Connecting With Young Artists in Morocco

Brittany Ballard, Manager, FILM FORWARD

FILM FORWARD returned to Morocco for a second year and had another successful collaboration with the U.S. Embassy, Rabat. We traveled throughout the country to diverse cities from May 7 to 12 with FILM FORWARD filmmakers Mike Cahill (narrative feature Another Earth) and Linda Goldstein Knowlton (documentary feature Somewhere Between). 

Somewhere Between tells the intimate stories of four teenaged girls. They live in different parts of the US, in different kinds of families and are united by one thing: all four were adopted from China, because all four had birth parents who could not keep them, due to personal circumstances colliding with China’s ‘One Child Policy’.

Another Earth: After the discovery of a duplicate Earth, tragedy strikes, and the lives of these strangers become irrevocably intertwined.  When one of them is presented with the opportunity to travel to the other Earth and embrace an alternative reality, which new life will they choose?

We held screenings, student workshops and filmmaker Q&As in Rabat, a large port town and capital of Morocco; Casablanca, with a population of over 8 million and 24 hour traffic jams to prove it; Beni Mellal, a rural industrial village nestled in the foothills of the spectacular Atlas Mountains; Oujda and Berkane, two industrial cities on the border of Algeria; and Fez, the oldest Medieval Arabic fortressed city in the world – a magical place referred to as the ‘heart of Morocco‘. The program split into two teams, expanding our reach geographically and targeting more diverse audiences, whilst ensuring both filmmakers maximized their impact and experience on the ground. While Mike Cahill held workshops, screenings and Q&As with the youth and general public of Beni Mellal (accompanied by Brittany Ballard) Linda Goldstein-Knowlton (accompanied by Jill Miller), shared her incredibly personal film and experiences with youth and students in Berkane and Oujda.

In total, we brought cultural programming to over 1600 Moroccan audience members, emphasizing on the rural and urban/disadvantaged youth throughout the country as well as high school and university students studying English language and/or filmmaking. Morocco (99% Muslim), is a fitting place to take FILM FORWARD given the limited access to independent cultural film programming. Moroccans view almost all of their media on Satellite TV as there is no cable, no distribution network, and limited internet access. While the skyline is populated by TV Satellites on all the rooftops, sometimes hanging out of windows or mounted to sides of skyscrapers, and the DVD black-market makes Hollywood films readily available, there are virtually no movie theaters or screening facilities left standing.  Big Hollywood productions take advantage of Morocco’s production infrastructure, while independent Moroccan filmmakers are forced to make films in the hopes of reaching French or American audiences abroad (festivals mainly) given the absence of a Moroccan distribution system.  A real challenge exists for young artists who are pushing to tell personal stories that would empower and connect Moroccan audiences by giving them a chance to see themselves and familiar stories on screen.

Just as we found in China, returning to a location for a second year proved highly successful in terms of more thoroughly reaching our target audiences and solidifying the overall program goals in cooperation with repeat Program Collaborator and key venue hosts.  It made a world of difference to be joined again by expert and celebrated Moroccan filmmakers Rabii El Jawhari and Hamid Basket, who served as moderators, translators and cultural advisors for our program.

Somewhere Between made almost all audience members cry! Linda posed a thought provoking question to all her audiences –  “We all have to struggle to find a balance – how much does your past play out, how much does it matter when you’re defining your identity in the present?” And her audience members asked insightful questions in return.  ”Are the girls proud to be Chinese?,” “Why didn’t Hailey live with her family in China once she found them?,” “What will you do if Ruby wants to find her birth family once she is older?,” “Have you answered all of the questions that Ruby has had?” People of all ages and backgrounds were riveted by the film, proving the more personal a story is, the more universal it’s theme and reach – a truly perfect FILM FORWARD film. Additionally, it was a serendipitous time to bring Somewhere Between to Morocco given ever-changing role of women in Moroccan society, coupled with the recent news surrounding the treatment and abuse of women in Morocco. 

Another Earth:  In true FILM FORWARD fashion, flexibility and adaptability is key when working with non-traditional venues for the first time. At the Hassan II High School in Beni Mellal, we lost electricity 5 times attempting to screen Another Earth for over 200 high school students in a hot, empty classroom on the rural campus before we changed the plan and moved everyone to the Chambre du Commerce, where as many of the students attended an evening screening of the film (if they were permitted to be out at night). The Q&A was 2 hours, and they were very engaged, asking philosophical questions about the ‘self’ and ‘other’ as well as specific film production questions.  We had to drag Mike out of the room as he was bombarded by photo and autograph requests. He is excited by the idea of coming back to Morocco to do more in-depth workshops with youth as a result of his time in Beni Mellal.

The highlight of the trip took place on the last day of the program in the Casablanca district of Sidi Moumen, Morocco’s first slum, a sprawling poor neighborhood made infamous in 2003 by being home to all 14 suicide bombers involved in the Casablanca bombings, the deadliest attacks Morocco has seen which killed over 40 people in the center of Casablanca. To counteract this trend, Hamid Basket founded the School of Cinema Professions of Casablanca (EMCC), an inspiring school where youth of all ages can attend classes in all areas of the creative and production processes, working together to write, shoot and edit short films. The school is free of charge to all students to maximize access.

At EMCC, Mike and Linda screened their films and discussed their creative processes with the students. They worked together to re-create the end scene of Another Earth with all the students – a wonderful exercise in resourcefulness, shooting, direction, lighting, and editing!  After each student had a chance to participate on all parts of the “production” we came together to watch a few of their short documentaries and Linda and Mike gave their positive feedback and advise to these incredibly talented, hungry emerging artists. At the end of the workshop, Linda and Mike asked the students why they want to be filmmakers. One student ‘s response was particularly striking:

“I don’t want to make the world a better place or change anything. I just want to use movies as a way to communication. There are many things my human language cannot communicate at all. I’m very shy. I am so lonely; I feel so alone, so I want to communicate with people and link to other people through my films.”

Then Mike and Linda responded to their own question. Both of them shared that human connection and loneliness were at the heart of their stories:

Mike responded – “I made this movie because of human loneliness. There is a relationship we have with ourselves, we judge them, we ask them questions. Could you forgive yourself all the wrong you’ve done? I made this film so we can visually think about this question. Would I be able to accept myself if I met me?”

Linda responded – “I made this movie because I didn’t want Ruby to feel alone. If you feel alone and you have trouble accepting yourself, and you’re communicating with your other self, then, once you do that, you can connect in other ways with other people. Being able to communicate your feelings is very important so you’re not alone. We can all share the feeling of loneliness and connect about that feeling through film.”

For more information and to check out the photos go to:

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