The A RABBIT’S FOOT team have touched down in Morocco for the 20th Marrakech Film Festival and, as expected, festival organiser Melita Toscan du Plantier and co. have gone all out to celebrate two decades of cinema in the Rose City. The opening night ceremony saw Jury member Willem Dafoe present Mads Mikkelsen with the festival’s Career Achievement Award, before Richard Linklater’s sexy rom-com Hit-Man officially kicked off this edition’s screenings.

There’s a lot to look forward to at the fest this year: in-conversation masterclasses with the likes of Dafoe, Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton and Naomi Kawase; screenings of Venice and Cannes festival hits The Beast and About Dry Grasses. But what’s flown under the radar are the national films that have been programmed—exciting new releases from both first-time Moroccan filmmakers and seasoned visionaries. Here are five we’re looking forward to catching over the next few weeks.

The Mother of All Lies (Dir. Asmae El Moudir)

Asmae El Moudir’s documentary The Mother of All Lies earned the filmmaker Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival this year, immediately taking the relatively obscure film to the top of every cinephile’s watchlist. Morocco’s entry at the Oscars this year, The Mother of All Lies sees El Moudir using clay figurines to recreate her childhood in Sebata district, Casablanca, after she learns that her grandmother strictly prohibited any images or photographs of her family. Working out of an atelier, El Moudir invites friends and family members, including her grandmother, to reflect upon their own lives, discovering long-held secrets about her heritage in the process. 

Birdland (Dir. Leila Kilani)

Director Leila Kilani is well known for her deeply personal documentaries, often taking audiences into her past by way of Tangier, a city laced with memories of her childhood. Birdland, then, is an interesting turn for Kilani, who turns to fiction to tell a story about a clan in rural Tangier that are faced with the prospect of having to sell their ancestral home to external developers. Kilani is considered one of Morocco’s most fearless contemporary voices, and with Birdland, she continues to take her cinematic visions to bold new places.

Animalia (Dir. Sofia Alaoui)

French-Moroccan filmmaker Sofia Alaoui’s sci-fi social commentary Animalia has already been doing the rounds this year, but we suspect that seeing the Moroccan-set film in Marrakech itself will breathe fresh life into its narrative. The movie follows Itto (Oumaïma Barid), a young, very pregnant woman from a rural background who finds herself separated from her husband after a supernatural event puts her country in a state of emergency. Alaoui’s short film So What If The Gods Die put the director on the map in 2020, winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the César for Best Short Film, so the pressure’s on as she unveils her fantastical first feature to the world. 

Déserts (Dir. Faouzi Bensaïdi)

Leading Moroccan filmmaker Faouzi Bensaïdi is back with his first major feature since Volubilis in 2017. Dèserts is a road trip movie with a mystical twist, following best friends Mehdi and Hamid (Fehd Benchemsi and Abdelhadi Talbi), debt collectors travelling through Southern Morocco villages squeezing pennies out of the locals, who are taken on a life-changing journey after a chance encounter with a mysterious man at a gas station. The true star of Déserts, though, is cinematographer Florian Berutti, whose mesmerising images of the Moroccan desert offer a unique perspective of the country that we don’t often get to see on screen. 

Moroccan Badass Girl (Dir. Hicham Lasri)
As well as having one of the coolest titles at the festival (the mind can’t help but think of classic exploitation flicks like Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss), Hicham Lasri’s latest feature has a lot to say about life as a modern woman in Morocco. The titular “Badass Girl” is Cathy (Fadwa Taleb) who has an epiphany about her unlucky life on the eve of her 30th Birthday and sets out to start a new life. Lasri is one of the more seasoned filmmakers on this list, and with gems like Headbang Lullaby and They Are The Dogs under his belt, you’d do well to keep a keen eye on Moroccan Badass Girl.