Category Archives: Transnational

Moroccan Animation (part 2): the Feature Films

 

FICAM’s focus on African films and its Pan-African attitude towards animation, which I mentioned in the previous blog entry, is evident in the programming of Cameroonian feature-length animation, Minga and the Broken Spoon, by Claye Edou, in the competition. Claye told me that the directors of the festival approached him when the film was still in post-production, and Claye was astounded to find it had been selected. He intended the film for Cameroonian audiences, and never expected it to travel beyond his country’s borders. And yet it did…

Minga

The film is based on a local folk tale and is the very first animated film from Cameroon. It had its premier in November in Cameroon, and Claye told me he was not expecting the film to travel at all. He saw his completion of it, and the success it has had inside Cameroon, as his major achievement. But the film is doing so well in Morocco since this first screening, that Claye has ended up travelling the breadth and length of the country to show it at ten locations in Morocco, to packed screening rooms of very excited and appreciative children. Claye is ecstatic that the film, based on a local story, is so accessible to other cultures as well and now hopes it will travel further still.

The story centres around Minga, a young, beautiful orphan who lives with her cruel stepmother Mami Kaba and her selfish step-sister. Mami Kaba is a malevolent woman in the typical evil stepmother mould (like in Cinderella) who does not hesitate to give all the hard work in the household to Minga. However, Minga does not mind hard work, and she goes about her daily routines dancing and singing. One day, she breaks Mami Kaba’s precious spoon as she washes the dishes in the river. This sparks a fury during which Mami Kaba expels Minga from the family home in order to find the only existing duplicate of this spoon, which belonged to Minga’s mother. It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. How will Minga deal on her own in the jungle, and how will she overcome the dangers and difficulties presented to her on her way?

The film is a beautifully designed computer animation, on which Claye Edou worked for 3.5 years, with a team of 50 people (including singers, artists and technicians), all the while continuing his full-time job as an accountant. Wizards, magical beasts and enchanting dreams of the past and the future help Minga on her way to overcome adversity and to find the love of her life. The film carries elements of the already-mentioned Cinderella and other princess stories so popular in international fairy tales and is, perhaps precisely because of these universal elements, widely enjoyed.

In a bilingual country like Cameroon, where one half of the film industry has Nollywood-scale ambitions and the other half is dependent on French money, Claye Edou’s first feature length animated film is something of a miracle. This feature length animation is an immense achievement, because – as Florent Coulon shows – the last cinemas in the country were closed in 2009 and filmmaking has since been very minimal. Edou is a young, enterprising and idealistic filmmaker who created Cledley Productions in 2014, specifically to create Minga. It is the result of his passion for art and for telling stories. He is a national award-winning portrait painter, inspired by design and the desire to present oral stories from his own culture. An animation studio based in Douala, Cameroon, Cledley Productions now aims to present to a wider international audience the traditional local oral heritage, and the musical culture of the various regions in Cameroon beyond the Cameroonian borders. With Minga and The Broken SpoonCledley Productions also wants to reposition Cameroonian cinema at the centre of African animation, by becoming a true pioneer of animated film in the sub-region.

For a trailer of the film, see here.

1917 – The Real October

Another feature film we loved in particular was 1917 – La vérité sur octobre// 1917 – The Real October,an animated documentary with live-action interjections,in which Katrin Rothe looks at the lives and times of five artistic-intellectual individuals in the months running up to the October Revolution in 1917’s Russia. She paints a larger picture of the global events, but focuses on the thoughts, diaries, notes and poems by five influential historical figures who have been studied to death by academics and historians. It’s good to see Rothe revive and reanimate them. Unlike the greater historical studies, this film focuses on individual thoughts, details and everyday events. As such, Rothe reveals innermost thoughts, and shows how these characters change their alliances or hold onto their ideals and belief systems. The five main characters are worth mentioning.

Firstly, I loved the characterisation of Zinaida Gippius. A very strong, influential and assured woman, she was the lyricist of symbolism and a famous literary critic who acted as the grande dame of St. Peterburg’s literature and philosophy salon. Her image and recreation in bubble-wrap and cardboard is particularly striking and her face is beautifully captured through layers of paper. In the face of the events surrounding and threatening to drown her, she loses faith in the power of poetry and turns to diaries, becoming in her own words a ‘chronicler’ of events. There is a startling contrast between the throwaway materials that make her image and the value she places on pen and paper to record what she is living through. Secondly, Maxim Gorky was – and is to this day – an internationally known and revered author. He was a dedicated critic of the Tsarist regime. One of the most interesting things in the film is how there was a sliver of doubt and a change of heart in Gorky’s politics during these turbulent times. This was not the case for Vladimir Mayakovsky, the young and revolutionary poet. In the film he’s portrayed as a bit of a Cockney geezer and a chancer, an edgy performance poet of his times. His arrival on screen is often heralded by free-style beat-boxing. He’s particularly proud of the part his own sloganeering poetry plays in the revolution, when the Bolsheviks chant two of his lines:

Mayakovsky

“munch your pineapple, gobble your grouse, your last day’s coming you bourgeois louse!”

