Category Archives: Marrakech

Roundtable Report: Chamber of Moroccan Film Producers (Tangier, 4 March 2017)

Two members of the TMC team, Florence and Jamal, attended the latest National Film Festival in Tangier (FNF, 3-11 March 2017). The annual festival is organised by the Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM) in association with the National Association of Film Critics and local partners in Tangier. As Florence argued in a previous post for this blog, this year’s festival was characterised by the screening of many wonderful films, however, there were also films that raised questions about the quality and direction of Moroccan cinema.

On Sunday, 4 March, the Moroccan Chamber of Film Producers organised a roundtable as part of FNF. The roundtable helped illuminate some of the challenges facing Moroccan cinema today. The table was chaired by Jamal Souissi, the vice-president of the Chamber. In his introduction, Souissi warned that the incessant closure of cinemas in Morocco today is not only an economic problem, but also a social one.


The film critic and Rabat-based academic Omar Khammar was the first panellist speaking. He observed that although Morocco has many film schools today, the number of filmgoers is decreasing year after year. The digitisation of cinemas is not enough to bring back people to the cinemas. The problem needs to be tackled at the source. For Khammar, the digital revolution has upset the film scene, and Moroccan cinema needs to adapt to this revolution. Some people have built film screening rooms in their own homes. In addition, piracy is a big problem in Morocco, which will also not be solved by the digitisation of cinemas. This has been a key component of the CCM vs Pirates battle over the last two decades. The speaker also drew attention to the fact today’s youth don’t appreciate the conventional length of films: the notion of time has changed, and cinema has got to adapt to this situation. The Moroccan state is also responsible for the current crisis of Moroccan cinema because it has not educated youth to love and appreciate cinema. According to Khammar, this is part of the state’s long war against culture in postcolonial Morocco. Society has been invaded by commercial culture, which in turn has made people shun culture, cinema and reading. The tax rate on cinemas is unfair and to blame for part of the complex problem of cinema closures.

Among the multiple recommendations offered by Khammar to address this situation is the call to build cinemas in the Moroccan countryside. Local councils should spend some of their money on cinema and culture. In this vein, civil society organisations need to assume their role in spreading film culture in society to combat Islamism and other forms of intolerance and radical politics among youth. In addition, some mosque imams should be discouraged from lambasting cinema and films in their Friday sermons. Finally, Khammar pointed out that film advertising is very weak in Morocco, and something needs to be done about it. It is often foreign films that we see advertised on billboards and posters. In all cases, the solution to Moroccan cinema’s crisis will take long years if not a generation to be solved.

Noureddine Ayouch (second left), PR tycoon and father of Nabil Ayouch. Ayouch’s father has just made his first film.


The next speaker was Noureddine Ayouch. He started with an anecdote about an old film-house in Casablanca, which has been converted to a one-night stand hotel. Ayouch insisted on an honest diagnosis of the state of cinemas in Morocco. He also said that we need to make popular films like Road to Kabul (2011), a popular comedy about terrorism directed by Brahim Chkiri. According to Ayouch, Moroccans don’t like Moroccan films because they are not entertaining; they find them too cerebral. Another problem is that people don’t feel morally guilty when they buy pirated movies. This cuts across all social strata. The speaker also said that we shouldn’t rely on CCM money to make films. Filmmakers need to look for other financial resources to supplement funds, or make films without CCM funds at all. This is important, he said, because the CCM is also a censorship board, especially after the Islamists came to power in 2011. According to Ayouch, this has not been a good move for Moroccan cinema and society.

