Morocco: The government’s “war” on young filmmakers
In this article the Moroccan filmmaker Nadir Bouhmouch describes the background for the current arrests of young filmmakers, actors and hip-hop artists in Mohammedia, Morocco. The article highlights a problem that plagues young Moroccan filmmakers and forces them to break the law in order to produce films.
Morocco’s war on art continues. Only a couple weeks after Moroccan dissident hip-hop 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 hip-hop 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 hip-hop artists in the group had already recorded into a music video. The song spoke up against a local gang, Tcharmil, which had been terrorising 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 criticising. The police held that the cellphones, watches and a sword they carried with them at the time as 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.
Video interview with arrested artists’ family members and Derb Marrakch community members.
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.”
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 monopolise cinema as an art, Moroccan filmmaking regulations administered by the Centre Cinematographique Marocain (CCM) 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 potential misunderstanding and the arrest of the actors and the crew who can be mistaken for real life criminals. In Morocco however, the authorities have cornered new filmmakers by making it difficult to obtain shooting permits from the CCM.
In order to obtain a permit, filmmakers 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 (by making the required minimum number 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. Consequently, they would have been refused a permit. 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.
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 foreigner or the Moroccan elite.
It is in this way that marginalised Moroccan youth are prevented from telling their own stories through film and honest social and political critiques are prevented from coming into fruition through the filmic medium.