Pour la journée internationale des droits de femmes, voilà la première infographie que j'ai réalisée dans le cadre d'une recherche que j'ai commencé sur la participation des femmes dans le cinema marocain. Des chiffres qui montrent la discrimination au sein du Centre Cinematographique Marocain...
Refugees who are fleeing violence have become a nonsensical source of fear. Some say refugees will bring terrorism, that they won't be able to integrate, or that they will take people's jobs. But what can we take from the experience of Jewish refugees in Morocco's Chefchaouen?
Morocco’s 2015 submission to the Oscars, Driss Mrini’s "Aida" is a film about a Moroccan music professor who, struck by terminal brain cancer, decides to leave Paris to return to Morocco. There she reunites with her childhood love, Youssef Alami, and an uneasy romance ensues-- he’s married with two children but he rediscovers himself and his musical past through her.
The film presents itself as a story about "a Jewish Moroccan woman," leading us to believe that the film will delve into questions on Jewish Moroccan identity and (as implied by the film’s subtitle "la Revenante") the return of a member of the Jewish Moroccan diaspora to the homeland. However, Judaism has little to do with the story Mrini presents-- Judaism is merely an empty facade...
I don't usually like to comment on a film before it is released but with so much debate in Morocco about Nabyl Ayouch's "Much Loved" I feel like I should ask some questions that I hope can inform the debate a little better. As of now the debate is generally polarized between the “liberal” view, which holds that the film is good because it will expose prostitution and humanize prostitutes; and the “conservative” view, which holds that the film is bad because it is vulgar. In this debate, liberals auto-proclaim themselves to be open-minded, progressive and in favor of women’s rights when in fact both views are sexist.
After discussions with shepherds in the Middle Atlas and farmers being evicted from their lands around Rabat I have had some new thoughts on civil disobedience. In his book "The Wretched of the Earth," Fanon spoke about the disconnect between organized militancy amongst the educated urban elite and the "disorganized" militancy amongst rural people. I find his analysis to be correct and we can see what he means when we examine the perspective urban militants have on what constitutes civil disobedience:
Why do we (urban educated self-proclaimed "activists") hold our actions of civil disobedience in such high regard while disregarding the daily actions of civil disobedience conducted by the most marginalized people?
Is it because the educated militant has read Thoreau and the peasant or worker hasn't? Does the illiterate shepherd in the Middle Atlas, who knowingly cuts wood against the law in subsistence amounts to build his hut and to burn it to keep himself warm, not live in constant civil disobedience? Does the impoverished farmer living on the fringes of the city, constructing his "shack" (which when accumulated with others like him or herself becomes a shantytown) "illegally" not live in constant civil disobedience?
Is it an issue of awareness? I don't think so. Every one knows that people build homes in shantytowns illegally, but how many people view these as civil disobedience?
After a recent trip to Imilchil, it has come to my attention that while writing the narration for the documentary 475 I made a significant error which I would now like to apologize for and address in an attempt to undo some of the damage that has been done to the community in question: the Ait Hdidou tribe. The part of the narration I am referring to reads as follows:
"As the Amazigh legend goes, a girl and a boy from rival tribes fell in love. Infuriated, their tribes prevented them from marrying each other. Not bearing to be apart, they escaped to the top of a mountain and weeped until their tears formed the Lake of Imilchil. The couple died from their melancholy.
In this prejudiced voice over I failed to understand the Ait Hdidou's marital traditions, as well as the political and historic background of the festival from their own perspective (the Ait Brahim and Ait Yeäza are clans of the Ait Hdidou tribe). Instead I adopted an Orientalist and accusatory narrative which only highlighted my ignorance of the Ait Hdidou and their annual festival.
Instead of explaining my misunderstanding of the festival, I thought it best apologize to the people of Imilchil and to leave it to an Ait Hdidou woman to dismantle the Orientalist misconception of her people's traditions in this video I shot in Imilchil.
Talal Derki’s The Return to Homs (2014) is a Syrian documentary about the city of Homs “the heart of the revolution.” More specifically it is a story about one young charismatic revolutionary song-writer Basset, a former goalkeeper who dropped his athletic aspirations when the revolt against Bashar al-Assad broke out in 2011. Derki follows Basset through all the stages of the revolution in Homs: from the banners and drums of non-violent protest, to the RPG’s and barricades of armed revolution.
