Category Archives: Conference

The Young and the Restless: the Future of Transnational Moroccan Cinema

The TMC project runs to a close in December 2018. We have had three amazing years where we met and interviewed many Moroccan film professionals. Our last big event in 2018 was the Morocco in Motion conference in Edinburgh, during the Africa in Motion film festival, our amazing partners. We had 15 Moroccan film professionals attending the festival and conference, and reports on their presence and contributions will follow. This blog entry focuses on the young filmmakers that were present, in particular documentary activist Nadir Bouhmouch and animator Sofia El Khyari.

Still from the new film by Nadir Bouhmouch (c) Bouhmouch

Next to the established filmmakers we were lucky enough to invite to the conference and festival (such as Nour-Eddine Lakhmari, Hakim Belabbes and Farida Benlyazid), we also found it very important to make sure our project at large has been both inclusive and supportive of young filmmakers and young academics. It is the young filmmakers who need support and attention, as they are challenging the status quo and renewing Moroccan cinema from the inside. What stands out to us is that these young filmmakers are investing in non-mainstream forms and genres leading to very exciting developments in Moroccan cinema.

The project has not only offered the opportunity to two young women filmmakers Mahassine El Hachadi and Saida Janjague to spend a term at the London Film School where they developed ideas and networked with other young filmmakers, we have also from the start of the project admired the work of Nadir Bouhmouch – a young filmmaker activist and independent academic who devotes his life to making films outside of the establishment and in opposition to the dominant politics of the CCM. Nadir has also taken part in both conferences we organised, speaking about women’s roles in cinema in Morocco when we held the conference in Marrakech in December 2016, and about the increasing impact of the spirit of neoliberalism in cinema at the conference in October 2018.

My Makhzen and Me (c) Nadir Bouhmouch

His films, especially My Makhzen and Me (2012) and Timnadin for the Rif (2017) have garnered considerable attention internationally, not just for their quality in terms of visual and aesthetic power, but especially for their statements of protest and solidarity with the Moroccan lower classes: farmers, workers, and poor urbanites. My Makhzen and Me is an activist document of the struggle of the February 20 Youth Movement and a daring, direct critique of the Moroccan Makhzen (a popular term for ‘the State’). Likewise, in Timnadin for the Rif Bouhmouch focuses on protest against the unfair distribution of wealth and the neglect of the lower classes in the desert of southern Morocco, where poetry expresses solidarity with the uprising in the Rif. He told me about his work on his new documentary about the longest protest action in the Sahara Desert: a 6-year struggle by the Amazigh population of Imider against the pollution by a silver mining corporation of their already scarce drinking water. It not only portrays a long process and protest, the film is also a labour of love and passion, with Nadir struggling to finish the film on his low budget and without support from any funding institution within Morocco. But he is being encouraged by interest in his work from abroad.

Nadir Bouhmouch

He and his team are confident the film will be finished soon with the support he receives from friends and his strong determination to get it out. As a research team, we really hope that the exchanges with producers, distributors and festival organisers at the conference and throughout the project have enabled him to speak to and – importantly – be heard by those with power and money, so that he can successfully change the future of documentary and freedom of speech in Moroccan cinema. He said he hopes he gets more such opportunities to speak up, and found the platform of the project ‘necessary, and even urgent.’

The Transnational Moroccan Cinema project has been funded by the AHRC, and their funding has enabled us to do lots of events over the three years. We have held big conferences, smaller workshops, film screenings, film festival panels, and have been able to visit a large number of Morocco-based festivals in order to discover more about the Moroccan film scene. At one of these festivals, FICAM in Meknès, I had the pleasure to meet Sofia El Khyari and see her first film Ayam. It is only three minutes long but very powerful – as it deals with the love between generations of women over the course of a short tea ceremony.

The Porous Body (c) Sofia El Khyari

Sofia was educated in France and in the UK, and has had some success on the festival circuit with Ayam, winning prizes not only in Morocco but also in France and further afield. She recently finished her graduation film for her Master’s degree at the Royal College of Arts in London. The stunning The Porous Body (2018) explores the outer limits of the body, searching for the space where the skin touches its surroundings and the level of porousness of skin, while also exploring the power of water and the sea as a symbol for womanhood and the subconscious. The film artistically and experimentally deals with space, place and belonging, and with girlhood simultaneously developing into, embracing and rejecting womanhood. The technique of animated watercolour and using watery colours when depicting events and figures outside of the water, interspersed with live-action in filming scenes under water, challenges our ideas of perception and representation. Sofia describes the film as a poetic meditation, and it certainly makes the viewer think and the skin tingle as it increases an awareness of the outer layers of the human skin.

Sofia El Khyari

Sofia told me she was excited to be part of the project and happy that she was invited to screen Ayam at Africa in Motion and speak at the conference, alongside Farida Benlyazid and Lamia Chraibi. The panel she was on at the conference discussed the status of women in Morocco and in the film business at large, and was chaired by our very own fearless woman, Flo. Sofia’s contributions as a young, strong and experimental filmmaker were central to the realistic vision of the future of women in Moroccan cinema, and she told me she felt like she was part of something that increasingly interests her. Being transnational in her education, her knowledge and experience of Moroccan cinema was limited, but meeting inspiring women like Lamia and Farida has ignited her exploration of the Moroccan film world.

