table session were concerned that local projects were being overlooked by state support in favour of large budget overseas features.
"All the people from the Moroccan film industry employed in these films is an assistant to an assistant," said one Moroccan producer. "We have huge international co-productions coming here and [the local Moroccan film industry] does not actually benefit."
Kamal Belghmi, owner of Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate, argued that the creation of a cutting edge film-school was necessary to improve Moroccan skills. "Sometimes Moroccans are used only in the second unit," he said. "American films go to Canada and employ Canadians in the first unit."
There were also calls to reduce state VAT - which is waived for foreign productions - from 20% to 5% for Moroccan projects.
With an historical lack of state support, and a disinterested local financial community, Moroccan producers are increasingly looking to attract international co-production partners - particularly from France.
Faouzi Bensaidi's acclaimed Mille Mois, which opened the festival last Friday (Oct 3) is a Moroccan-French-Belgian co-production sold internationally by Fortissimo Film Sales.
"Producers cannot get support from the financial sector," said Moroccan director and producer Abdelkader Lagtaa. "There is no opportunity for credit, no mechanism for Moroccan film production."
"Sometimes the Moroccan film industry is not taken seriously by the financial sector," said Atlas' Kamal Belghmi. "So we need to fight. It's an uphill struggle. We do have a risk problem, with the bombings in Casablanca, but we have to show the advantages that we have and this is down to communication and marketing."
To move towards improving the situation, Belghmi is planning to set up a seminar later this year with financiers and bankers to try and convince them of the value of the Moroccan film industry."
Spanish banks are involved in Spanish film," said Andre Azoulay. "I don't know why this isn't the case in Morocco."