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Morocco: Equestrian choreographer awaits resumption of filming

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FADEL SENNA/AFP or licensors


Joel Proust, former stuntman and equestrian choreographer prepares his stallions for the resumption of filming in Morocco.

The coronavirus pandemic slowed down their performing arts.

After 15 months of closed borders due to restrictions, the hoofbeats of the horses have given way to the calm of the equestrian center located at the entrance of the tourist capital Marrakech.

Installed in Morocco since the 80s, the 65-year-old Frenchman has choreographed the equestrian action scenes of the most popular films such as "Kingdom of Heaven" by Ridley Scott.

It was released in 2005 and the Mummy by Stephen Sommers in 1999.

" Thirty-five years ago, when I was an instructor in Dar Salam (royal equestrian centre), I met a man who worked in cinema. It turned out that he needed someone to train actors for a movie. I think it was for 'The Secret of the Sahara'. I went there, saw how it worked and became interested, so I stayed in the cinematic field. I've never stopped for 35 years. The first movie was 'Sheheraze and the 1001 Nights' by (French filmmaker Philippe) de Broca, (French actor) Thierry Lhermitte, and it was the first movie of Catherine Zeta-Jones among others", Proust said.

Joël Proust is preparing three major international productions, including "The Alchemist".

Filming for this U.S production adapted from the best-seller by the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho is scheduled to begin in mid-July, and directed by Kevin Scott Frakes.

His horses will participate in battle scenes. Proust also trains camels brought in from the desert for caravan scenes.

"Local horses are used for the stunts, Barb horses usually. They are smaller and more manageable, and otherwise, we also use Spanish horse breeds for ourselves and for actors. Or horses like this one, Friesian horses for carriages look great", the horse instructor said.

The health crisis has affected the global film industry, and Morocco has not been spared.

With only eight international films in 2020, the sector has recorded a decline of nearly 78%, according to the annual report of the Moroccan Film Center.

The kingdom has for several years been trying to capitalize on the diversity of its natural landscapes.

With an active policy of financial incentives to attract the biggest international productions.

"Five, six, seven years ago, we would make ten films a year with our horses. What we like here are the sets mainly, Ouarzazate, Erfoud, everywhere. It's mainly the light, the glow that caused my infatuation", Proust added.

Today, the equestrian choreographer is eagerly awaiting staging directions for The Alchemist.

With a budget of about $17 million, this is the biggest contract signed in Morocco since the U.S series "Homeland," according to local media.

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