In the last part of his talk, Mr Ayouch offered a number of recommendations to lessen and gradually wipe out the crisis of Moroccan cinema in the globalisation era:

  • VAT tax on cinemas should be reduced to 5 percent if not cancelled altogether
  • The film community should directly address the King to resolve the problem of Moroccan cinema such as censorship and piracy
  • Help pirate film vendors sell legal copies of films instead of pirated ones: they should be helped to integrate the formal economy
  • Local councils should be encouraged to spend some of their budgets to build and support cinemas
  • Moroccan television needs to grant more space to film critics and film programmes
  • Moroccan film distributors need to export Moroccan films and become major actors in other film markets
  • Quotas for national films in Moroccan cinemas and TV should be introduced
  • Film investors need to invest in cinema in sub-Saharan Africa just like the rest of the Moroccan economic community today
  • More money needs to be spent on advertising films just like in the USA: the government needs to spend money on this by helping producers and distributors

The veteran filmmaker Latif Lahlou was the next speaker. He revealed his plan to build 400 cinemas in Morocco. This gargantuan project rests on the premise that we need to focus on the local to solve the problems of national cinema. He recommended that the state makes going to the cinema affordable for the average Moroccan. Lahlou stressed the need for affordable cinemas in working-class neighbourhoods because that is where the large and real audience for Moroccan cinemas is.

The next speaker was El Ayadi, a cinema owner. He pointed out that there is no political will to reform the film sector. The crisis of Moroccan cinema has been going for 25 years. Cinema owners are burdened with taxes while nothing is being done to fight piracy and encourage people to go to the cinema. The 20 % VAT is an aberration, said El Ayadi. It is time to reduce or cancel this tax to keep the few remaining cinemas open. The other problem is that CCM treats cineplexes like Mégarama and small cinemas the same. This is killing the small cinemas. The speaker said that it is no longer viable to own a cinema. The rate of frequency is 6 to 7 percent around the year. This needs to be raised to 20 percent at least to keep cinemas viable and open. The root of the problem is that 90 percent of Moroccans can’t afford the current price of cinema tickets. El Ayadi recommended the building of more neighbourhood cinemas to reduce the transportation costs for filmgoers. He went on to reveal that popular Moroccan films like El Ferrouj (2015) by Abdellah Ferkous saved the year for cinemas.

Popular films bring in money. That is why we need to refrain from judging films. Let us leave it to the audiences to choose and watch the films that they like. The CCM therefore needs to support both auteur and commercial films like El Ferrouj and The Road to Kabul. Otherwise, cinemas would close down, said El Ayadi.

He added that Moroccans need to learn more from the French system because it works. Cinemas are doing well in France. He emphasised that the French cinema system rewards popular films with a €1 million prize to each film that reaches 1 million entries. The cinema owner agreed with previous speakers that 20 % VAT is preventing investors from building or buying cinemas in Morocco. For him, public-private investments are needed and can be achieved by getting the CCM, local councils and other public bodies to put in some money to encourage private producers to invest in cinema.

The last intervener in the routable was Tarrous, who is a film critic and activist based in Tangier. He argued that film professionals ought to listen to the Moroccan public about this question. The scene is dominated by the views of film professionals. Since Moroccan films are subsidised by the taxpayer, we must find the audience for them and keep cinemas open: “Without the audience, Moroccan cinema wouldn’t survive for very long”. It is worth remembering that part of the justification for the public support for cinema is to provide some social welfare for film professionals. However, the professionals are doing next to nothing to attract the general public to watch their films. The Tangerine critic went on to say that the subsidy system is working, but it was high time some serious policies were introduced to help cinema self-support rather than always rely on public subsidies. Moroccan cinema needs an audience large enough to support it financially. Tarrous finally recommended that the current funding system should be revoked because it is not sustainable.


The roundtable was followed by a vibrant and rich Q&A session. Many key actors in the Moroccan film scene who were in attendance took to the floor to voice their thoughts on the crisis of cinemas across the country. For Sarim Fassi-Fihri, the current CCM director, one of the problems that his institution faces, lies in the fact that most cinema owners do not submit their financial reports to the CCM in order to have a good idea about their problems. Ahmed El Maânouni (President of Moroccan Chamber of Moroccan Film Producers) discoursed next and said that more events like the National Cinema Day are needed to encourage Moroccans to become aware of their national cinema’s problems. He added that Morocco needs to learn from France by supporting cinema at every level from production to exhibition. Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi, a filmmaker and the director of the Association of Moroccan Film Producers, reacted by saying that we need to stop expecting help from the state and politicians: “We need to help ourselves. Filmmakers must do something or lessen the pain of Moroccan cinema today,” he said. For Hassan Benjelloun, also a filmmaker and the director of Moroccan Producers Chamber, cinema owners need to programme more diverse films every day instead of one film for weeks on end. This is because the cinema habitués are the same people who come again and again. They get discouraged by repetitive programming.

