Category Archives: Tangiers

Moroccan Cinema at 60: A Divided House

 

Moroccan cinema is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. It was the highlight of the 19th edition of the National Film Festival in Tangier (9-18 March 2018). Something else was visible in Tangier: Moroccan cinema is a house divided against itself.

2018 National Film Festival poster

Attended by the 4-member TMC team, the festival showcased the diversity of Moroccan cinema today by screening over 30 long and short films produced over the last 12 months. Films ranged from the finely executed (House in the Fields,Volubilis), the experimental (Jahiliya), the hollow and prententious (Razzia, Burnout, The Howl of the Soul), to the avowedly simple and popular (Korsa,Lahnech). The annual festival also revealed some cracks and structural problems in the edifice of Moroccan cinema. This should in no way be interpreted as meaning that this divided house will not stand for a few more decades.

Born out of the ashes of colonial cinema and the urgency of nation-building following the country’s independence in 1956, Moroccan cinema has grown spectacularly over time so much so it resembles its old self less and less every year. The identity of Moroccan cinema today is multifaceted; it has no single direction or common style. This diversity was there for all to witness during the national film festival in rainy old Tangier in March. The first category of films on show consisted of ‘made-for-TV’ comedies and dramas meant for a Moroccan audience first and foremost. The veteran actor and filmmaker Abdellah Ferkous (b. 1965) was at it again with his widely appreciated Korsa (2018). The mere presence of Ferkous in the male lead role of the film was enough for the movie to get the audience hooked to their seats. The road-movie comedy follows on the footsteps of the previous Ferkous box office hit El Ferrouj (2015).Korsauses the same recipe for success by tackling topical societal issues from below whilst shying from technical experimentation.

Lahnech poster

The second comedy is set in Rabat, which has recently become a familiar site in Morocco cinema. Even though Lahnech had been released and widely watched in national cinema theatres since early December 2017, it drew huge crowds to French-owned Mégarama’s Tangier multiplex for two simultaneous screenings in the late evening. The film uses a constellation of popular actors in the main roles including Aziz Dadas and the eternally young Majdouline Idrissi. Dadas plays the central role as a fake traffic warden. The actor is a popular face on Moroccan television and cinema. Much like Ferkous, he is perceived as weld cha’ab(lit. ‘son of the people’), hence his popularity and ability to represent the majority of Moroccans. Class is increasingly becoming a dominant lens through which Moroccans perceive themselves on screen.

 

The other category of films at the national film festival was made of ‘world cinema’ products clearly made to satisfy international audience tastes and hopefully some domestic ones as well. This second category is sometimes labeled ‘festival cinema’. It is frequently attacked in the local media and by Morocco-base intellectuals for some of its films’ militantly exotic and occasionally Orientalist framing of Moroccan culture and society. Film critics love to hate them with few exceptions. However, these films are often appreciated at festivals even in Morocco, where they usually win first  prizes including at the  national film fest, thanks to technical quality and aesthetic accomplishment.

Florence Martin, Faouzi Bensaïdi and Jamal Bahmad

The film which won most prizes, including the Grand Prix, in Tangier this year is Volubilisby Faouzi Bensaïdi. The film has been widely acclaimed by film critics in Morocco since its premiere in Rabat in November 2017. As the Paris-based Bensaïdi admitted in an interview with the TMC team on the morning of the prize announcement day, the film is one of cinematic maturity and has been made with a wider audience in mind. However, Bensaïdi warned us that the next film would be like his previous essay works prior to Volubilis.

