All posts by Stefanie Elvire Van De Peer

Thoughts on the 19th National Film Festival, Tangier…à suivre


Introduction to competition films

Established in 1982, the Festival National du Film (FNF) is devoted to screening the best of contemporary Moroccan feature films and short films from the previous twelve months. For the first seven editions, the festival took place sporadically, over 23 years in six different Moroccan cities. Then, in 2005, the 8th edition was held in Tangier, which has remained the home of the festival ever since – with a shift to the festival being held annually there since 2010. And so, this year, between 9-17 March, the attention of the Moroccan film industry (as well as the TMC research team) was focused on the 19th edition of the Festival National du Film in an unexpectedly rainy Tangier.

Cinema Rif

2018 was an important year for the festival in a number of ways. Firstly, it heralded the return of a number of key Moroccan filmmakers (including Faouzi Bensaïdi, Nour-Eddine Lakhmari and the newly appointed director of the Cinémathèque Marocaine, Narjiss Nejjar) whose work had been absent from the festival for too long, due to the rhythms of film production. Second, the 19th FNF was also an opportunity to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the ‘birth’ of Moroccan cinema, with a retrospective of classic Moroccan films running at the Cinéma Rif, alongside the fifteen features and fifteen short films that were being screened in competition a little way across town in the Roxy cinema. Parallel to the Moroccan cinema retrospective at the Rif were screenings of the hors compétition films, which included En Quête de la 7ième porte, a fabulous documentary on Bouanani by Ali Essafi. In conversations over mint tea or coffee between the screenings, there seemed to be as much talk about what had not been included in the retrospective of Moroccan cinema as there was around the selection of films in competition and those contemporary films screening hors compétition. Whilst it is, undoubtedly, a thankless task for any programmer to condense 60 years of Moroccan film history into a selection of fourteen films, the lack of a place in the selection for key films by Farida Benlyazid, Jilali Ferhati and Ahmed el Maanouni, was a surprise to me, at least.

Rif Grande Salle

Lastly, and most importantly, this was a significant year for the diversity of contemporary films on offer, given talk in recent years of a possible ‘crisis’ in Moroccan cinema. This diversity was displayed not only in the aforementioned ‘return’ to the festival of contemporary Moroccan auteurs but also in experimental film such as Hicham Lasri’s Jahilya, alongside popular genre cinema such as Korsa (Toukouna, 2018) as well as original approaches to the established trend of Moroccan films exploring the politics and trauma of the Years of Lead in Kilikis…la cité des hiboux (Lamharzi, 2017), Cri de l’âme (Eljaouhary, 2018). Finally, it was to be found in the outstanding documentary House in the Fields (Hadid, 2017), whose strength merely served to highlight the fact that documentary was, regrettably, under-represented at this year’s festival in both the feature and short film categories – although more visible in the hors compétition section.


In addition to the films being screened in the three strands of this year’s festival there was a concerted effort by the CCM to bring together a series of industry panels on co-production and distribution with invited guests from across the world – as well as a pitch competition for young filmmakers, a screenwriting and development workshop run by both MediTalents (a trans-Mediterranean initiative to promote and develop the projects of emerging filmmakers from across the Mediterranean region) and a specialist workshop on documentary funding by FIDADOC. All of these sessions took place in the Hotel Atlas Rif on the seafront – a key hub of industry activity during the festival – offering a much-needed forum and visibility for Moroccan filmmakers to engage with, learn from and network with industry experts from within and beyond Morocco.

FIDADOC workshop

These kinds of activities have taken place in previous editions of the National Festival: see for example Jamal Bahmad’s blog entry from last year’s FNF on the panel discussion on distribution and exhibition. However, there did seem to be a more consciously transnational outlook to this year’s industry focused events – an indication, perhaps, that more needs to be done to promote Moroccan cinema internationally in ways that have not always been presented as a priority in this and other Moroccan festivals (most notably and somewhat paradoxically, at the Marrakesh International Film Festival, where the focus has been on the glitz and glamour of the red carpet).