Part of the audience

Next to speak was Amina, a civil society activist. She highlighted that the crisis of Moroccan cinema is a symptom of the crisis of Moroccan modernity as a whole. Moroccan women used to go to cinemas on their own even when they hailed from traditional families. That is no longer the case, she said. Amina added that schools are the future of Moroccan cinema because we need to target young Moroccans to address the film crisis. El Othmani, a film professional, stressed the need for sociological studies about the Moroccan cinema-going public to better understand this problem. The subjective views of Moroccan film professionals will take us nowhere and cannot be the basis of serious solutions to the crisis of Moroccan cinema.

Jamal Eddine Naji, director of Audiovisual Communication at the Haute Autorité de la Communication Audiovisuelle (HACA), intervened by saying that the HACA has conducted a large-scale survey on Moroccan TV audiences. Someone needs to commission a similar survey about Moroccan film audiences. This is needed because we don’t know the audience for Moroccan cinema. He added that there is also a need to revitalise Moroccan cinema by creating a star system to help it stand on its own feet. Naji concluded that Moroccan filmmakers and actors in the film sector are called upon to use technology effectively in the digital revolution. Omar Ait Mokhtar, a film critic, festival organiser and film club veteran, retorted that Moroccan and international academics and students have carried out fieldwork on Moroccan cinema. What needs to be done is reading and translating some of their recommendations into reality.

Another speaker called for a national front for the defence of cinema to protect directors and film students from certain political currents and unemployment. The rich audience interventions continued with Mellouk, a film critic, revealing that Moroccans spend 250 MAD per month on audiovisual consumption: “That is enough. We just need to bring some of that money back into cinemas”. He explained that if we put together all that is spent on audio-visual production and advertising in Morocco, we get 100 billion MAD. This is a big industry. Cinema needs to place itself at or near the centre of this industry. The creative industries are major employers for the future. Bouchta Farqzaid, film critic, decried that piracy is killing Moroccan cinema. It has gone beyond pirated CDs. Hard drives with over 500 films are on sale on the black market. Boudih, a cinema owner, pointed out that cinemas cannot stand the situation anymore. The owners need urgent decisions rather than discourses and more roundtables. Finally, Benkirane, a film distributor, said that we need to save what can be saved. The social and economic living condition of Moroccans need to be improved to allow them to go to the cinema more often. Moroccan media and schools also need to encourage people to go to the cinema.

Happy TMC team in Tangier!

In conclusion, attending the National Film Festival in Tangier was very productive for the TMC team. The national festival is just what the Marrakech International Film Festival is not. In Tangier, there are roundtables and daily press conferences and discussions after each film screening. The Tangerine crowds are small but rich and friendly. Florence and I were witnesses to candid discussions about the state of Moroccan cinema. We left Tangier with plenty of ideas to share with Will and Stefanie, the two other TMC research team members, and process for the final outputs of the AHRC project.

Jamal Bahmad

TMC Moroccan Cinema Uncut – day 4

The final day of the TMC ‘Transnational Moroccan Cinema Uncut’ symposium began with a panel entitled ‘Film Reception in/of Morocco’ and three complimentary presentations that took a varied approach to the topic, developing existing lines of enquiry in relation to discussion on the previous 3 days. Caroline Eades explored the question of how Moroccan cinema is viewed beyond the nation space and an idea of national cinema constructed in the transnational space of the film festival – taking as a case study two festivals in Washington DC, one a specialist Arab film festival, the other a more general film fest held annually in the city.

