[1] Ouarzazate is a desert town at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. More than half of its residents rely on the film industry for jobs. The town attracts Hollywood and European filmmakers for its landscape and picture-perfect locations. Its Kasbah, with its red and brown mud houses and narrow streets, is one of these locations. It has been chosen by many US and British movie makers as a location for big budget films such as “Gladiators” and “Kingdom of Heaven”.

[2] The cinema has brought so many benefits to Ouarzazate. Its residents have long depended on the film industry for jobs. They may work as technicians, sound engineers or decorators, but they are mainly given unimportant roles as extras. Mbarka, her husband, and their five children have all appeared in Western films as extras. Mbarka has been in so many Hollywood films over the past 20 years that she cannot remember most of them. She does not even know the name of the last one she appeared in, dressed in the elaborate costume of an ancient Egyptian. “I was in the film for 15 days. It was about religion. My son, Azzedine, knows its name,” said Mbarka.

[3] People of Ouarzazate are thankful to the foreign film industry for offering them jobs. For example, Kingdom of Heaven, a $180 million US production, provided eight months of work for 2800 people. “When the cinema comes here, we are happy,” said Azzedine who has appeared in movies since he was seven. When there’s no movie in town, he doesn’t seek any other job; he doesn’t want to miss a film opportunity though he is not well paid. In fact, inexperienced Moroccan extras get as little as $15 per day. Those with experience earn more; they get about $24 per day or as much as $60. Inexperienced European extras, on the other hand, get about $40 per day. This has led to complaints of discrimination by some Ouarzazate residents.

[4] Abdelhaq Ouzzine, for example, considers himself an actor and wants to be treated like one. He is proud of his relationship with the cinema; his father appeared as an extra in the classic film Lawrence of Arabia more than forty years ago. “The problem we have in Ouarzazate is that we are actors but we get paid as extras,” he said. “If we complain, they may not employ us again,” he further added. Ouzzine explains that when he played the role of Cain, he only got $24 per day. “This was an actor’s role,” he said, “but I kept my mouth shut; we have no one to defend our rights”.

Click here to download: National exam Arts June 2013

 

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