Yahya Laayouni – Film Criticism in Morocco: An Overview


Since the beginning of the new millennium, film production in Morocco has increased significantly to reach twenty films released every year. Some Moroccan films have become more visible both inside and outside Morocco especially through their participation in national and international film festivals. This increase in quantity and visibility is not yet reflected in the overall quality of the films released; however, Morocco has come a long way in terms of promoting the industry of filmmaking through the subsidies that the CCM (Le Centre Cinémathographique Marocain) offers each year to Moroccan filmmakers on a competitive basis. Despite the number of Moroccan films produced and the number of festivals in Morocco, critical writings in Arabic focusing on film analysis in general and Moroccan cinema, in particular, are rare and inconsistent.

Even though there are some promising beginnings, particularly a magazine that specializes in film criticism: The Moroccan Magazine for Research on Cinema; there is still an absence of rigorous scholarly writings about Moroccan films. In addition, the existing “film critics” are for the most part journalists or “cinéphiles” who generally acquired their film knowledge through discussions at “Ciné-Clubs” and film criticism is not necessarily their specialty. The history of film informs us that film criticism, whether journalistic or scholarly, plays an integral part in creating a film culture by reaching out to the general public and by contributing significantly to improving the quality of films both at the level of content and form.

I am particularly interested in Moroccan film criticism written in Arabic about Moroccan or other international films. Even though film criticism in English and French about Moroccan films is also important, most Moroccans do not have access to these texts and criticism in these languages has already established itself in academia. Promoting criticism written in Arabic about films will make film criticism more accessible to Arabic speakers. It will increase awareness about the importance of cinema as it will also accumulate a literature about film scholarship in Arabic.

Before the 1970’s writing about films in Morocco was predominantly in French. It wasn’t until the late 1960’s and the beginning of the 1970’s that writings in Arabic emerged. It should be noted that film criticism started with the “Cine-Clubs” and it took the form of oral discussions following film screenings. It was only later that writings about film began to appear in newspapers and magazines. These writings were not academic in the strict sense of the term, but rather were short reviews or readings of films. Since Moroccan films were rare these writings focused on foreign films. Ahmed Sijilmassi notes that during this period writing about films was more prolific than it was in the later period between 1999 up to 2009. He also notes that most of these writings did not necessarily focus on film analysis as much as they were about cinema in Morocco.

Film criticism written in Arabic is still struggling to prove itself worthy of attention. The first book to be published in Arabic about Moroccan films was that of Nour Eddine Afaya Cinematic Discourse between Writing and interpretation (1988) (my translation). This book is a collection of articles that the author had already published in newspapers. Though Afaya is not specialized in film criticism, this collection of articles is very rich as it provides a diagnosis of the status of film criticism in Morocco and the need for serious academically engaged research. The importance of his book lies in the fact that it sets the blueprint for future contributions as it has become a reference for film critics. Since the publication of Afaya’s book, there have been other books that have been published but not all of them are necessarily about film criticism. According to Alaoui Lamharzi what has been written on film criticism in Arabic is insignificant and in some cases its focus has not been on Moroccan films but foreign films.

Whether a scholar, a journalist, a blogger or else if your write about films in Morocco you are referred to as a film critic. Given this broad brush definition of a film critic distinguishing between who is truly a film critic and who is a journalist and who writes in-depth analysis and who reviews films is crucial. This absence of making these distinctions has led to confusion in categorizing texts written about films. The absence of a specialized space for film critics has also contributed to this situation given the fact that one can find analytic writing and journalistic writing side by side. Without a clear distinction between these types of writings, film criticism will remain at the margin and engaged film criticism will not be able to establish itself as a specialized field of research.

After reviewing several writings from different spectrum, I came to distinguish at least three different types: the first type is oral and it has been mostly practiced in “Cine Clubs” following a film screening. One of the characteristics of this type is that it is short lived and it does not reach the large public since it remains within a confined space. The second type are reviews written in newspaper or online and they are for the most part subjective analysis that rely on the impressions of the writer. This type of criticism though its written form makes it more accessible it is not coherent and most of it is written after one viewing. The third type, which is rare to find, is promising and encouraging as it reflects a theoretical understanding on the part of the critic.

With the growing number of Moroccan films produced each year writing about films in Arabic has become a necessity. It will help spread a cinematic culture that will eventually forge well-informed audiences. It is essential also that film studies programs become available to students at the university level. Film has become one of the most influential mediums of visual culture and creating programs will contribute to educating future generations how to analyze and think critically about films.