In the coming weeks, the TMC team will offer a series of more in-depth blog posts focusing on specific aspects of the festival mentioned above, as well as, of course (!) reactions and analyses of the films themselves that made up the 19th Festival National du Film. To be continued…

Will Higbee

Dog days, border tales and gangsta nights: Moroccan cinema at the Berlinale 2018

Moroccan cinema was, again, well-represented at this year’s Berlinale – one of the most important events on the international festival calendar. For the fourth consecutive year (surely some kind of record!), Hicham Lasri had a film in the official selection of the Berlinale, this year screening in the Forum section of the festival with the world premiere of his latest feature Jahilya (2018) – produced by Lamia Chraibi. The film forms the third and final part of Lasri’s ‘Trilogy of the Dog’, following They Are the Dogs (2013) and Starve Your Dog (2015). Hence it continues the director’s preoccupation with examining Morocco’s socio-political and psychosocial dynamics from a range of perspectives, and foregrounds members of Moroccan society whose voices tend to be marginalised or denied by mainstream political and media discourse. As with all his previous films (including the Dogs’ Trilogy), Lasri combines an experimental approach to sound, image and narrative with dark humour and surreal interactions in everyday settings to expose the social violence and fracture that is engendered by divisive attitudes towards class, gender and generational difference in contemporary Moroccan society.

Poster Jahilya

Jahilya interweaves six separate stories into its 94-minute narrative: a woman who is the victim of sexual violence, a suicidal man, a bigoted judge, a young boy who searches for mutton for a sacrificial feast banned by the king (Hassan II), a blind patriarch’s obsession with maintaining the racial ‘purity’ of his family in selecting a husband for his (pregnant) daughter and, finally, inexplicably, (hilariously) the shoe that was thrown at President George Bush Jr. by an Iraqi journalist during a press conference in 2008… As with virtually all Lasri’s work, the film is full of creative energy and invention, though the complex and at times bewildering connections between the six competing narratives make it difficult for the audience to identify with Lasri’s sombre assessment of the state of contemporary Moroccan society. This is certainly one film that I will need to return to when it screens again at the Festival National du Film in Tangier in March 2018.

World premiere of Apatride at Berlinale 2018

Alongside Jahilya in the Forum section of the main festival was Narjiss Nejjar’s much anticipated fourth feature Apatride/Stateless (2018). The film premiered at the festival in the beautiful Delphi Filmpalast. A full-house of several hundred spectators responded with enthusiastic applause at the end of the film and remained fully engaged for the 45-minute Q&A with director and cast that followed the screening. Also present at the premiere was director of the CCM, Sarim Fassi-Fihri, and the film’s Moroccan producer Lamia Chraibi, who as the producer of both Moroccan films in the Berlinale, has further enhanced her reputation as arguably the most talented and dynamic Moroccan producer working in the international film industry today. Apatride tells the story of Hénia, a middle-aged woman who lives in a small village on the Moroccan side of the Algerian-Moroccan border in an exploitative and complex domestic arrangement. On 18 December 1975, Hénia was deported by the Algerian authorities, along with 45 000 other Moroccan families (approximately 350 000 people), forced from their homes with little or no time to gather their belongings. More than three decades after this episode known as la marche noire, Hénia struggles to make sense of where she truly belongs. Some festival reviewers, such as the Egyptian critic and programmer Joseph Fahim, criticised Apatride for following the well-worn path in Arab cinema of exploring the place or women in Arabo-Islamic society and arriving at a predictable (for Fahim at least) critique of female subjugation in the Maghreb. Fahim is right that the theme is familiar to anyone who has taken even a remote interest in Maghrebi cinema over the past three decades. However, I would argue that the strength of Nejjar’s film is that it places this exploration of la condition des femmes in the context of a contested border space, in order to address urgent and far-reaching questions of how the border politics imposed by states in the name of protecting a sense of ‘national’ identity impacts directly on those who live side-by-side in these often-disputed border spaces. Nejjar contrasts the division and animosity between nations fostered by the presence of an official border, on the one hand, and the lived experience of locals that simultaneously support and challenge such divisions, on the other. In one particularly memorable scene, the armed border guards who had previously stood menacingly beneath their respective national flags, on opposite sides of the narrow channel separating Morocco and Algeria (across which Hénia will attempt to swim in her desire to ‘return’ to Algeria), exchange cigarettes and songs across the border fence – addressing each other not as enemies but as ‘brothers’. The fraught and often contradictory nature of co-existence in such a border space is beautifully evoked in Apatride by the cinematography of French DP Stéphane Vallée, as well as through powerful performances by the film’s cast of talented actors.