Yahya Laayouni, Rachid Naïm and Caroline Eades, with Michael Gott as chair
Yahya Laayouni, Rachid Naïm and Caroline Eades, with Michael Gott as chair

The second speaker of the morning, Yahya Laayouni, offered delegates an analysis of the current state of film criticism in Morocco. Yahya argued that whilst Moroccan cinema has made significant advances in the past two decades, critical writing in Arabic (crucial for those Moroccans) on Moroccan film remains rare and inconsistent. In order for Moroccan cinema to fully gain the attention it deserves, suggested Yahya, there was a need for more formal spaces (in print and online) for rigorous criticism to emerge in Arabic, as well as for more space to be given to female film critics. There was strong interest in the topic during the discussion that followed, not least due to the presence at the symposium of the esteemed Moroccan film critic and journalist Ahmed Boughaba.

Our final speaker on the panel, Rachid Naïm, returned to the subject of New Urban Cinema (NUC) in Morocco, a term introduced into the critical and scholarly lexicon in 2013 by our very own Jamal Bahmad to describe a popular movement of urban cinema focusing on social issues, produced by a new generation of dynamic Moroccan filmmakers. This recent trend in Moroccan cinema had already been addressed in the context of gender on day one of the symposium by Nadir Bouhmouch. Rachid Naïm chose to come at the topic from a different angle, with an analysis of the NUC in relation to questions of representation and aesthetics, exploring the theoretical possibilities and limitations of analyzing the NUC cinema in the context of postmodernism through close readings of Bensaïdi’s 2007 film WWW What a Wonderful World.

The first panel of this final day of the symposium maintained the energy, rigour and engagement shown by all of our speakers across the four days during the debate and discussion (formal and informal) that delegates, invited guests, industry professionals and members of the public have shared since Sunday in the Amani hotel – a location that has been conducive to free and open exchange of ideas amongst all those who have attended.

Will, Flo, Karim Fassir-Fihri and Ahmed el Maanouni
Will, Flo, Karim Fassir-Fihri and Ahmed el Maanouni

This sense of a genuine forum for debate about the current state of Moroccan cinema in all its (trans)national formations continued into the final session of the morning: an industry round table brought together by the Chambre Marocaine des Producteurs de Films (CMPF) in association with the TMC research team. We were honoured to welcome Ahmed el Maanouni (director, producer and president of the CMPF) to chair an industry panel, along with fellow members of the CMPF, producers Lamia Chraibi, Jamal Souissi, Khalid Zairi and Zakia Tahiri. The debate was placed in the context of the perceived ‘shock’, as Maanouni put it, of the absence, for the first time in the 16 year history of the festival of any Moroccan films at the Marrakech International Film Festival (with the exception of the Moroccan-Spanish-French-Qatari co-production Mimosas (2016) by Galician director Oliver Laxe), and the comedy Mon Oncle (Aammi, 2016) which was screened as part of the festival’s homage to stage and screen actor Abderrahim Tounsi.

Ahmed el Maanouni, Khalid Zairi, Zakia Tahiri, Lamia Chraibi and Jamal Souissi

The lack of visibility for Moroccan cinema at this year’s festival, which has already generated huge and passionate debate in the Moroccan press as well as through social media, thus formed a starting point for a wider ranging debate around the challenges at what is increasingly appearing to be a crucial period for the continued development and diversity of Moroccan cinema. The panel members spoke with eloquence and passion about the need to support young talent (especially young producers), for more resources to be devoted to the crucial stage development of films, for a greater need for a genuine reciprocity between Moroccan film and TV, the role of the CCM, as well as a need for the industry to unite and lobby with a collective voice in the face of the forthcoming changes to the legal codes for cinema and audiovisual industries in Morocco.


