"It's good to be home" said internationally acclaimed American director Martin Scorsese upon his return to Morocco, this time as president of the jury of the International Film Festival of Marrakech. And indeed, he was home. More at home than any Moroccan filmmaker and more at home than the majority of 33 million Moroccans.
The irony in this statement slapped me in the face as a self-exiled Moroccan filmmaker. I want to return home to visit family this winter but my fears are too great after having attended the FiSahara International Film Festival in support of Sahrawi self-determination in the refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria.
But I'm less concerned about myself than I am about the millions of Moroccans who are suffering from the regime's corruption, lack of accountability, lack of democracy and lack of human rights. Most Moroccans don't feel at home. That's why most Moroccans look at opportunities abroad: I'm not talking about those who look for political asylum anymore. I'm talking about those who have no economic opportunities, who are feeling so-not-at-home that they are willing to jump into the Mediterranean and cross over to Europe. Many have, and many have died trying.
Scorsese's attendance at the festival, along with the attendance of a plethora of internationally acclaimed filmmakers and actors, is a slap in the face by the international film community to the people of Morocco. The people's money is syphoned off by the state and used for lavish events like the International Film Festival of Marrakech which benefit the image of the Moroccan state, but not the lives of every day Moroccans, nor average Moroccan filmmakers.
While Amazigh villages freeze to death in the Atlas Mountains, while children walk kilometers in the snow to get to school, while some give birth in hospital hallways because there aren't enough beds, while 50% of the population can't read or write...these filmmakers and actors are pampered by the Moroccan regime during their stay: luxurious hotels, fancy dinners, and large sums of money given in exchange for helping promote an autocratic and art-hating regime as one that is democratic and art-loving.
What the festival guests need to realize is that the millions of dollars that are put into the festival could have been used for schools, hospitals, universities, transportation infrastructures, water systems and electricity for remote villages-- or at the very least it, if the regime wants to pretend it supports the arts, towards building public movie theaters, subsidizing Moroccan films and towards emerging filmmaker's funds.
Of course, the regime perceives films to be its enemy-- and for good reason. That is why it created the corrupt Centre Cinematographique Marocain (CCM) which forces filmmakers to obtain shooting permits. This may sound normal, many states ask that filmmakers apply for shooting permits, but that is only if they are shooting in a public space where they will be disturbing the public by closing roads or making excessive noise.
In Morocco, all filmmakers have to obtain shooting permits, even student filmmakers, even one-man crews. But that's not all, filmmakers have to be part of a state-sanctioned production company to even ask for a film permit in the first place! And if they are in a production company, they have to have made half a dozen short films and 2 feature films. But how do you make the pre-required quota of films without a permit? This is an inherent contradiction in filmmaking regulation in Morocco: one has to break the law in order to meet its requirements.
It doesn't stop there. Having met these requirements, a filmmaker then has to submit a script that must be approved by a committee at the CCM. This committee can refuse scripts which are critical of the regime, Islam or the occupation of the Western Sahara. They can also force filmmakers to make changes to their scripts. Yes, the CCM is an institution of censorship.
What happens if a filmmaker breaks these laws (and many of us have as an act of civil disobedience)? Officially, there is the risk of high fines, arrest and confiscation of equipment. Unofficially, the chances of working in a Moroccan filmmaking institution become almost null.
But let's pretend that we follow the rules. Where then are our films seen? The answer is almost nowhere. Because of the CCM's laws, Moroccan movie theaters have almost disappeared. Only 30 movie theaters remain in a country the size of California. With a population of 33 million, that makes it about 1 movie theater for 1 million people. Only a small selection of films make it to the screens.
So while Scorsese may feel good to be home and to have his multi-million dollar American productions screened in Marrakech, the rest of us certainly don't feel at home. We ask that Scorsese and the rest of the festival guests, present and future, to stop helping an oppressive regime build a facade while denying the basic rights of its citizens.