Beyond the festival screenings, Moroccan cinema also maintained a presence in the European Film Market, the meeting place for industry professionals that runs alongside the festival. The Moroccan film stand, organised by the CCM, occupied its now familiar space in the market on the first floor of the Marriot Hotel. It was teeming with activity, as foreign producers held meetings with officials from the CCM and representatives of production studios from Casablanca and Ouarzazate to discuss the possibilities and financial incentives for shooting in Morocco: a 20% tax credit for international productions spending over $1m in Morocco and shooting there for a minimum of 18 days, was recently approved by the Moroccan parliament. As in previous years, then, the desirability of Morocco as a production service location was, unsurprisingly, placed front and centre on the Moroccan stand. However, it was also good to see the Moroccan filmmakers in the festival being more fully promoted this year, indeed, celebrated, with large posters proudly announcing the presence of Jahilya and Apatride as part of the official selection in this year’s Berlinale.

Poster for Gangsta at the EFM in Berlin 2018

Elsewhere in the market, a different kind of (diasporic) Moroccan presence was on display with Gangsta (2018), the latest release by Belgian-Moroccan directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. The film, which follows the critically acclaimed Black (2015) is a high-octane thriller set in the working-class immigrant neighbourhoods of Antwerp and follows the lives of four drug-dealer friends who aspire to become organised crime bosses. At first glance, the premise of Gangsta may seem to fall back on all the wrong kinds of facile stereotypes of ‘immigrant’ communities as the host nation’s criminalised ‘other’. And yet, as with their earlier films Image (2014) and Black (2015), Arbi and Fallah have won critical acclaim for their latest outing, as well as considerable box-office success in their domestic Belgian market. Gangsta was screening in the European Film Market, with Indie Sales (the film’s international sales agents) hoping to attract the attention of international distributors for what is seen as an eminently marketable film for a crossover international audience. Fresh from their success of directing episodes of the US drama Snowfall and with rumours that they are being lined up by Hollywood execs to direct Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop 4, El Arbi and Fallah are currently one of the hottest directorial teams in Belgian cinema. Their global ambition is for their own brand of action cinema to reach an audience outside the auteur-led/world cinema festival circuit on which Jahilya and Apatride are set to travel over the coming months. As the Berlinale has showed us this year, the global reach of (transnational) Moroccan cinema takes multiple forms and an impressive array of routes to find its audience…

Will Higbee

Reflections on the 3rd International Film School Festival (FIDEC), Tetouan


Between 20-24 November 2017, two members of the TMC team were delighted to participate in the 3rd edition of the International Film School Festival (FIDEC) in Tetouan. Flo Martin was invited as a member of the festival’s jury – working alongside filmmakers Farida Benlyazid and Ghassan Salhab and Dr. Walid El Khabach – whilst Will Higbee attended the festival and took part in a panel with members of the London Film School (partners of the TMC project, who were also receiving a special award at this year’s festival).

Hamid Aidouni

Now in its third year, the organisers of FIDEC selected more than 30 shorts from film schools in over 17 countries (including Mali, Lebanon, Austria, Mexico, Belgium, Qatar, Finland the UK and, of course Morocco) to compete in this year’s competition. It was especially pleasing to see a strong number of African filmmakers represented at the festival – an indication that the ‘south-south’ collaboration between Moroccan cinema and Sub-Saharan Africa, visible in the production initiatives currently promoted by the CCM, is also successfully operating among budding African filmmakers. The quality of films in competition was generally high, drawing on a broad range of narrative and documentary film, as well as animation and experimental film art from a truly international array of film schools from across the globe.

