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Las Cruces movie sells at Cannes; sequel could get financing from Morocco


A Las Cruces feature film made on a microbudget has won awards at film festivals in three countries, and members of its cast and crew connected with other filmmakers at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Because of its international recognition and because its creator is a native of Morocco, the sequel could have a seven-figure budget.

“Broken Gaiete,” also known as “The Village,” was filmed in Las Cruces in 2018, with a local cast and crew. Writer/director and cast member Hafid Abdelmoula, and co-executive producer Trudel Abdelmoula (Hafid’s wife), along with actors Mark Vasconcellos and Manfred Strobach, attended movie screenings in Cannes, France.

“it’s a dream that came true,” Vasconcellos said about the trip, “but it took a lot of work.”

Because Hafid is from Morocco, “The Village II” is now in competition for a $400,000 grant from the Moroccan government. That funding could attract additional investors and create a budget for the sequel of $1 million or more, said Vasconcellos, a long-time Las Cruces actor and filmmaker.

Hafid and Vasconcellos are finishing the script for “The Village II, which Vasconcellos said could be of particular interest to filmmakers and investors in the international film market.

The script, along with locations and a proposed budget, will be submitted in the Moroccan film fund for up and coming Moroccan directors, he said. If Abdelmoula receives funding, filming (in English) would take place principally in Morocco in 2024.

The film incentive offered there is much like the film credit the state of New Mexico offers for filmmakers who shoot in the state and employ local crew, Vasconcellos said.

The group from Las Cruces “hung out at the Morocco tent” at Cannes, he said, meeting Moroccan film makers, stars and film office VIPs.

Based in the city of Ouarzazate, Morocco’s film industry has been labeled as “Africa’s Hollywood.” Films shot in Morocco include “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975), “The Mummy” (1999) and “Gladiator” (2000) and the upcoming “Gladiator 2.”

Abdelmoula is already looking ahead at Arabian international film festivals in Morocco and Saudi Arabia and elsewhere that the sequel could be screened, Vasconcellos said.

Vasconcellos said he and Abdelmoula are “keeping true” to the original movie in the script for “The Village II,” which means it will continue the story begun in the first film, which takes place in a village in an unspecified time and place.

The first movie “talks about a man and a woman who cross this village that lives by absurd and crazy rules,” Abdelmoula said. “They decide to live there, only to discover one of the rules about a newborn baby that made everything change, and they had to figure out how to survive.”

The 104-minute film was Abdelmoula’s graduate-school thesis. He has a bachelor of arts degree in film from New Mexico State University and an MFA in directing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. The film was shot in Abdelmoula’s backyard in Picacho Hills and in the Las Cruces desert in 2018, using cast and crew from Las Cruces and El Paso.

“It took me about a year to write and it took another year to shoot and edit,” Abdelmoula said. “It had no budget. It was nothing but passion, sweat and tears.”

“Broken Gaiete” has won awards for best feature film, actor, director and production design at the World Music and Independent Film Festival in Washington, D.C.; the Santa Fe Film Festival; the El Paso Film Festival; the Madrid (Spain) International Film Festival; and the London International Film Festival.

Morocco would offer “incredible locations” for the sequel, Vasconcellos said, which are already well known to Abdelmoula because he grew up in Morocco.

Abdelmoula was a singer at the Moroccan Regional Orchestra Conservatory at a young age and an actor/writer/director with a Moroccan theatre company. As a singer, Abdelmoula won a 1996 television competition on Moroccan TV.

“That’s why I love working with Hafid,” Vasconcellos said. “He’s got a different perspective on life.”

Abdelmoula was recognized as a 2023 rising star by the New Mexico Film Office in February. At that same event, Vasconcellos and New Mexico State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, both members of the nonprofit Film Las Cruces (FLC) board of directors (Steinborn is the president), accepted the award in Santa Fe in February when FLC was inducted into the New Mexico Film and Television Hall of Fame. Abdelmoula was recognized as a 2023 rising star at the same event.

Vasconcellos has more than 50 film and television roles to his credit. He attended high school in Madrid, Spain, and earned a B.A. in film/TV production from San Jose State University, according to his IMDb page. Vasconcellos worked as a TV segment director and camera operator in Italy, France and Africa and returned to the United States to study acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory West and the Actor's Circle Theater in Los Angeles. In 2007, Vasconcellos moved with his family to Las Cruces. He landed a re-occurring role as Pastor Jeff on the short-lived TV series “Easy Money” and had supporting roles on television shows like “Plain Sight,” “Longmire” and “Breaking Bad.” Vasconcellos has also acted in feature films and was location liaison for Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule,” which filmed in Las Cruces in 2018. He also hosts the New Mexico travel log TV show “Enchantments.”

Vasconcellos made his directorial debut in 2000 with the award-winning short film “Paco’s Two Bean Double Frozen Margarita.” In 2004 he wrote, produced, shot, edited and directed his own feature film, “Triple Threat.”

Vasconcellos is also an acting teacher, and 12 of his students had roles in “Broken Gaiete.”