Moroccan-born French director Yasmine Benkiran, whose feature debut ‘Queens’ premiered in Venice and screened at the Marrakech Film Festival, is now working on two ambitious feature films.
Developed at the Atlas Workshops, the sidebar of the industry next to the Marrakech Film Festival, ‘Queens’ is a rare Moroccan film weaving adventure and genre with strong female protagonists.
Benkiran plans to continue exploring complex female characters in her upcoming projects, including a spy movie titled “Elles ont brillé sur le Nil” (“They shone on the Nile”). The project, which has received support from the Ile de France region, is set in 1950s Egypt in Cairo. The story revolves around Zeyna, a makeup artist who investigates the mysterious death of Amal El Abrach, a famous Syrian-born actress known as Asmahan.
“Asmahan was a great actress and singer whose fame was compared to that of Marilyn Monroe and she also died in tragic circumstances,” said Benkiran. “Through the eyes of Zeyna, the film will provide a behind-the-scenes look at the flamboyant Egyptian film world of the 1950s, which was then freer than Hollywood,” the filmmaker continued.
The film is set against the rich backdrop of Egyptian history and the colorful entertainment world that attracted artists from all over the world, Benkiran said. She added that she was drawn to tell this story after reading Fatima Mernissi’s book “Rêves de femme: contes d’enfance au harem.”
While this project is still in its early stages and requires quite a large budget, Benkiran is developing another fanciful adventure film set on a cult beach named Dahomey that was devastated by a tsunami.
Benkiran, who made her directorial debut in 2018 with the short film “Winter Hour,” said she was always a fan of fantasy films and science fiction, but growing up in Morocco, she couldn’t find any local films that appealed to her. As for inspiring female characters, they were “very rare” in Moroccan films.
“Science fiction, action, fantasy and horror movies can also be political, not just social dramas,” she said. For example, ‘Queens’ talks about the limits of Morocco’s patriarchal rules through the story of a trio of rebellious female outlaws – a mother, her daughter and a young girl – who drive through the desert with the local police on their heels.
Benkiran, who attended the film’s Moroccan premiere at the Marrakech Festival, said she was moved to see people cheering, laughing and applauding during the screening. According to Remi Bonhomme, the new artistic director of the festival, it was one of the highlights of this 19th edition.
“Queens” is supported by a strong key team, including music composer Jozef van Wissem whose credits include Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive”, and Pierre Aim, the acclaimed cinematographer of “The Nile Hilton Incident” and the French cult film “La Haine .”
The film is produced by Jean des Forets and Amelie Jacquis at Petit Film, among others, and co-produced by Said Hamich Benlarbi at Mont Fleuri Production.