The passion of the panel was matched by that of interventions from the sizeable audience, who were given ample opportunity to offer their own perspective and proposals in a lively and open debate that ran for over two hours. The round table debate (covered by two Moroccan TV channels) fulfilled precisely the aim of the TMC symposium and the project more generally to provide a genuine forum for debate and exchange between researchers and film professionals. In this context, we were honoured to welcome an array of some of the most respected filmmakers in Moroccan cinema as audience members to the round-table, including Farida Benlyazid, M.A Tazi, Faouzi Bensaïdi and Daoud Aoulad-Syad. Director of the CCM, Sarim Fassi Fihri, was also in attendance and said a few words at the start of the session. The round table marked the first of what we hope will be many collaborations between the TMC research project and the CMPF.

M. A. Tazi and film students
M. A. Tazi and film students

[NB. More detailed blogs will follow in the coming weeks on many of the issues raised in the round table discussion as well as Oliver Laxe’s film Mimosas, one of the hits of the festival]

To bring an end to an exceptional morning and a memorable conference, we were equally honoured to welcome Moroccan film critic and journalist Ahmed Boughaba to present the closing address. M. Boughaba’s experience as both a critic and a key figure in the ciné-club culture in Morocco of the 1960s, allowed the audience a unique insight as to the role of the Moroccan film critic and offered a response to Yahyah Laayouin’s paper from the opening panel of the morning, as well as reflections on the debate on the current state of Moroccan cinema that had taken place in the round-table.

Ahmed Boughaba with translator Rachid Naim

After an exhausting but exhilarating four days, the end of the symposium was marked by a reception and lunch in the tranquil surroundings of the Jardin Majorelle, attended by the academics, critics, filmmakers, industry professionals cinephiles – colleagues and friends, old and new.

The symposium has been a great success and will contribute immensely to the continued research of the TMC research project. The team wishes to thank the AHRC and University of Exeter for its support for the project – without which this symposium could not have taken place. The indomitable Stefanie Van de Peer also deserves a special mention for her tireless efforts, organizational skills and good humour that have successfully guided this symposium through all its various stages.

Thanks also to the Amani hotel for their warm welcome to all delegates and helpful assistance throughout the symposium.

Will Higbee

Day 3 at TMC: Minorities on Moroccan Screens

The third day of the TMC conference started misty and atmospherically, with limited views outside the windows but all the more insightful views inside the conference room. Bright and early (for some at least), today got underway with a four-speaker panel on sexualities and trauma: we heard from Lowry Martin, Valerie Orlando, Kaya Davies Hayon and Jimia Boutouba.

Valerie, Lowry, Kaya and Jimia
Valerie, Lowry, Kaya and Jimia

Lowry started the panel with a queer studies approach to Salvation Army (Abdallah Taïa), which was met with very lively discussions: where is queer studies situated when we talk about Moroccan cinema, or cinema from Morocco that crosses borders (in this case between Morocco and Switzerland)? Do we need to make distinctions between a Muslim Arab world and a Christian Europe? Valerie talked about Mohamed Mouftakir’s film Pegase, a dark psychological thriller about a traumatised young woman who is the victim of her father’s lust for power and goes through life as a boy in order to safeguard his lineage. Her sexuality is denied, and as she undergoes psychiatric treatment it transpires that she is also the victim of pedophilia. The paper sparked questions about deviant sexualities and how film deals with silences and gaps in Morocco’s past. Kaya then looked at The Sleeping Child by Yasmine Kassari, in a phenomenological analysis of women’s bodies and the empowerment of spiritualism. A story about migration, where women are left behind, The Sleeping Child ultimately reveals a transnational feminist aesthetic that returns also in other Maghrebi women’s films. Jimia, lastly, changed the mood in the room as the sun came out, with a discussion of comedy Number One by Zakia Tahiri. The contextualization of the film nevertheless showed that a Moroccan masculinity is experienced as being under threat, and that ultimately this masculinity is a performance. The male protagonist in the film becomes undone, not in the sense that he is un-manned, but he is un-mastered. This comic film has social concerns that are just as urgent and important as the more serious films discussed earlier.

