Linda Goldstein Knowlton
I’ve always wanted to go to Morocco. When my best friend and I were planning our dream trip that we were going to do between high school and college, Morocco was on our list. Sadly, the trip never happened. In my 20s and 30s and 40s, I would hear over and over from friends, “Morocco is beautiful and spectacular, and the food is amazing! You’ve got to go to Morocco!”
Surprisingly, given all of my travel throughout the years, I never made it to Morocco until this year with the FILM FORWARD program. Because I didn’t go as a tourist, I came away with a totally different response than my friends had: the most amazing thing about Morocco is the people.
As Mike Cahill (director of ANOTHER EARTH) wrote so beautifully in his blog post, when a Moroccan greets you they shake your hand and then touch their hearts. That truly says it all! As THE ANOTHER EARTH and SOMEWHERE BETWEEN teams split up for a portion of the program in Morocco, I was lucky enough to have the wonderful Moroccan filmmaker, Rabii El Jawhari, as the moderator for our Q&A’s, translator, and travel compadre. We travelled approximately 745 miles (by car) in 6 days, showing SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 5 times in 6 cities.
As you can imagine, Rabii, Mohammed Guedira (our Cultural Affairs host) and I had many miles and meals to discuss such varied aspects of Moroccan culture. Some highlights include: When you meet with someone, you first ask: “How did you sleep? How are all the members of your family? How was your journey here today?” before arriving at the intended topic and reason for your meeting.
We also discussed: the challenges of filmmaking in Morocco and distributing those films; women’s changing role in Morocco; the big American studio films that come to shoot in Morocco; and what makes the best tagine. It was also interesting to get the perspective of Matthew Long, another one of our great US Embassy hosts (Cultural Affairs Officer), who was getting ready to end his 3-year stint in Morocco en route to Nairobi. He certainly leads a professional life ‘somewhere between’ cultures around the world.
So many of the Moroccans I met throughout the country at our various screenings made lasting impressions on me, for reasons as varied as the people themselves. From the wonderful film students in Casablanca at the Ecole des Metiers du Cinema de Casablanca, where we talked about how to define ‘documentary film’…to Fatima at Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah University in Fez who spoke and wrote to me about her dreams of being a filmmaker (see below)…to the man at our screening at the American Corner in Oujda who said (in Arabic, via translator): “I only know about Americans from what I see on the news about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From your film I now see a new side of Americans and American families.”…to the absolutely remarkable, incredibly inspiring students at the Oum Lkora Language Center in the city of Berkane, who blew my mind with their insights, intelligence, warmth, curiosity, and genuine hunger for connection to people outside of Morocco.
Honestly, these students – ranging in age from 10-16 – exuded such pride in their city, their school, their country that they were luminescent! And that intensity didn’t dim in the least, as they shared their analysis of the film and discussed issues of identity, family and belonging. They also asked me with great enthusiasm to share all of their thoughts, feeling and questions with the four young women featured in our film. I received many messages on Facebook from the students at the screening, a true continuation of cross-cultural dialogue (one of my favorites is below). While all of the varying encounters and shared connections made a real impact on me, there was one consistent response to SOMEWHERE BETWEEN that touched me most deeply: once people learned that I didn’t bring my daughter Ruby – who appears briefly in the bookends of the film, and who inspired the film – to Morocco, they ALL asked that I give her their love and insisted that I bring her to Morocco when I come again to visit. The dedicated and wonderful Director of the American Corner, Mohamed Bendaha, went so far as to give me a gift to bring home to Ruby!
I am very much looking forward to returning to Morocco with my family. I can’t wait to see how these students – especially the women and girls – are fulfilling their dreams and pursuing their futures in ways that allow them to share their warmth and desires for personal connectivity and expression with the world at large.
Two Audience Responses I received after the program:
Hi, I want to ask you a question concerning the film because I didn’t have the opportunity to ask when you came to Oum El Koura English Department ,Berkane. So my question is the following:Do you believe that U.S.A. is a salad bowl or a melting pot? In other words, will Fang, Jenna, Ann and Halley stick to their Chinese culture or this last will melt with the American one and spawn a Chinese-American culture.I’m looking to hearing from you soon.
Good day to you, to your husband, and of course to your precious, child of the world, Ruby
Fahd Hachimi (English student at Oum Elkoura English department)
Hello Dear Linda,
I hope you are doing great and enjoying your stay in Morocco though these days are so hot. I am Fatima, the woman who dreams to also be a filmmaker, when you were standing in front of me, you gave me hope. I liked you a lot, and I think you work is amazing and you can’t satisfy all people, you have done a work the way you felt it should be.
I hope we can meet again in the Future.