Other remarkable films of this second category on show at the national film festival this year were House in the Fields (2017) by Tala Hadid. The documentary lovingly chronicles the everyday and breathtaking natural beauty of an Amazigh village in the High Atlas. The central characters are Fatima and Khadija. The former is getting ready to be married to a village youth who works and lives away in Casablanca. The film portrays the characters and their environment with much love and a subtlety that is often lacking in films about the Atlas mountains. It should have own more than the festival’s Editing Prize. Hadid’s first feature film The Narrow Frame of Midnight won the festival’s Grand Prix in 2015. Another film in this category which is also partly set in the High Atlas is Nabil Ayouch’s much mediatised Razzia(2017). It hugely disappointed a large section of the festival audience due to its runaway narrative fragmentation and reduction of Morocco to a few clichés (backward Berbers, Muslim fanatics, anti-Semites and prostitutes) to satisfy the average western viewer’s image of Morocco. More successful and appreciated was Narjiss Nejjar’s fourth feature film Apatride(2018). The story of a 34-year old woman bent on finding her Algerian mother from whom she was separated when 45,000 Moroccans were banished from Algeria following Morocco’s annexation of the Spanish-occupied Sahara in 1975, Apatridewon the Production Prize for Lamia Chraïbi. Chraibi also won the same prize for Jahiliya(2018) by Hicham Lasri, who reaped the Director’s Prize.

It is clear that the type of audience the filmmakers have in mind has come to define the look and nature of Moroccan films. The CCM has encouraged this division since the early 2000s by awarding funding to both popularand festivalcamps of Moroccan cinema. The commercial films like Korsaand Lahnechare meant to entertain domestic audiences and thus keep film houses in business. The arthouse and/or transnational films like  Volubilisare there to represent Morocco in the international scene by featuring and hopefully winning prizes at global film festivals. Despite this policy, the CCM and  filmmakers in both camps have entertained the desire to speak to all audiences and therefore create a more cohesive Moroccan cinema. This explains the popular edge in Bensaïdi’s Volubilis. The film has not yet be released in national cinemas, but it is not likely to do outstandingly even though it is significantly more accessible than the director’s previous works. No film has succeeded in satisfying international and national audiences at the same since Nabil Ayouch’s Ali Zaoua(2000). The CCM has not been able to help. No one seems to know exactly the success formula, including Ayouch who has not able to replicate his rare accomplishment. Hence the sense of division and loss of direction in Moroccan cinema. Filmmakers will have to keep trying hard to bridge the gap between Moroccan and international viewers and points of view. Meanwhile, Ferkous will go on making his popular comedies and Bensaïdi his cinephilic essays.

Between the two categories, a lot of films fall through the cracks. They are forgotten almost as soon as they are made. They neither win prizes internationally nor attract filmgoers at home. Unfortunately, this represents the third and major category of Moroccan films today. The CCM needs to find a way to reform this part of Moroccan cinema’s divided house at 60.

Jamal Bahmad

Ode to political aïta: The Howl of the Soul (Abdelilah Eljaouhari, 2018)

 

One of the most intriguing films of this year’s National Film Festival (Tangier, 9-18 March) was definitely Le Cri de l’âme (its English title: The Howl of the Soul) by Abdelilah Eljaouhari, a fiction film based on an original story turned into script by Othman Achekra. Its theme is not new: the film is a return to the Years of Lead under the reign of Hassan II, a theme picked up by many Moroccan filmmakers since the early 2000s (from Lahcen Zinoun’s powerful short, Faux pas, 2003, to feature films such as Hassan Benjelloun’s La Chambre noire, 2004, or Jilali Ferhati’s Mémoire en détention, 2005; as well as Leïla Kilani’s moving documentary Nos lieux interdits, 2011, for instance). However, the treatment of the topic is fresh and solidly anchored in Morocco’s culture: that of the aïta.

The latter is a popular song tradition with a rich history in the Doukkala and Chaouia regions in Morocco’s Atlantic mid-west (amply and beautifully documented by Izza Génini, who was at one of our previous events). The film, set in 1973, at the height of the repression against student movements, uses the aïta both as a structural device, and as the signifier of a long history of brazen resistance: some of the aïta performers have sung truth to power to the peril of their lives. Encoding this particular element of cultural patrimony on several levels in the filmic narrative works well and roots a universal message of liberation deeply in the local terrain.

