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Morocco Attempts To Reverse Box-Office Slide

Variety logo Variety 12/4/2016 Martin Dale
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MARRAKECH — Shortage of screens and low attendances plague the nascent film industries throughout the Maghreb region. Morocco is no exception.

Prior to mass penetration of television in Moroccan households, cinema-going was a national pastime in the kingdom, with over 48 million admissions in 1980. By 1989, this figure had dropped to 31 million, 12.5 million in 1999, and 1.64 million in 2014.

A small sign for hope was recorded in 2015 with admissions increasing by 12% – to 1.84 million.

Statistics for the first nine months of 2016 – 982,648 admissions – suggest that the final result for the year may be lower than that recorded in 2014, in part due to underperformance of local films, which have occupied around half of the Top Ten box-office slots in recent years, but have only clocked up two in the Top Ten this year.

If the continued downward trend is confirmed in 2016, it will be a major disappointment for both public and private-sector initiatives committed to refurbishing existing screens and building new multiplexes.

The leading Moroccan exhibitor, French-Moroccan group Megarama, that has a 58% local market share, has been investing in new complexes. Over the last 12 months, Megarama has expanded its operations, complementing its 14-screener in Casablanca and a nine-plex in Marrakech, with a three-screener in Fez and a recently-opened eight-screen venue, with 1,000 seats, in the international port city of Tangiers.

In the coming months, Megarama also plans to open an 11-screen complex, with 1,400 seats, in Rabat – Morocco’s capital. The project was initially planned to open in February this year but has been delayed.

Megarama’s CEO, Jean-Pierre Lemoine, believes that the market continues to be extremely fragile, in part due to the 20% sales tax on cinema tickets and rampant Internet piracy.

“Attendances continue to fall, notwithstanding our major investments in new complexes and the refurbishment of our existing screens including Laser Barco projection in our three largest screens, which are over 25 meters wide,” Lemoine revealed. “The results from our new multiplex in Tangier have been very modest. One of our screens in Casablanca is running at a loss.”

Sarim Fassi Fihri, president of the Moroccan Cinema Center (CCM) has been in negotiations with other exhibition chains, including Pathé, to set up more multiplexes in Morocco, but progress is slow.

The main initiative launched by the CCM in 2016 has been to provide $0.5 million in funding to refurbish four national screens – the Colisée in Marrakech, the Eden Club A and B, in Casablanca and El Kifah in Rabat.

These screens are dilapidated picture palaces located in the city centers, which Fassi Fihri said have been purchased by the local councils and will now undergo major refurbishment initiatives.

In addition to normal commercial sessions, such venues are also used to host other events – for example the Colisée is one of the venues of the Marrakech Film Festival.

2015 provided an unexpected upturn in total national admissions but when the final statistics for 2016 are confirmed it seems likely they will be below 2014 levels, suggesting that 2015 was only a temporary blip.

The CCM aims to pursue further refurbishment initiatives over the coming years, but the key to reversing Morocco’s admissions slide continues to be the opening of further multiplexes and increased attraction of local audiences, which the recent past has shown is significantly leveraged by the success of local films.

With major films due to bow from local Moroccan helmers, such as Nabil Ayouch, Noureddine Lakhmari, Faouzi Bensaidi, Leila Kilani and Narjiss Nejjar, 2017 may nonetheless be cause for optimism.

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