Shot over three years, the film shows the rapid changes and devastation that Homs underwent as a punishment for its revolutionary spirit. As the subjects of the film begin to quickly lose the most basic components of their lives (with many losing their lives altogether), the only consistent elements that are left to anchor them to dignified existence are Basset’s revolutionary songs, the gun and the presence of the camera. Without the song, the camera, and the gun-- neither resistance nor the people's dignity can be maintained.
The camera and the gun also represent the dichotomy between non-violent and armed resistance. This is highlighted by the disagreement between Ossama, the video activist who prefers to use his camera to resist and Basset who prefers the gun. However, this division is overcome by the third element of song which unites all Syrians-- even the regime’s forces, whom Basset invites to join the resistance in one song.
Basset's songs also represent the determination of the revolutionaries who are ready to become martyrs in order to liberate the families imprisoned by the siege of Homs. But Derki does not employ the Western narrative which interprets Arab resistance fighters' rhetoric of martyrdom (whether in Palestine or in Syria) as a flawed value system. According to this Orientalist view, resistance fighters are illogical individuals who romanticize death and destruction. Instead, Derki’s martyrs are strategic individuals. They understand that staying alive is crucial to the continuance of the revolution and that their bodies are not meant to be disposed of. Death is just a risk and therefore martyrdom becomes a means, not an end.
The Return to Homs is a departure from the tendency to dehumanize Syrian resistance fighters and to “victimify” Syrians in general. It is this lack of a “poor Syrians” image (epitomized by the image of the refugee) which Western audiences crave that led to some negative reviews of the film by critics like Xan Brooks-- who condemned Derki for not including more sorry images of average Syrians. Yet, this kind of demand shows a misunderstanding of the film. Derki is not asking for the viewers' pity or charity. He’s asking for solidarity.
See the Trailer here.
Mutea Ibraheim and Omar Mukhtar, from the militant cinema collective: the Palestine Film Unit, 1976, Beirut. Courtesy of WAFA agency.
A review of four fictional Palestinian films that people can watch as an act of solidarity and resistance with the Palestinian people.
Films are a reflection of identity. By purchasing and watching Palestinian films we are not only affirming the Palestinian identity, but also their right to narrative and self-representation despite the attempt of Zionist colonization to deprive them of these. Hence, watching and promoting Palestinian films becomes an act of resistance. This act is more powerful given the historic struggle of Palestinian cinema itself-- from the destruction of all Palestinian films produced between 1935 and 1948 when the Haganah bombed the Arab Film Company production studio in Jaffa in 1948, to the formation of the Palestine Film Unit (a militant cinema collective based in Lebanon functioning in the spirit of Third Cinema), to the death of Hani Jawharieh "the first militant cinema martyr," to the "mysterious" disappearance of the Palestine Film Unit's archive during the Israeli invasion of Beirut.
The following films are all made post-1982 as most films made before then either disappeared or were destroyed. Selected from a rich Palestinian filmography characterized by realist works, each film captures one aspect or theme (highlighted in the subtitles) of the Palestinian struggle. They were also chosen for their accessibility, being fictional works and for being made by Palestinian filmmakers. Films made by non-Palestinians in or about Palestine are not included.
Racism and nationalism permeate Maghrebi cinema. There is a refusal to look south, to work with our black African colleagues; there is a refusal to treat our African identity in our films; there is a refusal to address our black slave-owning past; there is even a refusal to incorporate our Amazigh-African identity which surrounds us in every way.
Instead we look north, to Europe. We make films with our colonizers. We seek to please them, to get into their film festivals. Even while fighting colonialism in our cinema, we continue to be a victim of it. We embrace "national cinemas," defined by borders which were imposed on us by the European occupiers who exploited us.
We have been used by despotic regimes to help them create artificial “national identities” instead of exploring the plurality of ethnic or regional identities that make up North Africa. We have sacrificed the diverse beauty of humanity at the altar of nationalist authoritarianism.
Our films seem to refuse to cross borders they, like many characters in our films, only want to cross the Mediterranean.
Video interview with arrested artists' family members and Derb Marrakch community members.