The Jury

As a member of the festival jury, Flo’s take on the range of films at the festival is largely reflected in the various prizes awarded by the jury (for more information see here). For Will, speaking independently of the jury, particular highlights from the films in competition included: La Saison du Silence, Tizian Büchi’s beautifully observed study of life in a remote French farming community – a documentary that brings slow cinema to the Haut-Jura; Les Colombes inquiètes, a documentary by Zeynep Danisman that fearlessly combines the personal and political to powerful effect in exposing the ongoing human rights violations that lead to the political assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Turkey in 2007 and continue to be felt today ; Hombre negro sin identificar, Javier Extremera’s harrowing but highly original take (particularly in its use of sound and image) on the personal cost for young African men caught up in Europe’s migrant crisis and, finally, Welcome, an assured and taut fiction film by Balázs Dudás (part social realist drama, part thriller) that explores the effect on a young Hungarian man of his involvement in the illegal trafficking of immigrants into ‘Fortress Europe’. This selection of films, as indeed most films programmed at the festival, clearly showed that many in this new generation of filmmakers focus on issues of migration, human rights, and on the inequalities (and real human cost) created by neo-liberal globalization.

Of note also, two Moroccan documentaries by students: Fayrouz: day of Glory, an engaging portrait of a Moroccan schoolteacher in a small village who is active in street theatre and harbours ambitions to swap teaching for a career on stage and screen, and Le Jeune homme et la mer, a documentary about a fisherman, that employed state-of-the-art digital camera technology to stunning visual effect in its underwater photography. Both these films were very well received by the jury and the festival audience.

Student Filmmakers

In addition to the films in competition, the festival programme included a series of short film programmes celebrating the rich history of the London Film School and that of Le Fresnoy, the French national studio of contemporary art that celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017. Also included was a section entitled ‘DocsTetouan’: a special selection of films produced by students studying on the Documentary Filmmaking Masters at Tetouan, which illustrated the strength of Moroccan documentary talent emerging from this film practice programme.

Running alongside its screenings, the festival also brought together students, filmmakers and researchers for a series of masterclasses at the School of Arts and Humanities, Tetouan University – where the Masters programme in documentary cinema is led by Prof. Hamid Aidouni, the festival director and a key figure in the cultural and cinematic life of Tetouan. This year the festival masterclasses offered a range of experiences and perspectives from Michel Serceau – French researcher, educator, festival organizer, and author of numerous key publications on the language of film, authorship and (of course) Arab cinema; Egyptian director Sayed Said and Lebanese screenwriter, director and producer, Ghassan Salhab who both who provided insights into their respective filmmaking practices. For me, the highlight was the masterclass delivered by Ghassan Salhab, who eloquently and passionately explored the personal and wider artistic impulses at work in his latest film, L’encre de chine – a powerful, poetic visual essay on questions of space and identity. Prompted by the threat of immanent eviction from his current apartment in Beirut, Ghassan used his film to re-visit locations with an intense personal significance for the filmmaker/artist and to explore his own mixed heritage as the son of Lebanese parents who grew up in Senegal. The argument put forward by Ghassan is that ‘place’ is as important for understanding who we are as the over-exposed and often over-generalized concept of ‘identity’. The audience at the masterclass were fortunate to view advanced excerpts from the film still in the process of being edited. Though he had previously directed feature films with far larger budgets, and involving a cast and crew of scores of individuals, Ghassan chose to shoot his most recent film on his iPhone and edit it on his laptop. He shared with the audience the good news that the distribution rights for the film had been acquired by Franco-German TV channel Arte on the very morning of the masterclass! His message to the students was therefore a direct and inspiring one: with creativity, commitment and drive, it is possible to make the film you want. The technological means to do so have never been more accessible.

Will Higbee

Finally, running alongside the masterclasses were sessions with representatives from Le Fresnoy and the London Film School (official partners of the TMC project). Participants in the LFS panel discussed the structure, educational strategy and film education philosophy of the LFS in relation to the various programmes in Filmmaking, Screenwriting, International Film Business and PhD in Film Practice offered at the School. The panel included: Gisli Snaer, director of studies at the LFS, Dr Jamie Chambers and Aegina Brahim – both LFS graduates whose recent films were screened at the festival – and Prof Will Higbee (PI of the TMC project and academic lead for the Exeter – LFS partnership). This was the first, and we hope not the last, official collaboration between FIDEC, the faculty at Tetouan and the London Film School. LFS Director of Studies, Gisli Snaer, was impressed with what he saw at both the faculty and the festival – and has proposed that the LFS nominate the MA in Documentary Filmmaking programme led by Prof. Hamid Aidouni for membership of CILECT (the International Association of Film and Television Schools).