Amazigh films and festivals
Amazigh films and festivals

The roundtable on Berber film and film festivals that followed was organized by Lucy McNair and Habiba Boumlik from CUNY, who invited Hamid Aïdouni, Jamal Bahmad, the organisers of the Fameck Arab film festival, and Amazigh filmmaker Ahmed Baidou (known for his film Addour) onto the panel. They discussed issues of programming Amazigh films for festivals and issues of translating cultures as well as languages. Important questions were asked, such as: what is Amazigh cinema, and where is it located? Which language is Amazigh cinema in, and how does it speak to audiences around the world? We learned that one must think of Amazigh culture as a horizontal and as a vertical experience: in the past it reached from the Maghreb to Egypt, and from north of Morocco to its deep south. The most significant and welcome conclusion of this roundtable was that as scholars, filmmakers, producers, and distributors, we must all embrace the diversity within Morocco and within its cinema, and that it is very urgent to do so indeed.

Touria, Patricia and Karine
Touria, Patricia and Karine

The last panel of the day returned to the theme of women in film, discussing in particular the circulation of films, and their distribution circuits in Morocco, France and the EU at large. Patricia Caillé and Karine Prévoteau showed us their findings of years of research into why some films manage to reach wide audiences and others disappear into forgetfulness, as they get lost in the maze of film, DVD, VHS and TV distribution worldwide. Pertinent questions about online platforms and digital disruption were asked in their discussion. Touria Khannous closed off today by discussing Rock the Casbah (Leila Marrakchi) and The Sleeping Child (Yasmine Kassari), and in particular the difficult if not impossible balance of being an outsider and an insider at the same time. Might that be the ultimate transnational condition?

The highlight at the festival today was the screening of Oliver Lax’s Mimosas: a transnational production between Spain, France, Qatar and Morocco that combines elements of the road movie and the western. There were long queues to get into the cinema, which was filled to capacity. People clearly enjoyed themselves, and the Moroccan audiences may have gotten more out of the film than we did, as with certain scenes in the film, people were laughing at the nickname of the central character (tête de poêle), and we as Western audiences missed some of the jokes. Something got lost in translation, or cultural references were perhaps obscure for us. Such is the experience of a transnational spectator: it makes you wonder, explore and dig deeper…

Notes de Marrakech, deuxième journée


Viola Shafik, Will Higbee, Florence Martin and Kevin Dwyer!
Viola Shafik, Will Higbee, Florence Martin and Kevin Dwyer!

Le temps change vite à Marrakech et le soleil tristement absent hier est revenu ce matin en ce second jour du colloque Le Cinéma du Maroc dans tous ses états : visions locales, dialogues transnationaux. Il a donc accompagné la séance plénière de Viola Shafik sur le cinéma arabe et les hégémonies transnationales (qui aident à le définir tout en le compliquant tout au long de son histoire).

Il a attiré les congressistes sous les parasols de la terrasse pour une pause café ou thé à la menthe bien méritée entre les sessions. Celles-ci furent fascinantes : ce matin, Peter Limbrick a dévidé les rapports du cinéma de Moumen Smihi à une modernité transnationale en mouvance, Ayoub Bouhouhou a démontré comment Hakim Belabbès troublait le(s) genre(s) du documentaire ; enfin Joshua A. Sabih a rendu compte de l’image du Juif marocain dans les documentaires, séries télévisées et cinéma israélien.

Joshua Sabih

Et le soleil ne fut pas le seul à apparaître spontanément aujourd’hui !

Une nuée d’étudiants en cinéma de la Faculté des Arts et des Sciences Humaines de Marrakech est venue se poser à nos côtés, comme de sages oiseaux souriants et attentifs. Puis, sans tambour ni trompette, Farida Benlyazid est arrivée, accompagnée de Mohamed Abderrahmane Tazi nous honorer de leur présence. Ces deux visites ont changé l’ambiance du colloque : nous avions soudain l’impression d’avoir un vrai « chez nous marrakchi », un lieu chaleureux où deux invités de marque du cinéma marocain et une troupe de jeunes curieux passent en voisins ou en amis qui décideraient de passer prendre un café et voir ce qui se passe chez nous. Les discussions fusaient et dans la salle du colloque et sur la terrasse. Un beau moment.