The Derb Marrakch Case
Only a week after Moroccan dissident hiphop artist Mouad Belghouat (also known by his stage name El-Haqed) is arrested in Casablanca for the third time after releasing his third album “Walou” (Nothing), a group of young filmmakers, actors and hiphop artists are arrested just across the city in the neighboring town of Mohammedia.
Consisting of several students and recent film school graduates, the group embarked on the task of turning a song two hiphop artists in the group had already recorded into a music video. The song they recorded spoke up against a local gang “Tcharmil” which had been terrorizing the community.
While filming the video in their neighborhood Derb Marrakch, the group was arrested by the police who accused them of being a part of the gang they were criticizing. The police held that the cellphones, watches and a sword they carried with them at the time were evidence. However, their families and many members of their community contested that the cellphones and watches were in fact the group’s personal belongings. The sword, they claimed was being used by actors who were playing the role of Tcharmil gang members-- infamous for their use of long knives and swords in their assaults.
The affair was broken to the public by Mohammedia Press, in a twenty minute interview with the artists’ families and members of their community in Derb Marrakch. In the video a large group of community members gathered around the camera, outraged by the arrest of what they claim are innocent kids.
In the video, one of the artists’ brothers explains “they were going to put the video on youtube to raise awareness about the issue. They were against the gang and wanted to use the video to send a simple message ‘no to gangs.’” Another community member comes forward and elaborates: “they were targeting other youth, discouraging them from joining gangs. They wanted to show them that this gang is detrimental to our community, that they create fear and make us feel less secure in our neighborhoods... they were using rap and a music video to appeal-- to use a language that other youth understand.”
The Moroccan Young Film Artist's Dilemma
Going beyond the arrest of these artists, the Derb Marrakch case highlights a larger problem that plagues young Moroccan filmmakers who continue to find themselves disenfranchised by the state. Designed to monopolize filmmaking and art in general, Moroccan filmmaking regulations and laws lie at the core of this issue.
Normally when a filmmaker wants to recreate a scene in which actors use weapons, local authorities are notified in order to prevent misunderstanding and the arrest of the actors and crew. In the Morocco however, the authorities have cornered filmmakers by making it difficult to obtain shooting permits from the film-regulating state body, the Centre Cinematographique Marocain (CCM).
In order to make a film Moroccans have to be part of a state-sanctioned production company and have to have made a certain number of short films and feature films. In other words, we have no choice but to break the law in order to make the required minimum of films before being able to begin making films legally. This pushes many of us to make guerrilla films, which do not ask for state permits. While some of us do it as a form of civil disobedience to protest these laws, others like the Derb Marrakch crew did it because they didn’t have a choice.
As recent graduates and students, they were not a part of a production company and would have been refused a permit even if they attempted to get it. In addition, as a budget-less crew they would have had to personally pay for multiple transportation fares to the Moroccan capital, Rabat where the CCM is located. Hence, they resorted to guerrilla filmmaking which landed them in jail despite the fact that the subject of their film was not critical of the state in any way.
The Dictatorship of the Bourgeois Camera
It is in this way that marginalized Moroccan youth are discouraged from telling their own stories through film. Most film school graduates from low income neighborhoods end up working as low-end technicians for state-sponsored filmmakers and state television channels. As such, even Moroccan films like Ali Zawa (2000), les Chevaux de Dieu (2012) and Casanegra (2008) which tell the stories of the the poor are being told from the perspective of the Moroccan bourgeois filmmaker.
In his critique of Ali Zawa, New York Time’s film critic Dave Kehr correctly pointed out : “the film is less interested in moving a viewer to anger and action than in eliciting a few tears of pity and granting us a warm glow of self-congratulation for having shared for a moment in the anguish of underprivileged others.” Kehr’s statement can apply to most Moroccan films which attempt to tell stories of marginalized groups in our society.
Filmmakers like Nabyl Ayouch and Nourredine Lakhmari continue to dictate with their cameras how poverty should be viewed and treated. They don’t tell us who to blame or what to do about it. Given a mandate by the state, they act as extensions of the Moroccan deep state’s hegemony in the artistic domain. They control the stories which young marginalized Moroccan filmmakers like the Derb Marrakch youth should be telling themselves. But as the Derb Marrakch arrests show us, Moroccan youth are denied the right to use the camera as a means of changing their own situation.