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Bible Stories and Thrillers Make Morocco Filming Choice

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In this photo dated Jan. 29, 2015 a movie-themed municipal art on a traffic circle in the city of Ouarzazate where dozens of foreign movies are filmed every year. It has been a banner year for filming in Morocco with more money spent by foreign film productions in the country in 2014 than in the past five years put together, as it rides on its reputation for stability and exotic locales. (AP Photo/ Paul Schemm)

In this photo dated Jan. 29, 2015 a movie-themed municipal art on a traffic circle in the city of Ouarzazate where dozens of foreign movies are filmed every year. (AP Photo/ Paul Schemm)

PAUL SCHEMM, Associated Press

OUARZAZATE, Morocco (AP) — “QUIET!” The cry rings out in English, French and Arabic across the cobblestoned streets of Jerusalem, as filming begins for a scene in the series “A.D. The Bible Continues.”

But while the arched doorways, balconies and furnishings all say Roman-era Israel, the real-life setting is southern Morocco.

Viewers in America and elsewhere in the world may not know it but they have seen a lot of Morocco in the past year. It has served as the Baghdad of “American Sniper,” the Tehran seen in TV series “Homeland,” the Mali of “American Odyssey” and the Egypt that will appear in the miniseries “King Tut.” Morocco has also been Somalia numerous times, including in the 2001 film “Blackhawk Down,” and more recently in the 2013 “Captain Philips.” And it will be Saudi Arabia in this year’s “Hologram for a King” starring Tom Hanks.

All in all, it has been a banner year for Morocco’s status as a gigantic film-set — with $120 million spent by foreign film productions in the country last year, more than in the past five years put together.

The North African kingdom is riding high on its reputation for stability and exotic locales, but industry officials say that Morocco needs to do more — and offer more incentives — to realize its potential as a filming destination. It is contending with increasingly stiff competition from South Africa and other countries that offer deep tax rebates.

For Morocco’s film industry, the future depends on the right package of sweeteners to persuade studios to do more than just film exteriors here but also use local facilities. The ultimate goal is to get Hollywood to film entire movies in Morocco, said Sarim Fassi-Fihri, head of the Moroccan Center for Cinematography, which oversees the industry.

“The day tax incentives come to Morocco, the whole industry will move here,” he said, cutting a cinematic figure himself, sporting a fedora and puffing on a cigar. “If we make $120 million today, with tax incentives we could go up to $200-$250 million.”

He pulled out a sheaf of publicity brochures from competitors in Turkey, Colombia, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Ireland, even the Canadian province of Manitoba, with promised tax rebates of 20-40 percent plastered across the covers to entice film companies.

Ever since 1962, when David Lean filmed scenes from “Lawrence of Arabia” in Morocco, film companies have been using its deserts, mountains and cities as stand-ins for exotic locations. At the vast Atlas Studios complex in Ouarzazate — Morocco’s desert Hollywood perched between the High Atlas and the Sahara — there are sets from dozens of movies from the past decades.

Here, it’s possible to ride the camel used by Nicole Kidman in the upcoming “Queen of the Desert” past the pharaonic sets from 2002 French film “Asterix and Obelix Meet Cleopatra” to the fortifications Ridley Scott built to recreate medieval Jerusalem for the 2005 crusader film “Kingdom of Heaven.”

Morocco has fallen in and out of fashion as a movie set over the decades. One mainstay has been biblical films, and that business is booming now with the bible-craze taking off in America. At one point over the winter, there were three actors playing Jesus in different productions staying at the main hotel in Ouarzazate.

The new boom comes off some lean years, beginning with the 2008 global financial crisis and exacerbated by the 2011 Arab Spring unrest that led insurers to pull film companies out of the Middle East. But in the case of Morocco, they came back.

Morocco stands out for being blessed with the people and landscapes needed to satisfy renewed interest in the Middle East, while having none of the agitation common elsewhere.

“The Arab Spring did help us, actually, when everyone was more worried to come to Tunisia and everywhere else, they were coming to Morocco because it was a lot safer,” said Khadija Alami, head of one of Morocco’s several local production companies that partner with international companies.

Alami first worked on the 1985 Chevy Case comedy “Spies like Us,” soon followed by “Ishtar,” before founding her own production company in 1998. It organizes crews, permissions and filming locations for shoots.

The industry has also been boosted by official support. While the state has yet to approve tax rebates, it does make it easy to work in Morocco and is happy to lend the services of the Moroccan army for a reasonable fee.

Aside from the helicopters, the military equipment used in “Blackhawk Down” largely came from the Moroccan army. Soldiers also often play extras when huge crowd scenes are called for.