Mohammed Abderrahman Tazi

Deux films en compétition vus cet après-midi et ce soir au festival : Tombé du ciel / Min assamah (Wissam Charaf, France et Liban, 2016) et Parting (Navid Mahmoudi, Iran et Afghanistan, 2016). Le premier un montage d’humour et de surréel sur une constante de violence made in Beyrouth ; le second l’émouvant récit d’un couple de réfugiés vu depuis Téhéran et Istanbul.

Demain, on prévoit à nouveau du soleil, des cinéastes, et puis aussi des directeurs de festival, et on attend tous de voir Mimosas (Oliver Laxe, 2016, Espagne, Maroc, France, Qatar) avec impatience.







Florence Martin

Moroccan Cinema Uncut Conference: Day 1

TMC’s first international conference “Moroccan Cinema Uncut: Local Perspectives, Transnational Dialogues” (Marrakech, 4-7 December 2016) kicked off with warm words of welcome by Principal Investigator Will Higbee (University of Exeter) and Co-investigator Florence Martin (Goucher College). They welcomed all the delegates, who have travelled from different parts of the world to give papers, keynote addresses and attend the Marrakech International Film Festival (2-10 December). Will also thanked the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for making this conference and project possible in the first place. The Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM) and its director Sarim Fassi-Fihri were also thanked for their help.

Kevin Dwyer
Kevin Dwyer

The conference kicked off with a keynote address by Kevin Dwyer, an established anthropologist and specialist of Moroccan cinema and Maghrebi media cultures. Dwyer surveyed the landscape of documentary production in Morocco and Tunisia. He started by revealing his own personal and scholarly journey as an anthropologist of rural Morocco and human rights activism. This trajectory has led him to work on Moroccan cinema over the last twenty years. After a discussion of key questions around the difficulty of defining documentary due to its immense diversity and limitless subject focus, Dwyer argued that the documentary is gaining in visibility and influence in both Tunisia and Morocco despite enormous political and financial obstacles as well as considerable challenges in relation to distribution. The 2011 uprisings have helped documentary filmmaking to gain new momentum due to its urgency and immediacy.

In Morocco, the CCM has supported documentary filmmaking from the country’s independence in 1956. Most Moroccan films until the 1980s were largely shorts, made in the service of nation-building. CCM support continues today through financial aid to filmmakers every year in spite of the prominence of feature films among CCM-funded and internationally co-produced films. The institution has also supported documentary film festivals in Morocco such as FIDADOC in Agadir. The second public TV channel 2M has also supported the Moroccan documentary through production support and granting documentaries prime time on television. However, the institutional support for the Moroccan documentary remains insufficient, and documentary filmmakers have often complained about not feeling supported to the same extent as those making feature films. Dwyer also pointed out the existence of Moroccan documentaries produced outside the CCM and 2M circuits. For example, Guerilla Cinema has produced many online-distributed films by Nadir Bouhmouch in recent years.

Keynote Discussion
Keynote Discussion

Moroccan and Tunisian documentary films have also faced problems such as legal issues in the case of Mohamed Ulad Muhand’s Hercule contre Hermès (هرقل ضد هيرمس, Morocco 2012) and Nadia El Fani’s Laïcité Inch’Allah! (اللائكية، إن شاء الله!, Tunisia 2011). Dwyer also dwelt on similar problems faced by documentary filmmakers and anthropologists such as the delicate issue of how both relate to the subject of their inquiry. This relationship poses many ethical questions and can lead to censorship in various cases.

The Q&A session following the first keynote address pushed the discussion in new directions such as the emergence and role of a powerful player like Al Jazeera Documentary. This Qatari TV channel has sponsored and screened ever-larger numbers of Maghrebi documentary films or international productions on the Maghreb. Other comments and questions drew attention to the rise of transnational Moroccan-Israeli documentaries, which focus on the history and present of Moroccan Jews in Israel, Morocco and beyond.