On behalf of the TMC project, Flo Martin and Will Higbee would like to thank the entire organisational team from FIDEC, and colleagues at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Tetouan University for the welcome they extended to Flo and Will, as well as colleagues from the LFS for this high-quality festival. Above all, we would also like to acknowledge the talent and vision of Professor Hamid Aidouni, the driving force behind FIDEC. We very much hope to return for the 4th edition of the festival later this year.

Will Higbee

Ouarzazate Movie at IDFA 2017: A Revelation of Continued Cinematic Imperialism in the Moroccan Desert


Moroccan films and documentaries are currently really well-represented at film festivals around the world. The TMC team of course screened Aïta and Trances at Africa in Motion (see Will Higbee’s blog); the Kolkata Film Festival in India screened seven contemporary Moroccan films; Volubilis by Faouzi Bensaïdi was screened at Venice and in Carthage and will doubtless visit many festivals worldwide this year; and Razzia by Nabil Ayouch has been selected as Morocco’s entry in the pre-selections for Best Foreign Film at the 2018 Oscars. And these are of course just a few examples: we all know there are some very exciting films to be screened at some of the largest festivals in the world next year.

IDFA 2017

My most recent festival experience was of six MENA films at IDFA, the world’s most famous international film festival dedicated to documentaries, in Amsterdam. It is one of the most enjoyable, laid-back and convivial festivals I know and I like to visit it every year, mostly because it has always been really good at representing the transnational nature of the documentary industry. From its inception, this festival has had a focus not only on Dutch or European and American docs but also on African, Arab and Latin American, Asian and Australasian films. It really is one of those festivals that make genuine attempts to be all-inclusive and diverse. It avoids red carpet events, focuses on networking events and meetings, and opens up doors both to the industry and to a very loyal and enthusiastic local audience, through affordable ticketing and accreditation. The only downside to the festival, from my perspective, is that it is located in one of the most expensive cities in Europe.

One of my highlights this year was the screening of two modest Moroccan films: Ouarzazate Movie and House in the Fields, on Thursday 23 November. I especially liked Ouarzazate Movie by Ali Essafi, a film from 2001, primarily perhaps because Ouarzazate has been in the news recently, with Noureddine Sail pointing out that Ourzazate as a film location encounters serious issues due to its isolation. In an interview published in English on MENAFM he said: “The problems that hinder film production in Ouarzazate aren’t related to cinema as much as they’re related to the region itself. The region is isolated. There aren’t enough roads to get here. There aren’t enough airline flights. This isolation creates problems. Some international producers come here only because they’re compelled to due to the location’s history with Lawrence of Arabia and other famous films like The Mummy and Gladiator. They say there’s no place where they can film better than this one. We can say that the region of Ouarzazate is like an open studio. But once the issues of transportation put pressure on producers, many of them look elsewhere.” Even as the CCM is now focusing its attention on creating extra incentives through tax rebates and an increasingly professional crew locally, the issue of isolation and a continued lack of communication hamper the studios’ potential.

Checking out the Extras

In the film, we see how foreign film production companies come to this isolated place in the desert, working with local companies such as Dune Films, for setting and location, with or without production incentives. The film focuses on the methods used by these companies to communicate with the local population who are looking for jobs and see themselves as an inherent part of the local film history.

The recruitment process is brutal. The local people are all too willing to be part of a Hollywood production, and they have memories of working on Lawrence of Arabia, or with Paolo Pasolini. One older man in particular reminisces on being Pasolini’s personal assistant and the interviewers become really interested in Pasolini’s attitude towards the man.

Watching Films together

He smiles and gives nothing away! The filmmaker also shows the men and women – who are or have been extras in the past – footage of the films they have been in. It becomes clear that they have never seen these films, but it is also exciting to see how they recognise themselves, neighbours, parents, and friends, as people with no specific role but on-screen nonetheless.

