Well, maybe more like Burbank?
Even when you live in a top tourist destination like Marrakech, it’s nice to get out and about and see something new. Back in May, Mike and I needed to get out of town so we hopped a bus headed to Ouarzazate. I’ve since been told that taking a coach to Ouarzazate is not the safest choice, and I have to agree. A good chunk of the trip involves driving through windy roads without guardrails through the Atlas Mountains. I spent a lot of time trying to evade motion sickness and not looking out the window. It was a long way down. So, should you embark on a trip to Ouarzazate, I highly recommend hiring a driver or driving yourself. Once in town, your own private mode of transport will be much appreciated as well. The fabled bus running between town and the studios (I’ll get to that in a minute) never materialized while we were there.
Another way to visit Ouarzazate is as part of a Sahara Desert excursion. Ouarzazate is known as the Door to the Desert so most desert excursions stop here on their way to the dunes. I believe these stops usually involve a meal, a walk around town, and quick museum stop. Some may also include a trip to a nearby kasbah. Mike and I felt like we’d had plenty of amazing desert experiences in Rub Al Khali, so we prioritized other experiences while in Morocco. I still feel ok with that choice, but I do sometimes wish we’d had an extra few days to sneak out there. (Most trips involve a 12 hour day in the car which also made the excursion less appealing. Plus, riding camels is something I refuse to do again.)
Because we were not en route to the desert, Mike and I focused on Ouarzazate’s other nickname, the Hollywood of Morocco. Quite a few films have been shot here including Lawrence of Arabia, Babel, The Mummy, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. There are two film studios in town and we elected to take a tour at the larger one: Atlas Studios. While it was fun to visit a film studio, the tour itself was a bit comical. Our guide was not too interested in his job. Although you’d expect to spend some time gawking at the sets, our guide was quick with the yallah-s. Spoken with his inflection, it definitely meant, “Hurry up!!!”
The commentary on the tour made us chuckle as well. It was a lot of:
Guide: Here, they filmed the English Patient.
Visitors: Really? Wow!
G: But not the famous movie, the tv show.
G: Here, they filmed Ben Hur.
G: But not the famous one. The 2010 Canadian mini-series.
There were also a few closed sets that were in use. When someone would ask what was filming there, the guide would reply, “Oh, some American movie.” as if we wouldn’t be interested. I’ll have to keep my eyes open over the next few years to see if I can spot any familiar scenes.
I had no idea before arriving in Morocco that it has such a strong relationship to Hollywood. While we were living there quite a few celebrities were nearby filming, including Nicole Kidman who reportedly looked into enrolling her children in my school. Also, one of my students had Tom Cruise’s people over scouting her house as a possible film location. I’ll have to actually watch the next Mission Impossible to see if it made the cut. In addition, one of the teachers at my school is also a well respected working actor in the Moroccan film industry. Exciting stuff.