June 20, 2024

Tunisian Youssef Chebbi’s “Plague,” Moroccan Adnane Baraka’s “We Don’t Forget” and Meryam Joobeur’s “Motherhood” feature among buzz titles at this year’s Marrakech Festival Atlas Workshops, which will have Martin Scorsese as their official patron.

Consolidated as one of world’s key platforms for Moroccan, Arab and African projects and pix in production made by a new generation of filmmakers and created by Marrakech Festival artistic director Remi Bonhomme, the Atlas Workshops take place Nov. 27-30. They take place alongside the 20th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, which runs from Nov. 24-Dec. 2.  

In a definite potential highlight of the Atlas Workshops, Meryjam Joubeur, whose “Brotherhood” was Oscar nominated for best live action short, will present 10 minutes of “Motherhood,” one of the awaited feature debuts of 2023, sure to spark major festival interest.     

“Plague” marks Chebbi’s second feature after acclaimed Cannes Directors’ Fortnight genre blender “Ashkal: The Tunisian Investigation,” part procedural, part allegory, part supernatural thriller and a Yellow Veil pick-up after a 2022 Toronto screening. 

Baraka’s “We Don’t Forget” returning to themes of his Locarno Filmmakers of the President debut “Fragments From Heaven,” such as the dichotomy of faith and rationality.

In projects on development, there’s also good word on two debuts from women directors from Lebanon Sandra Tebet’s “Rabies” and Leila Basma’s “Running With Beasts,” and “Il Padre Selvaggio,” a first feature project of still young but eminent photographer-video artist Sammy Baloji, featured in a  Power 100, the annual ranking of the most influential people in art by the British magazine ArtReview.

Agora
Courtesy of Marrakech Film Festival

Films in production also features “Agora,” from conceptual artist Ala Eddine Slim (“The Last of Us”) and “Marie & Jolie,” from Erige Sehiri, whose second feature, “Under the Fig Trees,”  Tunisia’s Academy Awards entry, was described by “Variety” as “a sun-dappled gem.” It was selected for 2022’s Directors’ Fortnight. 

Offering follow-ups from standout debuts and the excitement of discovery of new talent which may have flown largely off the radar, The Atlas Workshops range widely as the Marrakech Film Festival itself noted Friday when announcing the line-up, citing horror pic “Rabies,” Moroccan Hind Bensari’s humanist documentary “Out of School” and the poetic dystopia of Adnane Baraka’s new project, We Don’t Forget (Morocco).

One highlight is the sheer boldness of many directors, former Luxbox executive Hedi Zardi, now Atlas Workshops new director, told Variety, citing “Rabies” and “Running with Beasts.” 

“These aren’t conformist titles. The directors are open to the world, different ways of storytelling. Even if they’ve scored a success, they still take risks with their next film, there’s no sense of déjà vu,” he added.

Also notable is the rise of genre. “This year, many titles tap into genre, whether horror or as being thrillers, which is very new to Arabic and African cinema,” Zardi said.

A humanist espionage thriller offering a damning portrait of Mossad, “Amnesia,” from Palestine’s Dima Hamdan, will be produced by Jiries Copti, also behind “The Cakemaker,” which swept the 2018 Israeli Film Academy award. Cinema knows no boundaries.  

Happy Lovers
Courtesy of Marrakech Film Festival

A brief breakdown of 12 projects at the Workshops: 

“Amnesia,” (Dima Hamdam, Palestine)

Backed by Jiries Copti, producer of “The Cakemaker,” which swept the 2018 Israeli Film Academy awards, the feature debut of former BBC Arabic & World Service producer, adapting her short “Blood and Water.” Based on true stories, an espionage thriller abut how Mossad threaten to out gay Palestinians to co-opt them into its service.   

“Hold Time for Me,” (Fradique, Angola)

The sophomore outing from Fradique, whose debut, 2020’s MUBI-acquired low fi parable “Air Conditioner,” turned heads at Rotterdam: “A striking debut,” said The Guardian. Keying into the same sense of decline, in road trip “Hold Time,” as Luanda sinks, a grieving young Angolan state photographer is assigned to find a Cuban biologist who disappeared 30 years ago after joining a secret expedition to find a new capital for Angola.