The project that we have run over the past three years has seen us meet the big names in Moroccan cinema and those well-established, both historically and contemporarily. But for me, what has stood out and what has really excited me is the energy of the non-mainstream film festivals, and especially the strength and the vibrancy of the young filmmakers and academics I met. I cannot wait to see Nadir Bouhmouch’s new film and explore more of Moroccan animation – especially young women’s roles – such as Sofia El Khyari’s, in the future of animation.

Stefanie Van de Peer

Women in Moroccan Cinema: Panel with Farida Benlyazid, Lamia Chraibi and Sofia El Khyari

On Sunday 28 October 2018, as the midday sun was starting to dispel the morning fog and entering the tall windows of our conference room, we convened a meeting of formidable Moroccan women: Farida Benlyazid, filmmaker who also was the first woman producer in Morocco (when she produced Jillali Ferhati’s A Breech in the wall, 1977); Lamia Chraibi, producer extraordinaire of, among other transnational films, Narjis Nejjar’s Stateless (2018), Hicham Lasri’s Jahilya (2017), Oliver Laxe’s Mimosas (2016); and Sofia El Khyari, whose short animation Ayam (2017) has won many international awards and was screened on Tuesday 30 November as part of the Africa in Motion film festival in Scotland.

Lamia Charibi, Farida Benlyazid, Sofia El Khyari

The speakers had different takes on the complex question of Moroccan women’s cinema, its history, its situation today (we noted a sharp increase in the number of women filmmakers since the late 1990s), and how complicated it was to enter and find one’s place as a woman in the world of cinema in Morocco. Farida Benlyazid reminded her audience, however, that Moroccan cinema has had female participants from the start[1], as illustrated by the presence of two of them at the very first national film festival in Morocco: Farida Bourquia as director and Farida Benlyazid as producer.

Lamia Chraibi first credited les grands (great filmmakers) – in particular Narjis Nejjar – for her ability to gradually find her “place” in the Moroccan world of cinema, as she created her own niche in transnational film production. Then she described her work as a woman producer in Morocco not so much as a challenge as an achievement, to be reached through lots of hard work, of course, but also through will power accompanied by a unique sense of exhilaration when working on beautiful, worthwhile projects.

Sofia El Khyari identified a similar irrepressible drive to work in cinema that propelled her forward with such urgency that it helped her convince herself as well as her family that animation, her true calling, was the only career she could possibly embrace. The three women agreed that the minuscule number of women in key positions in the institutions of Moroccan cinema found a variety of explanations, and that upward mobility in the sector was only possible for women from the upper classes, who were educated and usually had studied abroad, even if, of course, there were notable exceptions to this unspoken rule.

Once the background picture of women in cinema had thus been laid out, the round table welcomed a lively dialogue with the audience, replete with shared questions and comments from practitioners of cinema in Morocco and elsewhere (e.g. Nadir Bouhmouch or Hakim Belabbes, as well as Lidia Peralta), Moroccan academics and critics (e.g. Rachid Naïm or Hamid Aïdouni), postgraduate students (e.g. Lamyâa Achary or Amine Belabbes). The status of women in Morocco’s contemporary society was discussed as well as the sharp divides that exist amongst women as to how they reacted to the reform of the personal code – the mudawwana – in 2004: some of them demonstrated against it, seeing it as erring away from the message of the Quran, while others applauded the rights it conferred on women.

The immense divide between the (remote) rural areas and the urban centers was also evoked as one of the primary factors that slowed down the awareness of young girls. Of particular interest were the exchanges on integrated misogyny on the one hand and on the various interpretations and consequences of the #MeToo movement in Morocco, on the other. Again, issues around education broadly construed were used to explain the low percentage of women able to produce films, and the small number of women occupying decision-making positions in the institutions of cinema, who could affect the present and future of Moroccan cinema. In particular, participants lamented not only the lack of schooling that accounts for the high rate of illiteracy among girls and women in the kingdom, but also the role-models offered by mothers who raise their daughters at home to serve their fathers and brothers; what little girls see on TV; what women see in Moroccan films. In the end, Lamia Chraibi asked: “what do we[filmmakers and producers] give the audience to see?”

The discussion thus laid bare a variety of paradoxes such as: filmmakers need to make films that will reach (entertain?) their audience while also playing a more proactive, political part in raising consciousness in Moroccan women and men; if the hitherto red lines of class and gender seem to be slightly blurrier and able to be transgressed by young determined young women, the structure of the cinema-making apparatus has not moved an inch; a prerequisite for women to enter the world of Moroccan cinema still seems to entail leaving Morocco to study and/or gain experience abroad.

Perhaps what was most heartwarming in this roundtable was the openness of the dialogue and the quality of the listening by every participant to their interlocutors. The conversation went on informally over lunch afterwards, as little clusters formed, shared stories and laughed.

[1]In that early postcolonial Moroccan cinema is not unlike early French cinema (e.g. Alice Guy-Blaché was a filmmaker from 1896 on; Germaine Dulac who wrote about film at the turn of the century, directed her first one in 1915…).

Flo Martin

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