The fourth of the main characters is Alexandre Benois, one of the most important art critics of his time, shown to be emotionally very affected by the revolution and the destruction of artistic heritage. When I spoke to Rothe about the film, I pointed out how affected I was by the tears that rolled down Benois’ face, and how real they looked. She joked that water is very visible on paper faces, and that his glasses emphasise his eyes. Lastly, for me the most aesthetically strong character was Kazimir Malevich, a painter, mystic and art theorist who was a pioneer of geometric abstract art. He sympathised with anarchist-individualistic principles. His depiction in cubist clothes and his square head was very effective, specifically in the bright colours (as opposed to the serene white of Zinaida and the dull beiges and browns of Benois and Mayakovsky). These five individuals and their thoughts, reflections and writings paint a much clearer and recognisable situation.

Malevich

It is also remarkable how Rothe, whose dedication to documentary and animation has made her an artist of some renown, dedicated three of her days at FICAM to workshops with young Moroccan documentary students. This collaboration was established by Hamid Aïdouni, friend of the TMC project and leader of the Tétouan student film festival we wrote about in a previous blog (here). His dedication to the development of confident film students reveals a deep-seated belief in the future of Moroccan filmmaking, and even animation, a form of filmmaking often forgotten about in the country. Rothe’s film has been touring the globe on the film festival circuit, attending both those dedicated to documentary and to animation. In the introduction to the screening of the film, the director of the festival talked about how far FICAM and the freedom of speech elements in Moroccan politics have come: he pointed out that just a few years ago, this sort of political/critical film would not have been allowed to screen in Morocco.

For the trailer, see here.

Nelly & Simon

The third feature film we saw was Nelly & Simon: Mission Yetiby Nancy Florence Savard and Pierre Greco. A hilarious caper for children, this film elicited lots of applause and loud laughter, and the filmmaker acknowledged this gratefully, saying that the Moroccan audience is one of her favourites, precisely for these reasons. The story follows impulsive and stubborn Nelly Maloye, a private detective, who joins the fastidious and pragmatic young scientist Simon Picard in Quebec in 1956, on his research trip to the Himalayas, to prove the existence of the Yeti. He believes that he can prove his hypothesis that the Yeti is the missing link in human evolution. Frustrated and nearing the end of his research grant, he is given a three-month reprieve by a wealthy yet caddish investor. Using an explorer’s journal that supposedly contains the location of the mythical creature’s den, Simon and Nelly must learn to combine their methodological and improvisational approaches if they are going to be able to navigate the challenging terrain. With Tensing (perhaps named after the Sherpa from Hillary’s 1953 Everest expedition?), their young guide, and Jasmin, a chatty myna bird, by their side, they face countless adventures and dangers in a beautiful and dangerous terrain. The film took 8 years to complete, is a gem of 3D and showcases the Canadian National Film Board’s investment in animation.

The trailer is available here.

Un Homme est mort

Finally, I want to mention another of our favourite feature-length films, which eventually also won the competition: Un Homme est Mortor A Man is Dead. Adapted for the screen by Olivier Cossu from an graphic novel of the same title by Kris and Etienne Davodeau and looking like Tintin for grown-ups, Un Homme Est Mort takes its title from a poem by surrealist poet Paul Eluard.

Gabriel Péri

Un homme est mort qui n’avait pour défense
Que ses bras ouverts à la vie
Un homme est mort qui n’avait d’autre route
Que celle où l’on hait les fusils
Un homme est mort qui continue la lutte
Contre la mort contre l’oubli

Car tout ce qu’il voulait
Nous le voulions aussi
Nous le voulons aujourd’hui
Que le bonheur soit la lumière
Au fond des yeux au fond du cœur
Et la justice sur la terre

Il y a des mots qui font vivre
Et ce sont des mots innocents
Le mot chaleur le mot confiance
Amour justice et le mot liberté
Le mot enfant et le mot gentillesse
Et certains noms de fleurs et certains noms de fruits
Le mot courage et le mot découvrir
Et le mot frère et le mot camarade
Et certains noms de pays de villages
Et certains noms de femmes et d’amies
Ajoutons-y Péri
Péri est mort pour ce qui nous fait vivre
Tutoyons-le sa poitrine est trouée
Mais grâce à lui nous nous connaissons mieux
Tutoyons-nous son espoir est vivant.