Ali Essafi films these hopefuls coming together and competing with one another on a grandstand, putting themselves on display to American, French, Italian and Canadian film producers who have determined beforehand exactly which skin colour, sex and age they need. They survey the crowd as if they were visiting a cattle market. The lucky few to be selected then go on to work crazy hours for a pittance. Women and children are set entirely apart from the men and are treated with more contempt, dismissal and a total lack of empathy by the recruiters than the men, who seem to have formed a hierarchy, with some more confident about their chances precisely because they have been recruited so many times in the past, as they fit a stereotypical image of the generic desert dweller: old, tall and lean, face marked with deep wrinkles and the characteristic beard.

Wardrobe tests

Essafi reveals how communication between production companies internally and between production companies and extras is entirely negligible and one-directional, with no regard whatsoever for the rights and circumstances of their employees, and health hazards are ignored—it’s clearly only about the money, for the foreign companies, not for the locals. Nevertheless, some of the men who have been able to return to several roles on these visiting films have been able to buy or build their houses from their very low wages: each time a pay check comes in they can finish another wall, ceiling or door.

Ouarzazate Movie shows all too clearly that while the films may look stunning on our silver screens, and that foreign productions do indeed come to the studios in Ouarzazate, Saïl has a good point about the actual situation for the local talent and life behind the scenes being entirely neglected and underdeveloped. Once you understand this film, you will look at the famous blockbusters with very different eyes. Western imperialism still reigns unashamedly supreme in the Ouarzazate desert.

Ali Essafi

Ali Essafi was born in Morocco in 1963. He studied psychology in France before entering the world of filmmaking. His films include: General, Here We Are (1997); The Silence of the Beet Fields (1998); Ouarzazate Movie (2001); and Shikhat’s Blues (2004). He lives and works in Morocco and Brazil.


Stefanie Van de Peer

CALL and RESPONSE: the transnational reach of the Moroccan music documentary

For the second year running, the TMC research project sponsored a panel at the Africa in Motion film festival. This year the focus was Moroccan music documentaries and we were honoured to welcome two of the most important directors who have worked in this area: Izza Génini and Ahmed El Maanouni. The Africa in Motion festival has always tried, wherever possible, to offer its audiences more than a simple screening of a film.

Omar Afif

The TMC team were therefore delighted for the opportunity to develop a ‘Call and Response’ workshop on Moroccan music documentary, including live music from the talented Moroccan musician Omar Bin Afif.

The workshop began with a presentation from TMC project Co-Investigator Prof Florence Martin, providing insights into the cultural significance and diversity of music in Moroccan culture, as well as the role of directors such as El Maanouni and Génini in preserving this rich musical heritage through their documentaries. The presence of Omar meant that those participating in the workshop were fortunate enough to have a live demonstration of the various styles of music discussed by Flo.

Omar serving up a treat

Following a break for mint tea and Moroccan sweets and pastries, also prepared by Omar – is there no end to this man’s talents?!?! – the audience were then treated to an ‘in-conversation’ with the filmmakers, chaired by TMC Principal Investigator Prof Will Higbee. Both Izza and Ahmed spoke of their passion for the music in their films, their professional collaboration (Izza was also the producer of El Maanouni’s cult classic Trances) as well as the power of music and cinema to cross cultures and engage audiences. A memorable afternoon for all present ended with an extended performance by Omar.

Later that day, the TMC research team along with the filmmakers moved on to the Filmhouse for a double bill of Moroccan music documentaries, followed by a Q&A.

The first film to be screened was the short documentary Aïta (1987), directed by Izza Genini. Aïta is the first film in a ten-part series of documentaries on Moroccan music made by Izza between 1987-1992 entitled Maroc: corps et ame / Morocco Body and Soul. The film’s title refers to a style of popular music in Morocco, associated with the Cheikat – female troubadours who travel across Morocco singing at festivals and moussems, combining song and dance to recount epic events from Moroccan history and turning their cries and sways into emotionally-charged songs and performances. Aïta follows Fatna Bent el Hocine – one of the most popular and celebrated Cheikhats in the history of Moroccan music. The film itself is structured around performances by the singers and musicians at the Moussem of Moulay Abdullah – a traditional tribal gathering involving horse-racing, feasts, music and dancing. However, the moments that Génini captures of the singers between performances (off-stage, relaxing, rehearsing) are as important to the film as the performances themselves.

