Short Cuts Moroccan Style

The response to TMC’s call for applications for our two London Film School (LFS) bursaries was impressive both in terms of quantity (over 35 applications for 2 places) and in terms of the quality of the applicants.

With each applicant submitting two short films as part of their application, much of late July and August for those on the selection panel was taken up with viewing short films by the next generation of Moroccan filmmakers. As such, the exercise of shortlisting candidates and eventually finding our two candidates for the LFS bursaries also provided an ideal opportunity to take the pulse of short filmmaking in Morocco today.

The panel was impressed by the quality and diversity of submissions received, with a pleasing range of shorts across documentary, narrative and even some non-narrative experimental work. We were struck by the new and original directions that these young filmmakers were taking within their short films, including: experimentation with non-linear narrative, film form and style, realism and surrealism, as well as adaptations that re-worked classical European literature into a contemporary Moroccan setting. However, what was also apparent in the submissions that we received was how many filmmakers of these young filmmakers were developing in new ways the preoccupations that have characterised contemporary Moroccan cinema since the late 1990s: social realist and (often violent) neo-noir narratives that focus on the challenges and inequalities facing Moroccan urban youth; an exploration of the collective and individual psychological traumas resulting from the Years of Lead; an impulse to document the traditions of rural cultures and communities that may seem at odds with a modern and increasingly globalized society; meditations on the forces that drive many young Moroccans to emigrate from their homeland and the conflict that this can generate for both the individuals and their families; and finally films (both documentary and fiction) that foreground the experience of a range of female protagonists and experiences in their narratives. We were also very pleased by the high technical quality exhibited in the corpus presented, in particular in terms of the visuals, soundtracks and artful editing skills that showed a solid degree of professionalism.

In the end, after prolonged deliberation, the panel decided to award the two LFS bursaries to Saida Janjagua and Mahassine El Hachadi. Saida and Mahassine impressed us with the quality, vision, originality and (it must be said) cinematic beauty of their filmmaking. We are delighted to be welcoming them to London in January 2017 to spend a term in residence at the LFS and hone their skills while learning and collaborating with staff and students. The bursaries will allow them to establish their own connections with British filmmakers whilst acting as artistic ambassadors for the Transnational Moroccan Cinemas project and Moroccan cinema more generally. We hope that their time at the London Film School will benefit their careers as emerging Moroccan filmmakers whose work has the potential to reach international audiences, AND will produce films and collaborative creative work that can be included in the programme of new Moroccan cinema that TMC will be curating as part of the 2018 African in Motion Film Festival.

Given the Marrakech International Film Festival’s recent announcement that it will be winding down the Cinécoles initiative (a short film competition held as part of the festival and intended to promote emerging filmmakers from film schools in the country) one could fear that short filmmaking was entering a more precarious state in Morocco, now that its new generation of aspiring filmmakers are denied this opportunity. However, the quality, range and imagination of short films and filmmakers that we have been privileged to view over the past two months, leaves the TMC project team feeling optimistic about the next generations of cinematic talent emerging from the Kingdom.

Will Higbee and Flo Martin