The film follows the structure of the aïta spelled out on the screen:

  • Prologue: the people of el Aloua
  • Act I: The fair daughter of the Fassi
  • Act II: Menanna Zerouala
  • Act II: Where do you come from? Where do I come from?
  • Epilogue: Sooner or later, truth will prevail.

Each section of the film is heralded by five performers of the aïta (3 men and 2 women, the Nachate Essayada band). Well-known aïta songs form most of the soundtrack, and one of the two protagonists, Abdelfattah Fakehani, is an activist teacher who is doing research on the aïta throughout the film. Hence the Years of Lead are framed, and frame, the aïta.

The story that echoes so powerfully in the 1973 narrative is that of Mennana Kharboucha, an extremely gifted aïta composer and singer who sang songs of resistance. Mennana acquired legendary status and all sorts of stories circulated about her, yet she was also a historical figure who came to fame at the turn of the century. At the time, a violent and powerful money-hungry Caïd, Aïssa Ben Omar Al Abdi, after leading ruthless wars of conquest in neighboring territories, levied such high taxes that his people were starving. In 1895, the Ouled Zaid revolted against him and almost won: they were under the spell of Mennana Kharboucha’s songs, the lyrics of which denounced Caïd Ben Omar’s despotism and unfair treatment of his people. One of the legends about the performer is that the Caïd fell in love with her and when she sang about her deep contempt for his abuses of power to his face, condemned her to be buried alive. Clearly, it is perilous for a woman to sing truth to a Caïd’s power frontally…

Kharboucha

No wonder, then, that the legend of Kharboucha, the female figure who gives voice to the oppressed, becomes reenacted as a parable to talk about the Years of Lead. Hence the song on Kharboucha in the 1990s, composed by Mohamed Al Batouli and Saïd Limame, performed by Hayat Idrissi, and promptly censored by Hassan II’s regime; Jnane El Kerma, a TV series by Farida Bourquia in 2002; Kharboucha, a play by Salem Gouindi that same year; and Kharboucha, a film by Hamid Zoughi in 2008.

Eljouhary’s film has a satisfying intricacy, as the mise en abyme of Mennana Kharboucha echoes through a multi-layered narrative: a detective story (a woman’s corpse is found in the phosphate quarry of Khouribga at the beginning of the film), the historically accurate narrative of the students’ movement UNEM banned in 1973 (with the arrest of Saïda Menebhi in 1976 in Rabat, who later went on hunger strike and died), a nuanced portrayal of a class system in 1973 (the wealth-inducing city of Khouribga, “world capital of phosphates” inhabited by a poor population) that hints at today’s Moroccan realities (a theme common to many if not all films at this 19th edition of the Festival National du Film). These levels of narrative rest on the intersecting narratives of four individuals: Driss, the depressed former philosophy student turned cop; Abdelfattah, the teacher and activist who heads a cine-club and researches the aïta; Cheikha Zohra whom he interviews for his research and her husband, the wise Cheikh Rouhani who counts the stars at night; Abdelwaneth, the club guard and his dog Sitel. There is a love story, and a history of disappearance (and – spoiler alert! – reappearance).

Abdelilah Eljaouhari

It is also well edited, well directed, with a carefully selected cast of actors who are completely believable; it is well shot (by Ali Benjelloun) and it is a Moroccan story that speaks to a Moroccan audience via all these references off screen while enjoyable and understandable by a larger audience outside Morocco (to which I belong).

My question is now: where and when will it be seen? The release in Moroccan theaters is not going to happen for a while and, as with so many Moroccan films, an international release is far from certain. I wish all the best to Cri de l’âme.

Florence Martin

Faouzi and William: Volubilis, 2017

 

What a film!

Bensaidi wins!

No wonder Faouzi Bensaïdi received most of the awards at the 19th edition of the National Film Festival in Tangier from the festival jury: Grand prix du jury; Award for the script (written by Faouzi Bensaïdi); Best female actor for Nadia Kounda; Best male actor for Mouhcine Malzi; Best original music for Mike and Fabien Kourtzer.

