Horse-whisperer hopes Morocco films return at full gallop - GulfToday

Horse-whisperer hopes Morocco films return at full gallop


French horse master Joel Proust poses for a picture next to horses during a training session.

Horse master Joel Proust hopes his stallions will soon return to the movie sets in Morocco that made his name, ranging from Hollywood epics to "Game of Thrones".


The North African nation's dramatic desert sands and palm-filled valleys traversed by camel herds have long provided stand-ins for big-budget film sets needing Middle East locations, but coronavirus restrictions have hit the industry hard.


Last year was "difficult", Proust said, at an equestrian centre on the outskirts of Marrakesh, where the thundering of hooves announces the sudden arrival of a herd.


The horses -- including Arab-Barbs, Friesians and Spanish purebreds -- gallop, trot and play dead as they follow their instructor.


The 65-year-old Frenchman has for four decades choreographed equestrian action scenes for some of the biggest movies shot in Morocco.


horse2 A team member of French horse master Joel Proust (unseen) handles camels during a training session.


They include Oliver Stone's swashbuckling "Alexander" in 2004, and Ridley Scott's Crusade-epic "Kingdom of Heaven" in 2005.


Proust has fond memories of Stephen Sommers' Egyptian horror fantasy "The Mummy" in 1999, which saw "200 horses galloping at full speed".


But amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Morocco's borders remain closed to 54 countries, including Britain and France, until at least June 10, according to the civil aviation authority.


Mother of Dragons


Since the 1950s, Morocco has welcomed international filmmakers, from Alfred Hitchcock to Pier Paolo Pasolini and Orson Welles.


Proust arrived in the kingdom in the early 1980s as an equestrian instructor, and began his career as a stuntman not long after.


horse3 French horse master Joel Proust (2nd L) rides along with his team.


 'Hanging in there'


Morocco has sought to attract big international productions in recent years by capitalising on its diverse natural landscapes and providing financial incentives.


But as the pandemic squeezed the global film industry, Morocco took a hit.


Filming for "The Alchemist" is planned for mid-July said Proust, who is preparing horses and dromedaries for caravan and battle scenes.


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