Morocco is known for many things: spices, tajine, the Sahara Desert. Now, in “Kingdom of the Evening,” Morocco is set to become the “Epicenter of Filmmaking” thanks to native son and movie-making mage Hicham Hajji and his production company, HFiLMS.
Hicham’s career trajectory has undoubtedly been unconventional; he started out studying finance and accounting. Though, with time, he found himself intrigued by the idea of making movies in his homeland and took the initiative to learn and practice the art of filmmaking, learning the ropes through a hands-on approach.
“I did a little film school in Montreal, but to be honest my real film school was my first movie set as a 2nd Assistant Director where I learned a lot from one of the best 1st AD I ever met,” he explained to Film Combat Syndicate.
A proud Moroccan by birth, Hicham’s homeland was integral to his formation as a film producer.
“Morocco is an open movie set, very film friendly where the biggest Hollywood directors have shot. From Christopher Nolan with Inception to Kundun with Martin Scorsese, to Ridley Scott with Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Body of Lies to Mission Impossible 5, James Bond.”
Hicham continues, “I worked on many local [productions] where I was a department head and where I learned a lot. Then I worked with Werner Herzog on Queen of the Desert where I understood that with [hard] work and dedication, I could do my movies someday.”
Eventually, Hicham went on to establish HFiLMS in 2008. While this was a triumphant career milestone in many ways, it was also underscored by professional pushback from other players throughout the industry.
“I created my company while I was a First Assistant Director. Producers who were hiring me back then started to see me as competition and stopped hiring me,” he recalls.
Nevertheless, Hicham was not deterred by this career blackballing. Instead, he used this opposition as an impetus to stake his claim in the industry and succeed regardless.
“I had to be efficient and find my way in. It was a lot of personal and financial investment. Sometimes I wouldn’t work for months until I got the project that helped me survive. The only real lesson that I learned is that I should never give up, always follow my gut, and finish everything I do,” he explains.
With multiple offices spanning Los Angeles to North Africa, the goal of H FiLMS is simple, “[To] tell great stories in unique ways and in a variety of genres to make movies that resonate with audiences both domestically and abroad.” Needless to say, they have been resoundingly successful in meeting this goal. Earlier this year, Hicham made history when H FiLMS released his feature film debut, Redemption Day, making him the first Moroccan Arab to write, direct and fully produce a Moroccan international feature film.
The film follows a decorated U.S. Marine Captain, Brad Paxton (Gary Dourdan), as he tries to reintegrate into civilian life, returning home to New York City from his tour of duty in the Middle East. He is enjoying reconnecting with his loved ones, including his wife, Kate (Serinda Swan), their pre-teen daughter, Clair (Lilia Hajji), and his father, Ed (Ernie Hudson). When Kate is kidnapped while on an archeological excavation in North Africa, Brad is forced back into action for a daring and deadly operation to save the woman he loves.
Since its release, the film has received a warm reception from audiences and critics alike, with Best Feature at the Manhattanhenge Independent Film Festival and recently netting two Montreal Independent Film Festival Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Andy Garcia) and Best Thriller. In addition, redemption Day is now available on Netflix in Latin America and is in the Top 10 Most watched movies globally and number 1 in 21 Latin countries.
Despite this debut success, Hicham is not resting on his laurels: He and HFiLMS have a plethora of projects in the works, including God is a DJ, a comedy that explores the lives of a diverse range of individuals who must manage their families’ expectations, religion, and communities and the contradictory things they have to do to achieve their dreams.
Written by Hicham, God is a DJ is the story of a young, fatherless Jew and a Moroccan Imam who team up to form the least likely masked DJ duo. Together, they overcome their mutual suspicion of each other to take on the Electronic Music club circuit. With a minority-driven cast, Hicham wants the film “to bring this niche music to the world through the minorities that understand it.”
Elaborating further, he posits, “The show will be a much-needed reminder of happier times before the pandemic, a show that will unite the diverse world thanks to electronic music, and it is about diverse people finding happiness and fulfillment regardless of their cultural identity…Music reveals where you come from, but it’s the beat that unites us all!”
While production on God is a DJ will not be finished for quite some time, those itching for another bit of H FiLMS cinematic magic need not wait much longer; The Moderator, a feminist vendetta film set for cinematic release in 2022.
Written and produced by Hicham, the film follows Mya Snik (Irma Lake), a captivating femme fatale who decides to take justice into her own hands. After two of her friends are raped and murdered in Morocco, she christens herself “The Moderator,” a savage avenging angel who enacts her own brand of lethal justice on men who hurt women. As she continues her multinational rampage of revenge, it is up to Agents Richard Bordeau (Gary Dourdan), John Ross (Robert Knepper) to stop her.