The first panel of day 1 consisted of a paper by Abdelaziz Amraoui (Cadi Ayyad University, Safi). He dwelt on the attractive nature of Morocco to international filmmakers. This movement started almost at the same time that cinema was invented in the late 19th century. Amaraoui focused on how these films willingly and unwillingly have led to what he calls cine-tourism in Morocco. Many international tourists come to Morocco to visit, among others, film locations and sets especially in Ouarzazate, which is often called the African Hollywood. Internationally renowned films like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Babel (2006) were partly or entirely made in Ouarzazate. However, the Moroccan tourism ministry does not seem to care about such tourism. A lot remains to be done to cash in on this desire by organising themed visits and other film-focused trips for national and international (film) tourists.

Hamid Aidouni and Florence Martin
Hamid Aidouni and Florence Martin

The afternoon session of the conference started with a keynote address by Hamid Aidouni (Université Abdelmalek Saadi, Tetouan). He started with some general remarks about Moroccan cinema in which he tried to debunk some myths about some films and filmmakers. He dwelt mostly on the films of Ahmed Bouanani (1938-2011), one of the most famous and experimental Moroccan film directors despite the large interest he has generated in recent years. Aidouni borrowed Ali Safi’s phrase “Bouanani School” in Moroccan cinema. Bouanani was a unique filmmaker and talented artist and poet. His films like Mémoire 14 (1971) and Mirage (1979) are revered among large sections of Moroccan film scholars. They are visual poems. Aidouni showed clips from some Bouanani works. He also played clips from Mohamed Afifi’s equally experimental documentary Retour en Agadir (1967). It was filmed not long after the Agadir earthquake in 1960. Afifi and Bouanani are two of the great fathers of Moroccan cinema whom new generations of filmmakers have yet to kill for this (trans)national cinema to be reborn.

Lively discussions

The conference’s last panel today was devoted to women in Moroccan cinema. The first speaker Nadir Bouhmouch (Moroccan filmmaker and activist) focused on what he called the “male condition” in Moroccan cinema. He read many Moroccan films through the lens of gender, class and ideology in “the New Urban Cinema” (NUC, Bahmad 2012, 2013). NUC was taken to task by Bouhmouch for its negligence of female characters despite its claim to social realism. He argued that these films focus on male characters, particularly degenerate patriarchs. The next paper by Zakia Salime (Rutgers University) analysed two documentary films on Moroccan youth cultures and women’s suffering and resistance in a patriarchal society. Farida Benlyazid’s Casanayda (2007) chronicles the renaissance of Moroccan youth cultures in music, lifestyle and cultural life in the 2000s. The film focuses on the city of Casablanca where Morocco’s first and largest urban music festival L’Boulevard takes place every year until 2016 when financial issues forced the organisers to cancel this year’s edition while working on new ways to finance the festival and guarantee its future. Hind Bensari’s documentary 475: Trêve de silence (2013) gives voice to many female victims of the infamous and even since amended Article 475 in Moroccan criminal law which allowed rapists to marry their victims so as to escape justice. The film also brings in some legal scholars who reveal the dark side of this law inherited from the colonial period. Said Chemlal presented the last paper on the panel and dwelt on the representation of Amazigh women in Najis Nejjar’s feature film Alen Zwanin / Dry Eyes (2003). This controversial film foregrounds the suffering of women in a remote village in the Moroccan Middle Atlas mountains. The film explicitly and sometimes unwittingly reveals the long suffering and marginalization of Amazigh people in their homeland.

The conference attracted a great deal of interest from Moroccan and other media outlets that are in Marrakech to cover the film festival, the largest of its kind in Morocco and the region. Dr Jamal Bahmad, one of the TMC team members, was interviewed for 20 minutes by Moroccan national radio this evening. This and other media will continue to cover our conference with more interviews and news stories due over the next few days. Stay tuned!

Jamal Bahmad