The government even allowed the main highway between Marrakech and the seaside town of Agadir to be closed for three weeks last year for “Mission Impossible 5.” Local media later credited the closure for a drug bust — when a car full of cocaine ran afoul of a police checkpoint in the detour.

Most important is Morocco’s reputation for tolerance regarding themes other Muslim countries might find unpalatable. Biblical stories are out of the question in some conservative countries and the current vogue for thrillers set in the Middle East is too political for many Islamic countries.

“There is a big boom here because of its nature as the most liberal of the Muslim countries,” said Eamon Patrick, a line producer for “A.D.”

“So any filming that uses a contemporary Middle East setting, they do a lot of it here,” Patrick said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Commentary

On Ishmael Reed’s Inclusion and Van Jones’ Amazon Prime

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor. 

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Ishmael Reed/Photo by Emil Guillermo

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor.

That Oakland. You know it? It’s the backdrop of a profile in the New Yorker magazine on Ishmael Reed, novelist, playwright, poet, and resident of Oakland. Hills? Oh no, the flats. Reed is a jazz guy; He B-flat. 

Hopefully, the joker in Reed laughs at that pun. It’s because of Reed that I am a writer. But let me not forget Flossie Lewis, my high school English teacher, and current Oakland resident. Lewis set me up. Reed delivered the punch.  

I first met Reed in St. Louis, Mo., where he was the “artist in residence” for Washington University’s first Writer’s Program. Intended to become a better Iowa Writers Workshop, it had all white writers like William Gass and Stanley Elkin. Reed was the token-in-resident. I was the token minority grad student. When one writer told me to stop writing about my Filipino family, Reed was there to tell me to put them back in. 

That’s what Ishmael did for me. 

The New Yorker profile published on July 19 compelled me to pull out Reed’s work again. “Mumbo Jumbo” (1972) re-read during the pandemic jumps off the page and is funnier than ever. People coming down with a virus that makes people dance the boogie?  It was a finalist for the National Book Award and considered for the Pulitzer Prize. 

The New Yorker also details Reed’s life with his wife, the dancer/choreographer/director Carla Blank, and their daughter, the poet Tennessee Reed. And you’ll learn how the writing all started–as a jazz columnist in the Black press for the Buffalo Empire Star.

That’s the enduring value of the ethnic media, the Black press, and newspapers like the Oakland Post. It’s still a place where diverse voices can let it all out.  

Asked about his legacy, Reed was simple and humble. “I made American literature more democratic for writers from different backgrounds,” he said. “I was part of that movement to be heard.”

I heard that. 

Van Jones’ $100 Millon Speech

Ishmael Reed is one of the only MacArthur Genius grant winners I know.

But Van Jones is the first winner of the Courage and Civility Award, which he received on July 20. Yes, that Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center. Way before CNN. I hope he remembers how he was a guest on my old New California Media roundtable talk TV show on the ethnic media more than 20 years ago on KCSM-TV. 

Because the Courage and Civility Award is $100 million unattached–from Jeff Bezos.

I wasn’t crazy about Richard Branson’s flight, so you know I’m not out-of-this-world over Bezos’s 63-mile jaunt, which I call the Neo-Space Age’s white flight. You can go beyond the suburbs.
Bezos has been hammered over not paying his taxes, and how spending billions of dollars into space travel during a time of real humanitarian need on Earth is on its face one word–obscene.

To his credit, he did what all rich people of money do when they stretch the limits of tasteful behavior.

They use their money by giving it away. It’s how the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Sacklers, the Mellons, etc., etc., can live with themselves. Albeit, far away from everyone else. Hence, the Courage and Civility Award. 

Jones was gracious about the hun mill gift. 

“I haven’t always been courageous,” said Jones.  “But I know people who are. They get up every day on the frontlines of grassroots communities. They don’t have much. But they’re good people and they fight hard. And they don’t have enough support.”
All true. And then he delivered the penance for Bezos sins.

“Can you imagine,” said Jones. “Grassroots folks from Appalachia, from the Native American reservation, having enough money to be able to connect with the geniuses that disrupted the space industry, disrupted taxis, hotels, and bookstores. Let’s start disrupting poverty. Let’s start disrupting pollution. 

“Start disrupting the $90 billion prison industry together. You take people on the frontlines and their wisdom and their genius and creativity, and you give them a shot. They’re not gonna turn around neighborhoods, they’re gonna turnaround this nation. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Then Jones had this for Bezos. “I appreciate you lifting the ceiling off of people’s dreams,” Jones said, then turned back to us. “Don’t be mad about it when you see somebody reaching for the heavens, be glad to know there’s a lot more heaven to reach for. And we can do that together.”

