Saïl during the Closing Press Conference of the 2014 FNF, Photo by S. Shafto
Profile of Nour-Eddine Saïl1969:
Becomes at age 21, philosophy professor at the Moulay Youssef High School of Rabat.1973: Launches the National Federation of Ciné-Clubs.1984: Designated Director of Programs for Moroccan Television (TVM).-2000: Nominated Managing Director of the Television channel, 2M.2003: Nominated Director of the Centre Cinématographique Marocain.On the eve of the National Film Festival of Tangier, the big boss of Moroccan film is overbooked. Nevertheless, he makes time for us at the end of the day in his office at the Centre Cinématographique Marocain. Nour-Eddine Saïl knows how to put his work into perspective and never hesitates comparing the Moroccan model to that of other countries or citing major economic principles: a tangible souvenir of his past as a philosophy professor and passionate cinephile.
Meryem Saadi: This year the National Film Festival is celebrating its 15th edition. Do you think its achieved cruising speed?
Nour-Eddine Saïl: Absolutely. Every year, organizers from film festivals all over the world come to Tangier for their programming. It’s proof that the festival is functioning well and that Moroccan productions are of interest on an international level. Last year, fifteen directors of French, Italian, and German festivals were present and Moroccan films were screened in 145 festivals abroad.
Can we say today that Morocco has a real film industry?
When I arrived at the head of the CCM eleven years ago, there were two big challenges to ensure the existence and recognition of a Moroccan cinema. First of all, we had to increase the production of Moroccan films, then there’s the problem of distribution and the decreasing number of cinema theatres in the country. We’ve met the first challenge, since we’ve gone from 4 or 5 films per year in 2003 to 25 today. Morocco now takes its place alongside Egypt and South Africa as a leader in film production in Africa. In order to exceed the limit of thirty films a year, we need step up the rhythm, give subsidies more regularly and also have more professional production companies. We’re two-thirds of the way there.
How do you explain that results for film exhibition are not as positive as that of production?
We had to make choices. The government can’t do everything all at once. Starting in 2003, we made the first decision to increase the rate of film production. Other countries, like Lebanon, have done just the opposite [concentrating on expanding their number of screens but not local production]. As a result, all their screens were invaded by American or Egyptian films. Our priority was first to produce, in order to create the need for screens for showing Moroccan cinema in the country. That’s the wager we made and it’s worked. For the past seven years, the Moroccan box office has been dominated by Moroccan features.
It’s in the same vein that an Aid Commission for digitizing theatres was created last year?
Yes, and in the coming years this commission will become increasingly important. The government understands that it’s very difficult for an exhibitor to spend a million dirhams to renovate a theatre. It’s a decisive step: in a year, 35-mm film will cease to exist worldwide. A theatre that is not equipped digitally will not be able to screen recent films. A dozen Moroccan cinemas have already benefitted from a subvention, and a new session will soon be held for allocations. By the end of 2014, all the cinemas in the kingdom should be equipped with digital projection.
So you’re rather optimistic?
If things continue to advance smoothly, you can say that we’ll have control of the two ends of the chain, production on the one hand and creation of an internal market on the other. Moroccan cinema has a real potential, which investors are beginning to understand. In recent months, foreign investors initiated the construction of multiplexes in several cities, including Rabat and Tangier. Thirty new screens will soon be unveiled. All these elements prove that today film activity [in Morocco] has become profitable.
Is Morocco in the process of becoming an example to follow?
Honestly, we haven’t invented the wheel. We took inspiration from the French, Italian and Spanish models. But it’s true that today many countries want to follow our lead: for example, Egypt, which is a great nation of cinema, but above all several sub-Saharan countries. Senegal and Burkina Faso are in the process of adopting a subsidy system based on our Advance on Ticket Sales (Avances sur recettes). If the Moroccan model is exportable, it’s because it is adaptable to the realities of these countries. Today, outside of Morocco, Egypt and South Africa, the continent produces only 12 films per year. It’s tragic.
The government is still the principle investor in the film sector. How can this be changed?
Over the past decade, the government recognized its responsibilities and adopted a pro-active policy. Unfortunately, private investors are still thinking like pensioners and take no risks. But you have to remember that in Morocco free-market and capitalist investment is a relatively new development. It began after Moroccan independence, but barely. In economics, there are two fundamental principles: confidence and time. Confidence is in the process of being restored and things are beginning to reach maturity. In the coming years, the government will take steps to provide guarantees and help investors who want to construct multiplexes. This will be an important incentive.
Recently, several American T.V. series and films were shooting here in the kingdom.
Has Morocco once again become a flagship destination?
It’s all relative. In recent years, foreign shoots have brought in around 20 – 25 millions dollars per year. That’s obviously an important sum, and it makes us the Arab and African country that currently attracts the most international productions. But we’re light years away from the 100 million dollars achieved annually before the 2008 crisis. Nonetheless, we employ several mechanisms to attract big producers. The Cannes Film Festival is crucial, as are the American markets in Los Angeles, where the Ouarzazate Film Commission is regularly present. Our foreign ambassadors are also very efficient, undertaking meetings with producers and filmmakers. This year, things are looking up. If two or three big projects are ultimately approved, we’ll be able to surpass, even double, the figure of 20 million dollars.
Published in Tel Quel (Morocco), no. 606, February 7-13, 2014: 42-43.