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Hand to the Heart in North Africa

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Mike Cahill, Director, Another Earth

The first thing that struck me about Morocco and Moroccan people generally – something subtle and simple yet indicative of something great and meaningful – when you greet a Moroccan he or she will raise their hand to their heart – an unconscious gesture that speaks volumes about the warmth and sincere value of human connection that permeates this rich land in North Western Africa. 

As-Salāmu `Alaykum. `Alaykum As-Salāmu. Ça va? Bonjour.  First time in Morocco?  How do you find it?

I find it beautiful.  I find the people incredibly welcoming and warm.  I find the intelligence and energy of the youth inspiring. 

On the last day of the FILM FORWARD program, the wonderful, funny, charismatic Moroccan filmmaker, Hamid Basket, invited Linda and I to hold a workshop at his film school – Ecole des Metiers du Cinema de Casablanca. 

40 students more or less, ages 18 to 24.  The top floor of a building in the Sidi Moumen neighborhood of Casablanca.  Hamid said that the shantytowns down the street were the ones from which the bombers of the 2003 and 2007 Casablanca terrorist attacks came.  The importance of the school is so vital to Hamid that he has taken to self-funding it as it has come upon financial hardship.

“Why do you want to make films,” I asked the students.  One girl named Zineb said, “To change the world.”  She wore a purple chador and black-rimmed glasses – a young woman with confidence and purpose.  Another girl echoed the thought, “To show people the truth.”  A skinny guy who towered somewhere around 6’8” said, “I don’t want to change the world necessarily, I just want to connect.  We are so lonely as humans, and film helps us find like-minded people.”

I couldn’t agree more with all of them.

One of the students asked how I did the final shot in Another Earth, the (spoiler) Rhoda confronting Rhoda shot.  “Was it a girl who looked just like her?”  I asked if anyone could guess.  No one was sure.  Off this question I leapt up, asked two students to grab one of the blue curtains from the classroom window, another to set up a tripod at eye level height and another to play the lead.  We shot the two required plates and then gathered around a Mac and I showed the steps to do the blue screen composite.  A simple hands-on workshop, a reminder that very little is required to create magic.

When I initially signed up for the FILM FORWARD program I had only an abstract idea about the benefits of cultural exchange.  It became very tangible as the days unfolded.  The students asked deeply philosophical questions about existence, practical questions about filmmaking, thoughtful questions about the purpose of art.  Outside of a screening in Beni Mellal, a young girl named Miriam asked me to read her poem.  It was called Regret.  It was about a difficult relationship between two people …pain never stops / fear never goes / getting over you / is my only cure / to be with you… Regret, redemption, and forgiveness are emotional themes that I too wondered about and explored in the film.  I feel like all artists are archaeologists for truth and the mutual feedback loop I felt in Morocco was alive and real.  It was an experience that nourished me creatively and filled me with excitement to watch as new cinematic voices are born out of the Moroccan youth.

Thank you Morocco.  Thank you FILM FORWARD.

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