The History of Moroccan Cinema: An Introduction


Hanae BELHASSANI
DECEMBER 5th 2012, Oujda 

  Moroccan cinema encompasses both films, television and film productions produced in Morocco. In contrast to other cinemas of Europe and the Maghreb, the Moroccan state has long left the cinema trying by itself to find the necessary means to its survival and development nationally and internationally. French protectorate of Morocco (1912-1956) had established a censorship board that has survived until independence. This regulator and until the seventies was mainly concerned with the control of the distribution of foreign films especially that the domestic production was still low compared to that of the Francophone countries. In this way, Morocco has left the field open to other cinemas competitors who have asserted easily with the Moroccan public, and now must deal with several years of delay. It is the same for other artistic fields such as music, for example.

  Recently, the country’s cultural policy has changed (especially under the leadership of the International Film Festival of Marrakech), Morocco has just acquired a brand new film industry. Nowadays, Moroccan cinema rose and many prospects look promising, Moroccan cinema is increasingly selected and / or winning in Arab, African and Western festivals, which encourages more young people to embark on a career in the 7th Art.

  We find  at the national level directors who have their place in the cinema industry: Hamid Bennani (Wechma, Traces, 1970), Souheil Ben Barka (The Thousand and One Hand, 1974) Moumen Smihi (El Chergui or violent Silence, 1975) Ahmed El MAANOUNI (Alyam, Alyam 1978; Trances (Al Hal) 1981, The Hearts burned, 2007) Jilali Ferhati (Dolls reed, 1981; beach of Lost Children, 1991), Farida Benlyazd (A deals sky, 1988), Saad Chraibi (Chronicle of a normal life, 1990), Mohamed Abderrahman Tazi (Badis, 1989 in search of the husband of my wife, 1993), Abdelkader Lagtaâ (a Love in Casablanca, 1992, the closed door, Hakim Noury (the Hammer and the Anvil, 1990), Hassan Benjelloun (Feast of others, 1990).

  In recent years, young filmmakers have revolutionized the Moroccan cinema. Among these we include the director Nabil Ayouch or Narjiss Nejjar, Bensaïdi Faouzi, Nour-Eddine Lakhmari, Laila Marrakchi.  Year after year we notice that Moroccan cinema could detach itself from the colonial legacy after independence.

   One finds it difficult to talk about the beginnings of Cinema in Morocco; in the sense that it is not clear whether it dates back to the pre official appearance of Cinema in 1896 namely to the “detective film”: Al-Fariss al-Barbari (The Berber Knight) made by Jules Etiennes Marey using the chronophotography technique, or to the period between 1895 and 1905 that is the time in which the “Viewer’s Catalogue” was gathered; it belongs to the French company Lumière, about 1800 short film were made by the company at that time, including about 60 films on North Africa, only one film on Morocco entitled Rai’ al-ma’iz al-Maghribi (The Moroccan Goat Herder). But are we talking about Moroccan films here? This kind of film represents “the natives” as the Other, a static object that fits the decoration and background.

  As it was said before the beginnings of cinema in Morocco are unclair but it was confirmed that the history of cinema in Morocco are divided into three periods.

  The first period was between 1897 and the First World War. It was the advent of cinema, starting with filming documentaries. The second period is that of colonial cinema, cinema of propaganda of course, but also cinema of entertainment for metropolitan-based on exoticism. This colonial cinema experienced a first major success in 1921 with Atlantis, an achievement that brought capital and commercial companies. About thirty-five films of this type were made in Morocco. Militaristes, flatteurs de l’identité française (in English : Militaristic, flattering French identity, these films show “North Africans who appear as beings floating in space without history and culture. They are beings of absence that are shown only to better develop the occupant. They experience the story instead of doing it, and operate more like a decoration than real characters. concequently , this did not allows Moroccan cinema to develop.

  To explain more, the criteria of a Moroccan film are not reduced in filming a film in Morocco with a Moroccan décor, nor in engaging Moroccan “actors” about whom we know only their names, nor through tackling Moroccan-like themes, these are only films made by foreigners in Morocco, far from the reality of Morocco. What is worth calling a Moroccan film is rather made by a Moroccan director who portrays the reality of Morocco from an internal perspective, not a superior one, starting from the lived reality not the eroticized one which serves a particular colonial agenda looking to the “natives” as “primitive,” “savage” and “exotic.”

  When the French photographer and journalist, Félix Mesguich, came to Casablanca at the period when it was being attacked by the French colonial forces he stated that “when we reached [Casablanca through the sea] the smoke was rising from the city because of the bombings. A sailors’ group led us to the French consulate. I photographed some scenes of the soldiers in the deserted streets covered by dead bodies, from which a fetid smell rose with clouds of flies.” Clearly, from this description, the view expressed by Mesguich is the colonial gaze; the city that is burning does not make him feel a sense of disapproval, it is just like the “fetid smell” of the Moroccan citizens’ dead bodies.The quote shows how proud the French photographer is filming these Moroccan dead soldiers while he is protected by the French consulate. The gaze of the French occupation to Casablanca would have certainly been different if a Moroccan photographer was behind the camera, picturing what had been done to the Moroccans for their legal resistance.

 For France and the West Morocco had a bad image; therefore, its image remained the same in the colonial cinema, perpetuating the same stereotypes about the “natives” and their inferiority vis-à-vis the superior West.

