Sundance Winner Sofia Alaoui to Tackle Eco-Anxieties in Apocalyptic Thriller ‘Tarfaya’: ‘This World Is Full of Poetry and Melancholy’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Recently honored as one of Unifrance’s 10 to Watch, Franco-Moroccan filmmaker Sofia Alaoui will build on the rugged eeriness of her 2023 Sundance jury prize winner “Animalia” with “Tarfaya” – a slow-burn thriller that mines Morocco’s sweeping landscapes for ambient unease.

Named for (and inspired by) a remote, coastal town on the country’s Saharan border, “Tarfaya” imagines a not-too-distant world of extreme atmospheric swings, of severe heat giving way to more intense storms, all while daily life trudges on. The film will follow Meryam, a forty-something nurse working at a secluded hospital beset by a mysterious new plague linked to the destabilizing environment.

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“At first, the patients become delirious, falling into delusions,” Alaoui explains. “Later they fall into a deep sleep, as if they’re disconnecting from the world in which they live. The film builds from this wistful tone where the characters become accustomed to a form of apocalypse.”

While channeling contemporary anxieties, the film is hardly meant to depress.

“I’m not interesting in demoralizing,” says Alaoui, who likens the register to the weary romanticism of Wong Kar-wai and to the dream logic of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. “In fact, this world is full of poetry and melancholy. It’s an intimate look at one person struggling while part of a much bigger tale – a tale where the future of the world is at stake.”

Alaoui will write, direct and executive produce through her Jiango Films banner, and is currently weighing possible co-production partners. Having recently signed with WME, the filmmaker is now busier than ever, developing the TV project “Let the Earth Burn” with Paris-based Barney Production (“Hounds”) and circling her English-language debut with a sci-fi-tinged literary adaptation to be announced shortly.

Tying the various projects together is Alaoui’s interest in the unreal. “I’ll never stray too far from sci-fi,” she says. “And I even dream of making a film set in space. I’m not interested in straight realism; I want to observe the world in which we live from a different angle – to go on a journey, and have my sense of reality questioned instead repeated back to me.”

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