By Cindy Basha
Rabat – Moroccan-Canadian filmmaker Hicham Bennir has recently completed principal production of his short film The Price of Fame. The film depicts the struggles of an actor, played by Youseff Idirssi, who is confronted with the negative impact of fame after starring in a controversial film.
Bennir discussed the project with Morocco World News.
“The short film portrays his story and struggle after exposure to fame, infatuation, and blind hatred, following the controversial film. Battling social rejection, depression, schizophrenia, isolation and humiliation, the actor in the film struggles for survival,” Bennir said.
This film is set in Morocco and explores celebrity culture in the Middle East. The director discussed the connections many draw between an actor and his or her role.
“The short film’s main concept is how a lot of people in Morocco and the Arab world don’t differentiate between a fictional character played by an actor and the real persona of that actor,” said Bennir.
He used the example of Loubna Abdiar, the lead actress in Much Loved, who portrayed a prostitute. Many thought she was a prostitute, according to Bennir.
Bennir added that this phenomenon, to some extent, happens to actors in Western films.
“In the West people can associate a certain character to an actor, [like] Mr. Bean to Rowan Atkinson or Harry Potter to Daniel Radcliffe, but they do draw a difference [between] that [actor] and a made-up character.”
Idrissi’s role in The Price of Fame shares many similarities to his life. The actor was one of the stars in the controversial film Much Loved, which depicts the lives of four Moroccan prostitutes.
“If people like the character they will like the actor and see the character as him (…) and the same happens if they hate the character.”
Bennir’s film frames this struggle through the perspective of Middle Eastern culture, which takes depictions of religion and sex very seriously and can be controversial. This makes it challenging for artists who may want to explore these subjects in their work.
“The short film clashes themes of cultural hypocrisy with freedom of expression.”
Other countries in the region have gone so far as to ban films that explore religious or social values. In 2003, the Egyptian government banned the Matrix Reloaded because of its religious metaphors and violent content. In a press release, the government claimed the film’s focus on the search for of a “sole creator” and may cause “trouble and social harm” if released.
Having worked with Idrissi, Bennir witnessed his struggle to find work in the film industry since his role Much Loved. Many actors from the film are too controversial because of this film.
“Idrissi, for example has been rejected (…) from castings just because he was part of the controversial film. I communicated with many producers (…) from Morocco and they all told that the cast of Much Loved were blacklisted and nobody wants to work with them (…) working with them is like playing with fire.”
The Price of Fame is currently in post-production and is set for release in 2016. It was produced by Bennir’s Montreal-based production company Radical New.