Bezos’ $100 million doesn’t buy a lot in the space biz. But handing it to Jones? Let’s see the disruptive good it can do on Earth.

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Bay Area

Nancy Lieberman Congratulates Kaplan and AASEG, continues to support efforts to Bring a WNBA team to Oakland

This week the AASEG (African American Sports and Entertainment Group) has moved forward to secure the exclusive rights to bring a WNBA team to the Oakland Coliseum.

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Nancy Lieberman/ Wikimedia Commons
This week the AASEG (African American Sports and Entertainment Group) has moved forward to secure the exclusive rights to bring a WNBA team to the Oakland Coliseum.
Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan was pleased to hear that National Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman was pleased too. Both parties had a lengthy conversation back in February, about the business of the WNBA and some of its hurdles. Kaplan told Lieberman the AASEG ( www.aasegoakland.com), and the motion she brought forward received a resounding approval (6-0-2) vote from Oakland City Council members to pursue terms to acquire the City’s 50% interest of the Coliseum Complex.
This critical vote came just three days after the Alameda County Joint Powers Authority unanimously approved a resolution to begin negotiating with the AASEG to bring a WNBA team to Oakland.  With these successive actions, the AASEG can formalize negotiations with City staff toward a Purchase and Sell Agreement for the Coliseum Complex.
Nancy Lieberman is one of professional basketball’s most celebrated female players and an American sports Icon. Nancy truly represents the theme of what is being proposed by the AASEG investment group. The council heard Ray Bobbitt, of AASEG and 97-year-old Gladys Green, present the goal of women leadership and ownership of a WNBA franchise as its primary agenda.Nancy Lieberman has an established record for being a leading advocate and supporter for social and racial equality her entire professional career. She has often credited the African American community, for supporting her and inspiring her possibilities. Now, that she is on the other side of her legend, she wants to pay it forward. Nancy and her business advocate Gary Reeves, said they plan to join a conversation with Ray Bobbitt and Rebecca Kaplan to review a potential alliance soon.

Nancy Lieberman loves the community outreach and civic leaders, who have paved the way for this opportunity. She cited the AASEG for its extensive community support. She said she is looking forward to meeting the AASEG community members and to give high praise and thanks to Rebecca Kaplan for her full-court press-style of support for AASEG, women’s sports, minority businesses, housing and job opportunities for the homeless and formerly incarcerated populations. Lieberman and Gary Reeves, her Bay area-based business advocate, want to meet and work with Gladys Green who is the inspirational leader of the East Oakland community and to congratulate Gay Cobb for the Post News Group’s extensive coverage and the recommendation that AASEG make an offer to purchase the coliseum.

In addition to working as Nancy Lieberman’s business advocate, Gary has been campaigning for support from a Who’s Who list of philanthropists and investors to support a home ownership pledge for those that need their down payments bridged to help them become home owners. During the pandemic his group, along with Lieberman, provided over 1 million dollars in free PPE and clothing for those in under-resourced areas. Oakland was also a benefactor of that program with BPL campuses and the Al Attles Foundation, ACE (Attles Center for Excellence)

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Community

Mayor London Breed Announces SFPD Tourism Deployment Plan as San Francisco Readies for Reemerging Travel Season

SFPD continues showcasing community policing reforms in deployment of 26 additional officers on bicycle and foot patrols to City’s high-traffic, iconic travel destinations

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San Francisco Cable Cars/Ragnar Vorel via Unsplash

Mayor London N. Breed announced details from San Francisco’s new community policing and tourism deployment plan to support and safeguard a re-emergent travel season that is forecast to exceed 15.3 million visitors by year’s end.

Outlining operational elements at a press conference on July 19 at Chinatown’s iconic Dragon’s Gate this morning, Breed and Police Chief Bill Scott highlighted how the San Francisco Police Department’s Tourism Deployment Plan will provide high-visibility and welcome support to an economic sector that is vitally important to San Francisco as travelers worldwide emerge from COVID-19 lockdowns.

“Tourism has long been an economic powerhouse in our city, bringing not just local tax revenue to fund vital city services but also jobs and economic opportunities for generations of San Franciscans,” said Breed. “San Francisco has done an incredible job managing this pandemic, and with one of the highest vaccination rates of anywhere in the country, we are working hard to reopen our city. That means bringing more officers to our tourist areas, as well as other efforts like our recently funded efforts to add more ambassadors and performances throughout Downtown, the Waterfront, and Mid-Market areas. We are committed to doing everything we can to reopen our businesses, put our residents back to work, and welcome travelers back to all of our city’s unforgettable destinations.”