Paul Éluard

René Vautier in Brest

The use of the poem is no mere literary affectation designed to inject the film with a sense of gravitas: this comes naturally when Eluard is given the highest accolade a poet can hope for, to see his poem taken and rendered into the language of the people. Taking place during the workers’ strikes in Brest, France in 1950, this film follows two childhood friends (Petit Zef and Désiré) after their other close friend Edouard has been shot dead in the head by police during a demonstration. A sympathetic filmmaker, René Vautier, is brought in by the Union head to document the grinding poverty of the workers on strike while they push for better pay as they rebuild the war-torn town of Brest. Vautier, it is mentioned in the film, has just returned from making Afrique 50(1956), a strongly anti-colonialist documentary, which made him fall deeply out of favour with the French government. In Brest, Petit Zef and Désiré become his initially reluctant filming assistants and guides. The idea of a film within a film is not new, but the very act of making this documentary film restores a sense of worth and determination to the town and the film reaches its peak towards the end when Petit Zef (who is illiterate) is given the task of reciting Paul Eluard’s poem to accompany a screening of the film to the town. He begins to recite what he knows by heart and then begins to speak in his own words from the heart.

The trailer can be viewed here.

What FICAM shows then, is the inspired, varied internationalist approach to its programme and the direct relevance and inspiration that comes from this selection to its often very young Moroccan audiences. The fact that we saw challenging political films as well as folklore-based fairy tales and humorous detective capers, speaks volumes of the international quality of this festival. Likewise, the attention paid to its filmmakers, the networking opportunities for young filmmakers and students with the more experienced artists, and even the pan-African vibe in some of the best films here, really excited me as an audience member and as a festival researcher. FICAM has great international ambitions and the attentive directors of the festival really work with a vision for the future of the form in mind – both internationally as with regard for students of filmmaking in Morocco itself. Long may it continue…

Next week, in the last blog entry on Meknes, we will reflect on the only Moroccan film in the short film competition: Ayamby Sofia El Khayari.

Stefanie 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.

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

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

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

Shakespeare in Casablanca by Sonia Terrab (60 minutes, 2016)

 

The International Women’s Film Festival in Salé offers three types of competition: feature length fiction; fiction shorts; documentaries. The latter is rich in works from all over the world and the Moroccan entry is no exception.

Shakespeare in Casablanca

Shakespeare à Casablanca is profoundly Casablancais: coproduced by Nabil Ayouch (Ali’n Productions) and Moroccan TV (2M), it follows a theater troupe through the streets of Casablanca as the director and actors prepare the staging of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The film is an adaptation on multiple levels: first the play had to be translated from English to the local version of spoken Arabic, Darija (on three different levels, we are told: the darija of yore, Casablanca’s variations, the darija of today’s youth), then it had to be understood, staged and rehearsed for present times in Casablanca. For that purpose, the work was done in partnership with its potential audience. The resulting documentary is a type of “making of” of the play: how does one film the production of the play from start to finish (along, predictably enough, three acts: Beginning of the Summer; Mid-Summer; Night of the Show)? How does one go from Shakespeare’s multi-leveled fantasy to Casablanca’s 21st century reality? The film therefore follows the actors asking people on the street how they would react to the story of star-crossed lovers whose parents forbid them to marry and who decide to flee to the forest. What would you do in that situation, they ask?

Call-and-Response

The main part of the filmic narrative becomes a fabulous call-and-response between curious passers-by and the probing actors on the streets of Casablanca, thus re-enacting in contemporary times Shakespeare’s play within the play structure in the Dream. In a hilarious scene, one man disagrees with the choice of the forest as an escape route: the lovers should retreat to the sea, to the beach, he repeats this with forceful conviction. Another steps in, addresses the male actor and demonstrates that he needs to project more assurance in order to convince his beloved’s father that his lover is his, and no one else’s. “You need to be more self-confident! You are not good at this! I would marry her! She would follow me everywhere!” Completely taken by his own acting, he ends up in a space that unites Shakespeare’s play and Casa’s reality, as he continues his dialogue with the actor and predicts: “you will marry her, and she will have your son but she will call him Fayçal [his own name], so taken is she with me, with how strong-willed I am!”

Along the way, the troupe asks people what love means. They avoid the bourgeois districts of Casablanca (e.g. the Twin Towers), preferring to interact with the people of poor neighbourhoods. What does love mean? What are the words for it in Darija? The translator mentions houb (love) and z’hou (desire, passion); a taxi driver talks about terms of endearment learned in childhood (e.g. “my little liver”). Between modesty and shame, love is hard to articulate. A young woman states that Moroccans will not and cannot talk about love.

In one of the most moving scenes, actors are asked, early in the process, to talk about a joy of love and a pain of love. Each actor tells his or her story in turn. A young man with sparkling eyes fervently describes the happiness he felt with the beloved young woman to whom he confided everything. Suddenly, his face veiled with sadness, and in an altered voice, he manages to state that the love story had finished. The camera lingers on his face twitching with pain: so moved is he that he can no longer articulate a word. After a silent while, he finally screams.

In the end, the play is staged in an empty cathedral in front of an audience, for free. As the camera films the faces of the people watching the old British bard’s complex play in Darija in today’s Morocco, there is a rare cinematic moment of grace.

Florence Martin