Cinema in Morocco & Ouarzazate Studios
Holly Ouarzazate !
A jewel of the local economy, the Ouarzazate film studios attract as many large international productions as others, more modest, with its astonishing contrasts, Morocco attracts the film industry with a relatively low labour cost and a recognized political stability.
The debut of cinema in Morocco
The first recorded film shot in Morocco was that of Louis Lumière, “le chevrier marocain”, shot in 1897, only two years after having registered the patent on the cinematograph. The same year the Royal Palace of Fez hosted the first public screening. Under the French protectorate several fictions were filmed including “Mektoub” in 1919 by Jean Pinchon and Daniel Quinton.
If the Moroccan Cinema Centre as well as the Studios and Laboratories Souissi were born in 1944, it was not until 1958 that the first Moroccan feature film was shown: Mohamed Ousfour’s “Le fils maudit”.
Silent film in black and white of 50 min, shows a Morocco after independence and its demons of the game and crime. In this work, Ousfour is a writer, director and director of photography.
In 1968 Tangier received the first Mediterranean film festival, since then Morocco has become one of the countries where the film industry holds a place of first choice.
Directors’ attraction for Morocco…
Orson Welles toured Essaouira, the ancient and mythical Mogador, his masterpiece “Othello” which won him the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival in 1952. In 1954 French cinema returned to Morocco, in the Taroudant region, to shoot “Ali Baba et les 40 voleurs”, a Jacques Becker film with Fernandel.
Alfred Hitchcock toured in 1955, year of birth of Jean Louis Bailly, “The Man Who knew too much” in Marrakech with James Stewart, Doris Day and Daniel Gélin as principal performers. This version released in 1956 is a remake of a first film that Alfred Hitchcock shot in 1934. In 1962 the Ouarzazate region welcomed David Lean who filmed the famous “Lawrence of Arabia” with Peter O’Toole and Omar Charif.
“Cent mille dollars au soleil” directed by Henri Verneuil, released on the screens in 1964. This film is the cinematic adaptation of Claude Veillot’s novel “Nous n’irons pas en Nigeria”, put in dialogue by Michel Audiard.
The truck chases follow the roads of the Todra gorges, and the final scene of the film confronting Jean-Paul Belmondo in Lino Ventura, under the amused eye of Bernard Blier, was shot in the inner courtyard of the Bahia Palace in Marrakech.
In 1974, John Huston realized “The Man Who Would Be King”; released the following year. Sean Connery, principal actor, met his future second wife Micheline Roquebrune in Marrakech during the shooting of the film.
Studios in Ouarzazate and filming
Over the years, Ouarzazate has become an integral part of the world-wide panorama of filming locations.
Naturally, by its geographical location and the grandiose landscapes of the region. To meet the growing needs of the productions, 2 studios were created simultaneously in 1983, the studios Cla and Atlas Corporation.
Lewis Teague’s film “The Jewel of the Nile” opens the ballot for a long list of high-profile productions. This film, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, borrowed the natural scenery of the ksar Aït Ben Haddou.
15th opus of the James Bond series, “The Living Daylights” was produced in 1987 by John Glen. Timothy Dalton is the famous British secret agent. Some scenes were shot in Tangier and the surroundings of Ouarzazate served as natural scenery for the scenes taking place in Afghanistan.
Marrakech, Aït Ben Haddou, Meknes and Volubilis lent their charms to Martin Scorsese who came to realize the same year the controversial “The Last Temptation of Christ”, released on the screens in 1988. With Willem Dafoe in the role of Jesus and Harvey Keitel in the role of Judas. The latter won the Mostra de Venice prize in 1988 and its opposite, the Razzie Awards 1989: worst second male role.
In 1988, Raoul Ruiz posed his cameras for the feature film “Treasure Island” with Anthony Quinn. As for Bernardo Bertolucci, in 1989 he directed “The Sheltering Sky”. Then followed numerous productions with more or less big budget until the return of the talented Martin Scorsese who partly directed at the studios of Ouarzazate, the super production “Kundun” in 1996.
