Interview with Nabil Ayouch

17 February 2016

Nabil Ayouch receives me at Ali N’ Productions, his production company in a leafy upscale district of Casablanca. He looks tired but is incredibly present. Taller than I imagined, he stares at his interviewer, his sharp, unblinking gaze locked onto mine. Impressive….

When my students see Ali Zawa and then God’s Horses, they see both films together as a diptych. Do you plan a similar thing for Much Loved? A second film about women that takes on some elements of the first?

–    I am not sure about that. And I do not really want to present things in that way. For me, Much Loved is really just the third film after the first two; it is connected with Ali Zawa and God’s Horses. Much Loved follows. At the end of the day, I believe that the themes that haunt me and the characters — the solitude, the deep wounds, the rapport with a society that ignores and judges them at times — those themes are present in all three films: they focus on those who live on the margins of society. This is what is present and transmitted in all three films, I think, and it unites them. But I do understand that the connections are more obvious between Ali Zawa and God’s Horses.

When will Much Loved be released in the U.S.?

–    We do not know yet: there are two distributors vying for the film and our international saleswoman is in the process of choosing between one or the other. A difficult choice, because the first one is looking at a classical, physical theatrical release, and the other is leaning much more towards the internet, Netflix, Hulu, all those things. So these are two different visions for the film, and since Toronto, where she started talking to them, she has not yet decided what it will be. It is the distributor who will set the release date.

Has it come out in Canada or not?

–    No. The film screened at some good festivals in Canada. And in general, if the film is sold in the United States, Canada is part of the deal.

Could you tell me more about the production company? When did you start it?

–    In 1999, the year I moved to Morocco. Originally, it was set up to co-produce Ali Zawa. The film had obtained funds from the Moroccan Cinema Centre and there were also funds from France and Belgium. The idea was to create a three-pronged  funding arrangement. So I decided to set up the company to enable us to get the Moroccan co-production funds for Ali Zawa. After that, since I had worked on a TV series project for a few years, I presented that project to a channel and they loved it. So the company, instead of dying after Ali Zawa, remained alive, and began to work differently, particularly with fiction projects for television. I have also done a lot of work with young filmmakers and young talent in general. We worked on training projects and broadcasts for several years. And we set up competitions with partners, with foundations, with TV channels, things like that … and even advertisements. Back then the company was small: but now we have five, six subsidiaries working in related fields, some of which are hosted here, others are hosted elsewhere.

Do you produce or co-produce Moroccan films by directors who don’t work for television?

–    Yes. A lot. We produced a lot of short films in the early years. It was part of the aims of the production company to identify talent and produce their first films. And back then, we launched a project called the “Film Industry” [“Film Industry Made in Morocco” founded in 2005], and the basis for this project was Roger Corman’s concept of the movie factory: to bring together talented young people in a place (it was Agadir, Morocco) and give them very little time to make a genre film. They were given three cameras, a big team, but only a maximum of two weeks for filming. Really the Corman model. And it worked pretty well. We produced forty films in the course of five years. It was intense. From the Movie Factory emerged many young people who now create beautiful works for TV or Moroccan cinema, such as for example, Yassine Fennane, Brahim Chkiri, Hicham Lasri, for whom we produced C’est Eux les Chiens, etc. There is a ton of them …

On the distribution side: apart from Much Loved, are your films distributed in Morocco?

–    Except for one that was censored in 2002, called Une Minute de soleil en moins (a film made for Arte at the time for their collection “Male / Female”), all my films have been distributed in Morocco so far, yes.

Any hope that it will one day be distributed in Morocco?

–    Yes, there is always hope. It will depend on many factors, but there is always the possibility…

Do you adhere to a national vision of Moroccan cinema or to a vision of a transnational cinema?

–    These are two different things. Is it possible to have a national cinema? Yes, of course, in a way it is all there is: a national cinema in the sense that it provides an anchor. But whether cinema is able to speak to the world depends on the director’s talent and ability. To deliver a universal message is something else. And it is when some amongst these directors achieve the universal, through the power of their story, their talent to convince, and especially through the way in which they tell their stories, which must still be contemporary enough to  attract an audience that is different from the Moroccan audience, that they will start to also find funding in other places.

For me it is almost a must, at least for the past ten or fifteen years. For me film should no longer be financed locally, at least when it wants to excel and have an international career. Obviously, for films that have no ambition beyond local distribution, it’s OK to simply receive the aid of the CCM to make the film. But for all the filmmakers who have international ambitions, it all starts from the moment one looks for funds. Usually when a film is financed locally only, it becomes very difficult to export it. Because in the funding scheme, there are already people who put money towards the rights for distribution abroad.

Are you working on anything now?

–    Yes. I’m working on my next film. I’m in the writing stage. This time I am co-writing the scenario. There are two of us. It’s a bit early to talk about it. The project is called Razzia, that’s all I can say.

Florence Martin