The Kingdom of Morocco is a country with a warm temperate climate, located in North Africa on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. It offers a wide variety of wonderful options for film producers with cultural and geographic diversity, presenting many different locations for film and stills production.
The country is also at a crossroads of cultures, open to embracing a more modern and western ethos while also offering a glimpse into more traditional practices and values. Overall this makes Morocco an accessible country for foreign filmmakers, particularly those covering stories set in the Arab world that would otherwise be considered controversial in certain countries.
Background of Film in Morocco
Morocco has a long-standing tradition of welcoming foreign film productions dating back to the 1920’s. Prestigious international film productions have come to Morocco over the decades, including “Mektoub” by J. Pinchon and Daniel Quintin (1919), “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Alfred Hitchcock (1955), and “Othello” by Orson Welles (1952). More recently, films starring Hollywood heavy-hitters like Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Sean Connery, Robert Redford, Sophia Lauren, and Leonardo Di Caprio have gone to Morocco. Formal establishments like Le Centre Cinématographique Marocain, one of the world’s oldest public establishments responsible for regulating and promoting film (founded in 1944), make Morocco a country with a well established film industry.
Where to Film in Morocco
With such a myriad of locations in Morocco, there are a wide variety of options from beaches, cityscapes, deserts, Roman ruins, the natural beauty of cedar and fir forest-covered mountain slopes and breath-taking gorges and valleys of the Talassemtane National Park.
Morocco offers such a wealth of fascinating places to consider. African Fixer is well equipped to handle scouting locations and Morocco is ideal for any production which is looking for safe options for locations set in the Middle East. It is also an important country to consider because of its geographic situation linking it to Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Getting around Morocco is simple with its good road network, high speed trains and airports in the major cities offering both domestic and international flights. There are also ports in all of the major coastal cities from north to south.
This is the most European city of Morocco. Tangier, a major port city, is close to Spain with regular ferry connections, and Spanish is quite widely spoken in the city.
Rabat is the capital city of Morocco. This pleasant and comfortably accessible city is the home of The Oudaias Kasbah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a peaceful and picturesque district far from the hustle and bustle of the city, despite being right in the city’s core.
Casablanca is the vibrant economic capital of Morocco and is located midway along Morocco’s Atlantic coast. A well known landmark in Casablanca is the Hassan II Mosque. It is the second largest functioning mosque in Africa as well as the 7th largest in the world. Completed in 1993, this mosque is a sumptuous symbol of Casablanca and of Morocco itself, and the only mosque that non-Muslims can enter. It is a beautiful and easily recognizable backdrop for any Morocco production. The city, with its art-deco architecture, has a distinct appearance with pops of color coming through with its street murals dotting the city skyline.
Artistic expression is widely supported by the Moroccan authorities, and Casablanca, as well as cities like Rabat and Marrakech, also has several studios attracting a wide range of productions. These studios are able to cater for all the needs of big-budget foreign productions including providing high quality equipment.
Essaouira is a scenic laid-back seaside town and artistic center, with a thriving local art scene and a bohemian feel dating back to its hippie days of the 1970s. Surfing, like in other coastal cities, is popular.
In-land, Mountain and Desert locations
Marrakech and Ouarzazate
Marrakech is a former imperial city located in the central western region. Like Casablanca, it is also a major economic center and home to mosques, palaces and gardens. The Marrakech Medina dates back to the Berber Empire and includes maze-like alleys with vibrant marketplaces. It is adjacent to Djemaa el-fna Square, bustling day and night with vendors and local entertainers. Koutoubia Mosque is a symbol of the city and is visible for miles with its Moorish minaret of the 12th-century.
Film is also an important part of Marrakech. In 2001, King Mohammed VI, created the annual Marrakech International Film Festival. The film festival brings together members of the arts, culture and media and is welcoming to all forms of cinema. This festival is also a place for young local talent because of the Cinécoles competition which awards the best short films from Moroccan cinema students.
About 200km south of Marrakech is Ouarzazate, described as the ‘door of the desert’. This city is dubbed the Hollywood of Morocco with its film studios. The city is found on the edge of the Sahara Desert and just south of the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains, and has provided an exotic filming location for many films including Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Babel. The city has an international airport just 8 km from the studios, as well as excellent healthcare facilities and the world-class Atlas and CLA Studios. The film sets available cater to a wide range of styles including Roman, Egyptian, Biblical or Asian.
Chefchaouen is a city situated in the northwest Rif Mountains of the country. It is known for its striking and highly photogenic blue-washed buildings of the old town . The other main feature of the city is the leather and weaving workshops found along its steep cobbled streets. It is also one of Morocco’s main hiking and trekking destinations in the lush green relief of the Rif Mountains.
Fes and Meknes
Fes (Fez) is a medieval city in the north east and often referred to as the country’s cultural capital. It is known for its leather tanneries with their brightly-colored vats of dye. Meknes is also a city in northern Morocco, known for its imperial past, with Bab Mansour, a huge gate with arches and mosaic tiling representing this era and leading into the old imperial city. Visually these two northern towns create stunning backdrops for any film production. Volubilis, an easy day trip from either Meknes or Fes, is Morocco’s number one Roman-era ruin and historical location. This location is full of tumbled columns and temple remnants as well as intricate mosaic floors.
The Sahara Desert
Morocco’s Sahara dune fields are located beyond the eastern High Atlas spine near the border with Algeria and close to Fes and Marrakech. Erg Chebbi is, by far, the most sought-after destination for majestic and rippling sand dunes. Here is prime territory for desert activities like dune-surfing, four-wheel-drive dune-bashing, and sunrise and sunset camel trekking. Nearby major cities and towns to the dunes are usually Fes or Marrakech. Draa Valley is another ideal southeastern desert location for architectural and historical productions.
Navigating and Filming in Morocco
Morocco frequently attracts some of the world’s most renowned blockbuster directors as well as film-makers of several other genres such as TV commercials, music videos, fashion photography shoots, TV shows, and documentaries. Morocco is desirable for its proximity to western countries, good infrastructure, easy and accessible permit and customs procedures, and its film-friendly government. Morocco’s history has led it to have diverse groups of people, cultures and languages. Multilingualism is the order of the day and foreigners can expect to interact in English, French- the dominant language of business, Darija-the local Moroccan Arabic dialect, Spanish- spoken mostly in the north, and the inidgenous Berber language- Amazigh.
Morocco, with its varied scenery and cities, people and lifestyles offers such vast opportunities for film producers. With the help of African film fixers, it is an easily accessible filming location with most production requirements catered for within the country. Many of the production facilities with Morocco are of world-class standards and a number of companies have affiliates in North America and Europe allowing for a seamless production process for foreign crews.