Moroccan-born French director Yasmine Benkiran, whose feature debut “Queens” opened at Venice and is playing at the Marrakech Film Festival, is now developing two ambitious features.

“Queens,” which was developed at the Atlas Workshops, the industry sidebar running alongside the Marrakech Film Festival, is a rare Moroccan film weaving adventure and genre with strong female protagonists.

Benkiran is set to continue exploring complex female characters which her upcoming projects, including a spy movie titled “Elles ont brillé sur le Nil” (“They Shined on the Nile”). The project, which has received support from the Ile de France region, is set in 1950’s Cairo, Egypt. The story revolves around Zeyna, a makeup artist who is investigating the mysterious death of Amal El Abrach, a famous Syrian-born actress known as Asmahan.

“Asmahan was an amazing actress and singer whose fame was compared with that of Marilyn Monroe and she also died in tragic circumstances,” said Benkiran. “Through Zeyna’s eyes, the film will shed behind the scenes light of the flamboyant Egyptian film world of the 1950’s, which was more liberated than Hollywood at that time,” continued the filmmaker.

The film will be set against the rich backdrop of Egypt’s history and colorful entertainment world which attracted artists from all over the world, said Benkiran. 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 early stage and will necessitate a fairly large budget, Benkiran is developing another fantasy-filled adventure film set on a cult beach called Dahomey which was ravaged by a tsunami.

Benkiran, who made her directorial debut with the short film “Winter Hour” in 2018, said was always a fan of fantasy films and science fiction but growing up in Morocco she could not find local films that appealed to her. As for inspiring female characters, they were “very rare” in Moroccan movies.

“Science fiction, action, fantasy, horror films can also be political, not just social dramas,” she said. “Queens,” for example, 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 local police forces on their trail.

Benkiran, who attended the Moroccan premiere of the film at the Marrakech festival, said she was moved to see people cheering, laughing and applauding throughout the screening. Remi Bonhomme, the festival’s new artistic director, said it was one of the highlights of this 19th edition.

“Queens” is backed by a strong key crew including music composer Jozef van Wissem whose credits include Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and Pierre Aim, the critically acclaimed cinematographer of “The Nile Hilton Incident” and French cult film “La Haine.”

The film was produced by Jean des Forets and Amelie Jacquis at Petit Film, and co-produced by Said Hamich Benlarbi at Mont Fleuri Production, among others.

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