Ahmed and Izza at the workshop

Originally a distributor and producer of feature films, Genini found herself making documentaries as a way to explore her Moroccan past. In this way, the documentary project of which Aïta was a part is an important act of safeguarding a collective cultural memory – a means of archiving Moroccan music and cultural traditions. However, for Genini, a Moroccan Jew who left Morocco as a young woman to study in Paris, the city she made her home, the music documentaries are also an intensely personal creative act; a way for her to connect with the country of her birth and her own cultural heritage.

The second film on the TMC double bill was Trances, the feature-length documentary directed by Ahmed El Maanouni and produced by Izza Génini that has achieved cult status in Morocco and internationally since its release in the early 1980s. The film follows the massively popular Moroccan group Nass el Ghiwane, who combined the rock and roll swagger of The Rolling Stones with a deep understanding and respect of the diverse musical and poetic heritage of Morocco.

Trances is the second feature-length film directed by Ahmed el Maanouni (he also worked as a cinematographer) and followed the international success of Alyam Alyam (1978) which was the first Moroccan film to be represented at Cannes and win the Un Certain Regard prize at the Director’s Fortnight, as well as many awards at festivals across the world. In a career spanning almost 40 years, Ahmed El Maanouni has established himself as one of the most important Moroccan filmmakers, and a passionate advocate and supporter of Moroccan cinema and a new generation of Moroccan filmmakers, working across documentary and fiction, most recently releasing the popular comedy Fadma (2017) for which he was given the award for best director at the National Film Festival in Tangier earlier this year.

Trances mixes concert footage (from Carthage in Tunisia; Agadir and Essaouira in Morocco; and Paris), filmed interviews with the band and black-and-white archival footage. However, the film is much more than a concert film, as it shows the cultural and socio-political importance of the group Nass el Ghiwane to a generation of young Moroccans – as well as the way that the group turned away from the often-romantic musical influences of the Eastern part of the Arab world to focus on the diverse sounds, instruments and musical and poetic traditions of Morocco. Crucially, the songs were sung in Darija (Moroccan Arabic) to ecstatic young audiences, who could relate not only to the message of the music and its traditions but also the language in which it was delivered.

Q&A after Aïta and Trances

The film has been a huge success internationally, garnering plaudits and attention at festivals across the world. As such it also had the honour of being the first film selected by Martin Scorsese to be restored as part of his World Cinema Foundation / World Cinema project. Trances captures the excitement and energy of Nass el Ghiwane in concert as well as exploring the diverse origins of the band’s music, their desire to re-engage a new generation of Moroccans to a music and poetry from which they may have felt disconnected, as well as exploring the social political resonances of the band’s music. While Nass el Ghiwane may have often played down suggestions of political messages in their work, the power of the images and editing of Ahmed’s film, juxtaposing the band’s music with contemporary footage of Morocco and archival material from the colonial period show the socio-political resonance that the band obviously had for its young audience.

Speaking eloquently at the Q&A after the film, both Izza Genini and Ahmed el Maanouni considered the impact of the film on their careers as well as the cultural and political significance of Trances in the history of Moroccan cinema. Izza told us how she worked with Maanouni on the film, about a band she had been a fan of for a long time, and Maanouni confirmed the continued importance of the band and Izza’s work. Maanouni finished by suggesting that, in selecting the film as the first to be restored and distributed via the World Cinema Project, Scorsese had offered him a ‘gift’. I would look at this a different way, and suggest the gift was in fact offered by Ahmed and Izza to Scorsese and audiences across the world who, like the appreciative crowd in the Filmhouse, have embraced this key work of Moroccan cinema – arguably the first Moroccan film with a truly global reach – ensuring that more than three decades on the film continues to have the power to move and engage audiences.

A group photo with the TMC and AiM teams with Izza and Ahmed

The TMC project team gratefully acknowledges the support of the AHRC for making this Call and Response event possible. We are also grateful to our project partners, the Africa in Motion festival, for allowing us to put on the events as part of the film festival. Thanks too to Omar Bin Afif for bringing the music alive at the workshop and to Dr Stefanie Van de Peer for her organisational skills and curatorial expertise in programming this event.

Will Higbee