Outside the jury, the film also received Prix de la critique awarded by the association of Moroccan critics, and Prix des ciné-clubs from the national association of ciné-clubs.

As the plethora of awards and triumphant accolades from the National Festvial attest, Volubilis is a film that succeeds and satisfies on multiple fronts : with the public in the theater, the festival people, and the cinéphiles (critics and cine-club goers).

Bensaidi introduces Volubilis at FNF

At the National Festival in Tangier, Faouzi Bensaïdi presented Volubilis by describing it as a love story shot in dialogue with the tradition of the Egyptian melodrama – hence his careful attention to music and to structure. As the narrative unfolds, the two protagonists, Malika (Nadia Kounda) and Abdelkader (Mouhcine Malzi) who are in love and poor, will be separated and reunited. Towards the end of the film, there is even a party (in the Egyptian tradition), but it is no wedding with dancing and singing: Bensaïdi twists things with amused irony and the fiesta, instead of a prelude to happiness ever after, leads Malika to the discovery of what her husband has endured. When the haute bourgeoisie feasts, it is on the back of the humble people that it exploits.

Poster Volubilis

The plot is straightforward: Malika and Abdelkader are married. He is a guard in a mall in Meknes, and she finds work as a maid in a bourgeois house owned by a woman whose husband is leaving her. One day, Abdelkader applies the rules and catches a woman brazenly walking past a long line of people waiting for their turn at an office, and orders her to queue up like everyone else. Outraged, the privileged woman vows to take revenge. She does so in the most hurtful way possible, through her husband (played by Bensaïdi himself). The payback for a lower-class man daring to counter a privileged member of the haute bourgeoisie is devastating: individual hogra (humiliation) is explored in all of its possible facets with relentless cruelty.

The filmic narrative also marks a return to the director’s native city: Meknes. The city has grown at different speeds depending on where one lives, since Bensaïdi left: the camera walks us in leafy neighborhoods with opulent villas, in dusty ones with huddled houses in various states of decrepitude, in newly built ones with cold, modern, project housing, and downtown with a modern shopping mall – the access to which the administration wants to restrict to wealthy customers. Only once do we escape from Meknes, when Abdelkader and Malika, cramped in the apartment of Abdelkader’s family, take a bus to Volubilis and walk among its ruins. Malika and Abdelkader can only share intimate moments away from the stifling home. These moments are imaged in delicate, nuanced ways: close-ups on interlaced fingers, of Abdelkader massaging cream into the hands of his beloved, as well as metonymic, extreme close-ups on the mouths of both protagonists sharing a juice. The latter has the erotic power of Gilda’s glove scene.

There is drama, melodrama, humor, beautiful shots and music. Here, the film talks to a wide audience looking for a good story well told.

Malika and Abdelkader in Volubilis

The film also riffs on other cinemas, with shots reminiscent of Rear Window, of Mulholland Drive, Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati, as well as quotations from Faouzi’s own filmography: just as the killer had covered the on-coming sound of a revolver shot in WWW by opening every single faucet in the lavatory, one after the other, mechanically (like Charlie Chaplin on the assembly line of Modern Times), the boss who orders torture covers the sound in a similar fashion by opening all windows looking onto the hustle and bustle of the street below. Two friends try acting like fundamentalists by putting kohl around their eyes (just as they had in Death for Sale). A couple starts a possible love story over the phone, just like in WWW. Not to mention the actors: Bensaïdi himself appears in the film, along with his spouse, Nezha Rahil, who bring their past roles into the decoding of the characters they play on screen. Here, the film talks to film buffs and to those familiar with Bensaïdi’s cinematography. In many ways, the film, solidly anchored locally (Meknes), speaks to an array of people simultaneously, just as Shakespeare did in his plays. The film finds all sorts of ruses to talk to everyone at the same time with impeccable maestria.

Florence Martin

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.

Workshop

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

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.

Roundtable

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.

Q&A

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