“Il Padre Salvaggio,” (Sammy Baloji, Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Delivering a notably contemporary take on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final screenplay, about the relation between a teacher and students, imposing the former’s culture on the latter. The feature debut of Baloji, based out of Lubumbashi and Brussels, who explores cultural clichés social and political power games and a sense of identity in the DRC. “I’m not interested in colonialism as nostalgia, or as a thing of the past, but in the continuation of that system,” Baloji has said.

“La Nuit nous protège,” (Moumani Sanou, Burkina Faso)

Produced by Berni Goldblat with Les Films du Djabadjah, headed by Berni Goldblat and behind “Traverser” (2020) and Vivre Riche (2017). 

“Plague,” (“Fleau,” Youseff Chebbi, Tunisia, France)

One of the Atlas Workshops most anticipated titles, based on a real-life insect infestation of palm trees in ‘90s Tunisia, “Plague” turns on two twins rivalry with a competitor to control a local palm tree business, teasing the real reasons for the plague.     

“Rabies,” (Sandra Tabet, Lebanon) 

A contamination action horror movie, with a potentially immersive soundtrack, Again, mixing genre and political allegory: Julia, thinking Beirut beset by rabies, crosses the city for a student to be treated, and trying to escape is caught in a cyclical nightmare where history repeats itself endlessly. The first feature from Beirut-based London Film School alum Tabet. 

“Running With Beasts,” (Leila Basma, Lebanon)

The feature debut of the FAMU-trained Lebanese filmmaker-photographer, short-listed for the 48th annual Student Academy Awards with “The Adam Basma Project,” centered some kids who plunge into increasing less petty crime. The story of the lost values of a lost generation.  

“The Camel Driving School,” (Halima Ouardiri, Morocco)

From Swiss-Canadian film director, screenwriter and producer (2017 Canadian Hot Doc entry “Manic”), set near Marrakech, a young widow discovers her passion for rally driving, despite the building opposite of her village and teen son. 

“The Passion of Aline,” (“La Passion d’Aline,” Rokhaya Marieme Balde, Senegal)

Presented at Locarno’s Alliance4Development, a portrait of Aline Sitoé Diatta, a Senegalese hero of women’s opposition to French colonial occupation. “I strive to capture the essence of stories such as Aline’s and inscribe myself in their long-rooted oral history,” said Balde, when chosen by Variety as one of 10 Locarno Industry Talents to Track at Locarno.

“Thundering Smoke,” (“Mosi-Oa-Tunya,” Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, Somalia)

Sporting as a title the Tongan name for Victoria Falls, meaning “the sake that thunders,” Ahmed’s follow up to the live action Fespaco Gran Prix winner and Cannes Critics’ Week player “The Gravedigger’s Wife,” an animated feature which is in the same spirit of ‘Sin City.’”   

“We Don’t Forget,” (Adnane Baraka, Morocco)

Huge holes suddenly appear in the deserts. Half of a village talks abut climate change, the other have recourse to religion to explain them. Written by Baraka before and after Morocco’s earthquake.

“Wolfmother,” (Les Fils de la Louvre, Ismaël El Iraki, Morocco)

Set up at France’s Bac Films, a thriller moving from Tangiers to the South of Spain, charting the tragic rise and fall of Amira and son Assil in the cannabis trade.    

More to come….

Titles in Other Sections:

ATLAS CLOSE-UPS 

“Atlantic Mirage,” (Hakim Mao, Morocco) 

“Out of School,” (Hind Bensari, Morocco) 

“Road Trip,” (Linda Qibaa, Morocco) 

“Shehrazade’s Birds,” (Sofia el Khyari, Morocco) 

FILMS IN PRODUCTION OR POST-PRODUCTION

“Agora,” (Ala Eddine Slim, Tunisia)

La Mer au loin,” (Saïd Hamich Benlarbi, Morocco)

“Marie & Jolie,” (Erige Sehiri, Tunisia)

“Motherhood,” (Meryam Joobeur, Tunisia) 

“Perfumed with Mint,” (Muhammed Hamdy, Egypt) 

“The Magma,” (Mia Bendrimia, Algeria) 

The Village Next to Paradise,” (Mo Harawe, Somalia)

ATLAS FILM SHOWCASE

“Demba,” (Mamadou Dia, Senegal)

“Happy Lovers,” (Hicham Lasri, Morocco)

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