Lovers of big arms and castagnes will discover the sublime landscapes of the Merzouga dunes by watching “Legionnaire”, a film directed by Peter Mc Donald in 1997 with Jean Claude Van Dame as headliners.
1998 marks the return of Timothy Dalton to Ouarzazate in Frank Roddam’s film “Cleopatra”. That same year, Stephen Sommers, Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, together with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, made their debut in the “The Mummy”, the first episode, a fantastic and adventurous film.
Director Ridley Scott used the studios of Ouarzazate in 1999 for three weeks to shoot scenes of slavery, desert travel or the gladiator school of the “Gladiator” peplum.
A blockbuster movie with Russell Crowe in the spotlight. He earned $450 million and won no less than five Oscars. Some scenes from Tony Scott’s film “Spy Game”, released in 2001 with Brad Pitt and Robert Redford, were shot in Ouarzazate and Casablanca.
The twenty-first century begins with a fanfare at the studios of Ouarzazate with the arrival of Alain Chabat and the impressive casting he has assembled for the needs of the highly successful “Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra”. This very funny comedy, adapted from the album Asterix and Cleopatra, will be released on the screens in 2002.
In 2003, Colin Farrell, Jared Leto, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer and Anthony Hopkins came to Ouarzazate to perform the characters of the film “Alexander”, a peplum based on the life of Alexander the Great, under the cameras of Oliver Stone.
It is in the besieged Jerusalem, reconstituted at Cla Studios that about 1,800 extras, most of whom are soldiers provided by King Mohammed VI, fought for 2 months under the direction of Ridley Scott for the film “Kingdom of Heaven” released in 2005.
Brad Pitt returned to the region in 2005 to play Richard Jones’ character in the film “Babel”, the final installment of director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s trilogy, whose two others are “Amores perros” and “21 Grams”.
The dramatic film “The Way Back”, co-written and directed by Peter Weir and with Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris and Colin Farrell, was shot in Ouarzazate and Erfoud region.
Some scenes from the film, inspired by the video game “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” produced by the Caribbean Pirates director Jerry Brukheimer, were shot in the vicinity of Ouarzazate and at ksar Aït ben Haddou.
Other films and series shot in Morocco:
Let us also note and as an indication of other productions toured in Morocco:
Mission impossible 5, James Bond: Spectre, Rock the Casbah by Laila Marrakchi, Rock the Kasabh by Barry Levinson with Bill Murray and Bruce Willis…
Without forgetting the series coming to shoot some scenes like Game of Thrones at the oasis of Fint and Essaouira for the season 3, Tyrant in Marrakech, Kaboul Kitchen in Casablanca…
Visit of the studios
Atlas studio corporation
Exit of Ouarzazate in the direction of Marrakech, Atlas studios organize the visit in life-size scenery of big productions: Gladiator, Kundun, Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, Kingdom of Heaven, Ben-Hur…
These tours last 45 minutes and are open daily from 8:30 am to 11:30 am / 2:15 pm to 6 pm, except for filming.
Admission: 50 Dh per adult, 35 Dh for children (-12 years old). 35 Dh from 10 persons 25 Dh for guests of the hotel Oscar.
The visit of the CLA studios includes several highlights. In a large building, you can discover accessories used in various international productions.
Outside, you can visit an impressive reconstruction of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages. Built for the Ridley Scott Kingdom of Heaven movie, this under siege setting is really worth the detour.
A few hundred meters further on, you will be immersed in another holy city: Mecca. It served the needs of a Moroccan production. A car is required for these visits.
Open every day from 8 am to noon and 2 pm to 5 pm, except in case of filming.
Entrance for the whole: 40 Dh (possibility of group price, more than 10 persons)
Ouarzazate Film Museum
In the city centre of Ouarzazate, the cinema museum is located on the esplanade facing the Kasbah of Taourirt. Opened since June 2007, this museum presents sets and accessories that have been used for the filming of a saga devoted to “the Bible”.
Open daily from 8 am to 6 pm. Admission: 30 Dh – 15 Dh on presentation of the student card and group from 15 persons.
Ouarzazate – From 35 €
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Ouarzazate – From 46 €