The San Francisco Police Department’s Tourism Deployment Plan draws heavily from a community policing strategy that is among the pillars of SFPD’s groundbreaking 21st century police reforms. Under the plan, SFPD will deploy 26 additional police officers on bicycle and foot patrols to an array of high-traffic and highly sought-after travel destinations in five of the City’s 10 police districts:

  • Central Police District’s new deployments will feature 14 additional officers on bike and foot patrols that include: Union Square, Market Street, Powell Street, Chinatown and Lower Grant Avenue, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach and the crooked portion of Lombard Street.

 

  • Mission Police District’s new deployments will feature two additional officers on bike and foot patrols in the Castro and Upper Market.

 

  • Northern Police District’s new deployments will feature six additional officers on bicycle patrols around the Palace of Fine Arts, Alamo Square and Japantown.

 

  • Park Police District’s new deployments will feature two additional officers on bicycle patrols along the Haight Street commercial corridor.e

 

  • Richmond Police District’s new deployments will feature two additional officers on bicycle patrols in Golden Gate Park.

In addition to this Tourism Deployment Plan, the Mayor’s proposed budget, which the Board of Supervisors has come to an agreement on, includes funding for the Downtown Recovery Plan. The Downtown Recovery Plan includes an expansion of the number of ambassadors in the downtown and Union Square areas; a series of events and activations throughout Downtown, at the site of the temporary Transbay Terminal, and along the waterfront; and improvements at Hallidie Plaza, the entrance to the Powell Street BART Station and site of the Cable Car turnaround.

Outlook for Tourism Sector

Although there is renewed uncertainty about effects from COVID-19 variants in many parts of the world, a San Francisco Travel Association analysis released in March forecast that overall visitation to the City would reach 15.3 million in 2021, with $3.5 billion in overall visitor spending projected by year’s end. The study by San Francisco’s official destination marketing organization said that total visitation was not anticipated to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023. Due to a slower recovery of international visitors and average rate in the City, San Francisco Travel concluded that overall visitor spending was unlikely to return to 2019 levels before 2025.

“Our market research shows a light at the end of the tunnel for destinations like San Francisco after a devastating year for the global tourism industry: there is huge pent-up demand for travel all over the world,” said San Francisco Travel President and CEO Joe D’Alessandro. “As San Francisco embarks on a multi-year recovery, we know that high-visibility, community-oriented patrols by San Francisco police officers provide a reassuring, welcoming presence for the visitors and conventions so essential to our city’s continued success.”

San Francisco Travel reported a total of 10.2 million visitors to the City in 2020, which was down 61 percent from a record high of 26.2 million in 2019. Total spending by visitors was $2.3 billion in 2020, representing a pandemic-driven drop of 77.7 percent from 2019’s record high of $10.3 billion in total visitor spending. Spending figures include expenditures on meetings and conventions in San Francisco.

The COVID-19 pandemic has similarly affected local employment related to the tourism sector, according to San Francisco Travel, which found that the number of jobs supported by tourism in San Francisco fell to 20,880 in 2020 — a 75.8 percent decline from 86,111 jobs tourism supported in 2019.

Expanded Community Policing at Visitor Destinations

The mission of officers detailed to the Tourism Deployment Plan is to provide high-visibility and preventative patrol in their assigned locations, while embodying the principles of a community policing strategy that is a centerpiece of the San Francisco Police Department’s comprehensive and voluntary Collaborative Reform Initiative. Officers are well trained to incorporate five goals into their community interactions and public guardianship, as detailed in SFPD’s Community Policing Strategic Plan. SFPD’s Community Policing principles include:

  • Goal 1: Communication that is honest, transparent, empathetic and culturally and linguistically competent and respectful.

 

  • Goal 2: Education that both teaches community members in safety awareness and learns from communities to serve more responsively.

 

  • Goal 3: Problem-solving through collaborative working partnerships to identify and address safety issues and topics of concern.

 

  • Goal 4: Relationship-building to forge trusting and respectful engagements with San Francisco’s residents and visitors alike.

 

  • Goal 5: Organizational and operational approaches reflecting the guardian mindset that defines the promise of 21st century policing.

New deployments of police officers under the Tourism Deployment Plan announced on July 19 have already been implemented and will supplement existing patrols citywide, which will remain at current staffing levels.

Officers deployed under the plan will be on bicycle or on foot in frequently traveled areas, greeting and interacting with community members and guests. Assignments include fixed posts as well as patrols in commercial corridors, depending on deployments. Officers’ primary focus will be to engage with the public and provide aid when needed, and to take necessary enforcement action whenever identifying individuals involved in crime.

The San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Communications is the source for this story.

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