Cablegate: Morocco, the World's Next Hollywood?


DE RUEHCL #0210/01 3230912
R 190912Z NOV 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Situated in central Morocco, the Souss-Massa-Draa
region has become one of the world's most appealing film locations -
and the backdrop for several major Hollywood films starring actors
such as Angelina Jolie, Russell Crowe, and Leonardo DiCaprio. The
Moroccan government has implemented a three-pronged approach to
boost the country's film industry, which employs more than half the
region's residents: a fiscal incentive scheme to attract foreign
producers, a doubling of the region's film production capacity to 30
feature films per year, and a willingness to embrace foreign
productions deemed too provocative by other Middle Eastern
countries. The regional film industry's hard-won success may be at
risk, however, if the Government of Morocco does not address the
dearth of local film technicians. End Summary.

Lights, Camera, Action

2. (SBU) During the last decade, the Souss-Massa-Draa region has
quietly become one of the world's most sought-after film locations.
Today, Moroccan film production amounts to some 15 features and 50
short films annually. The city of Ouarzazate, the heart of the
region's film industry, has been the location for some of
Hollywood's major films, featuring stars such as Angelina Jolie,
Russell Crowe, and Leonardo DiCaprio. With its stony deserts,
striking oases, unique Kasbahs, and snow-covered summits, Ouarzazate
has become the Egypt of "The Mummy", the Somalia of "Black Hawk
Down", and the Jerusalem of "The Kingdom of Heaven".

Luring Hollywood

3. (SBU) To supplement the appeal of the region's stunning
landscape, the government has implemented a three-pronged approach
to boost the country's film sector. First, it has implemented a
fiscal incentive scheme to lure international film producers. Under
this scheme, the government offers foreign film companies tax
exemptions on film equipment purchased within the country, reduced
tariff rates for the importation of cinema equipment, free filming
on government-owned property, the use of army personnel and
equipment for cinematic purposes, and concessional airline fares.
When combined with Morocco's relatively inexpensive labor force,
these incentives can equate to savings of 30 to 50 percent on
production costs compared to Europe or the United States, according
to Director of the Souss-Massa-Draa Regional Investment Center
(SDRIC) Abdessadek El Alem.

4. (SBU) The government has also committed to doubling the region's
film production capacity from 15 to 30 feature films per year in the
next five years. To do this, the GOM is partnering with foreign
studios such as Italy's DeLaurentis, said Abderrazzak Zitouny of the
Ouarzazate Film Commission (OFC), a working group tasked with
overseeing this expansion. According to Zitouny, the larger film
production capacity will generate USD 259 million in annual income
for the region and employ close to 8,000 people on a full-time

5. (SBU) Finally, the country's moderate orientation has readily
embraced foreign film productions deemed too provocative by other
Middle Eastern countries. Zitouny told Econoff, "Unlike other
countries in the Middle East we are fine with producing what some
may deem provocative. It is a testament to Morocco's modern and
progressive spirit." As the region's largest employer, Morocco's
film sector wields economic clout, enabling it to push boundaries.
For example, according to Zitouny, Jordan declined to host Leonardo
DiCaprio's "Body of Lies", which dealt with the global war on
terror. But Morocco welcomed the film's crew with open arms. When
the producers of "Sex in the City" were denied permission to film in
Dubai, Morocco was more than glad to invite the crew to film in
Marrakesh. Hassan II University Professor Bekouchi says it is a
sign of the country's moral tolerance.

The Challenge

6. (SBU) Despite this broad-based effort to strengthen the country's
film sector, some obstacles remain. Chief among them is the dearth
of local film technicians. Morocco's Cinematographic Center (CCM),
the central governing authority, remains focused on supporting the
nascent domestic film industry. However, serious deficits exist in
areas such as trained local personnel to support international
productions, said Zitouny. Foreign companies continue to bring
mid-level professionals to Morocco because of the limited pool of
competent local film technicians. "Training will be critical to
supporting international film production, without which Morocco will
not be able to absorb the expected increase of films," added El

7. (SBU) Concerned about the lack of local film technicians, the
GOM has created Morocco's first technical film school in Ouarzazate.
Inaugurated in 2007, with nearly 120 students, the school provides
university graduates with custom design, visual graphic creation,
post-production editing, and set design skills in order to meet the
demands of today's international filmmakers. The two-year program,
which also emphasizes fluency in English and French, will graduate
its first class in December, said the school's director, Ahmed Ait


8. (SBU) Ouarzazate is aggressively pursuing a sister city
partnership with the city of Los Angeles, a testament to the strong
partnership that exists between the American and Moroccan film
communities. With the country's film production capacity set to
double, it is likely that more U.S filmmakers will find Morocco an
appealing film destination. In addition, the film industry has
enormous potential for development under the US-Morocco Free Trade


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