  France attempted, following the Second World War, to establish a “Moroccan” cinema, supervised and directed by French cinematographers and addresses “Moroccan” stories cooperated by Moroccan “actors.” Here, too, we could not talk about Moroccan Cinema, as long as it was only a diversification of the colonial orientation of cinema in Morocco; for this “Moroccan Cinema” was considered (under colonization).

  The colonial cinema left clear scars on Moroccan Cinema, since the former is an essential phase of the latter. Colonial films cannot be considered or included within Moroccan Cinema, simply because the former marginalizes, and other times it distorts, everything that is Moroccan. In addition, Colonial Cinema was largely targeting a Western audience. We come to the conclusion that it was not possible to talk about a Moroccan Cinema unless it could detach itself from the colonial heritage and moves forward. But it is of importance to mention that at that time Morocco was one of the arab countries best equipped. Studios were located in Casablanca in 1939, in Rabat in 1944. A well-organized network of cinemas covers all urbanized areas. The Protectorate has been represented at Cannes in 1952 by Orson Welles and Othello. However, many productions are of lesser quality, inspired by Egyptian productions rehabilitated, such as  “The cursed son” of Mohamed Ousfour in 1958.

  The third period is the period of founding a true independent Moroccan cinema. It was not until 1968 that  Mohammed Tazi paved the way to new film makers to found the classical era of Moroccan cinema: Moumen Smihi (Traces – 1970), Habib Bennani (Wechma- 1970) Souheil Benbarka (Mille et une mains – 1972), Jillali Fehrati (Poupées de roseau-1981),Mohammed Reggab (le coiffeur du quartier des pauvres-1982). These directors presented the Moroccan cinema and gave it a sense nobility.

  The last period is the contemporary period. It is marked by a new invasion of foreign directors in the landscape of Moroccan cinema. By creating large studios in Ouarzazate , cost of labor and the good weather the risk of interruption of shooting was less, in this way Morocco regained its place in the international cinema. « Arn » de Jean Pierre Sinapi, « Looking for tomorrow » de Barney Pratt Mills, « Paris » de Cedric Klapish, « Prisonners of the sun » of Roger Christian have all been realized last year on Morocco. And also “What Lola wants” Nabil Ayouch. Those are called “filmmakers”who have been educated through films from all around the world and crossed multiple influences. Nourreddine Lakhrami(Nés sans skis au pied-1990)(2), Faouzi Bensaïdi (Trajets, 2000), Ismaël Ferroukhi (Le grand voyage-2004), Daoud Aoulad Syad (Tarfaya-2004), Saâd Chraîbi (Jawhara, 2004), Mohamed Asli (Les anges ne volent pas-2004), women like Narjiss Nejjar (le très beau « les yeux secs »-2003) Leïla Marrakchi (Marock-2005), have writings which are more direct and strong compared to their elders and deal more with religious taboos of Moroccan society. Contributing to the evolution of Moroccan cinema, being, open to all influences without losing their soul, these are the challenges that these talented young filmmakers face today. But a kind of encouragement, Morocco has offered in the coming years more than twenty films per year, demonstrating certain dynamism, hoping to provide original, rich and diverse cinema.

 List of challenges for the twenty-first century Moroccan cinema:

   –  As happened to many cinemas, Moroccan cinema must find ways to attract the public to the Moroccan rooms.

  –  Increase the size of the middle class and increase the average income of the population to become consumers of cultural products.

  –  Fight against digital piracy works

–  Improve the status of the artists and copyright

–  Create derivative works (posters, T-Shirt, with bonus DVD, figurines, soundtrack CD, etc.).

–  Develop a national and international communication offensive (band ads, promotion, etc.).

–  Create commercial websites for the public to view the works on demand.

–  Improve the quality of film music

–  Incorporate new tools audiovisual works (graphics, 3D, special effects, etc. ..)

–  Facing competition from movies (Syrian, Indian, Egyptian, American and European).

–  Improvement of makeup, costumes, props, etc..

–  Provide the public with a Moroccan cinema which represent them

–  Produce films of historical fiction, action and fantasy

–  Produce films for children and adolescents.

As a kind of solution Morocco is trying to:

– Encourages the establishment of companies specialized in multimedia and new technologies of information and communication (Games, Computer graphics, Internet ADSL …)

– Cooperate with experienced foreign productions

-To be home to a Western population (pensioners, businessmen …) which may attract foreign channels of distribution of Cinema and Arts.

-Encourages the writers whose books in the future may be subjects of movies.

-To be both an Arab, Berber and African country close to Europe

-Use its wealth of tales and legends

-To be a country where many foreign films have been produced

-To use its audience abroad (Diaspora) and its well known actors who can ensure the export of Moroccan cinema to the West.

    To sum up Morocco has a long film culture and history, and is home to one of the biggest film studios in the world attracting film producers internationally.

  Today, Morocco offers the opportunity to produce lots of films, inspired by the country’s geography and professional film industry standards and facilities. Each year the International Film Festival of Marrakech (FIFM) is held in December hosting top international titles.

 Many well-known films have been produced in Morocco such as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, in 1962 through to ‘Gladiator’ starring Russel Crowe, 1990s, other well known movies filmed in Morocco include Black Hawk Down, Mummy Returns, Dune, and The Man who would be King.

Leave a Comment