Who Will Tell the Story? Beginnings of Documentary Film in Morocco

“I do not claim to save Moroccan cinema by making a feature film, nor do I claim to make a masterpiece. (…) I actually proclaim my right to make bad movies, and this is not a joke. My only ambition — the ambition of all Moroccan filmmakers — is for the audience to get used to watching themselves on screen, to see their own problems being addressed and thus to be able to judge the society in which they live.”

(Ahmed Bouanani, interview with Nour-Eddine Saïl, 1974)

Ahmed Bouanani’s La Septième Porte [The Seventh Gate] finally came out in 2020, after 33 years as an unpublished manuscript. The dearth of accessible archives being an impediment to research, there are very few substantive books about Moroccan cinema. Therefore, although it was written in the 1980s, La Septième Porte remains a fundamental resource. In addition to his analytical rigor and beautiful writing, Bouanani knew most Moroccan filmmakers personally, and worked on many of their films, as an editor, advisor or script writer. Having worked at the CCM (the Moroccan Film Center) for decades, he was also familiar with the archive of European productions made during the colonial period.

The Seventh Gate narrates the transformations of cinema in Morocco —and the transformations of Morocco through cinema— from 1907 to 1986. In particular, it chronicles the struggle of filmmakers, after Independence, to liberate the country’s image from the colonial gaze. As a director himself, Bouanani was fully immersed in the questions he was formulating: how to revive cultural memory when it has been mummified by decades of colonial subjugation? How to invent an aesthetic that is relevant to its time and place, an aesthetic through which Moroccans might recognize themselves? In sum, how to decolonize the screen?

This retrospective attempts to carve a path toward the seventh gate through the lens of documentary image-making. It is the first such presentation of the beginnings of Moroccan documentary film. We show a brief taste of (French and Spanish) colonial filmmaking, before delving into the first three decades of national cinema. Taking a cue from Bouanani’s book, we offer an eclectic panorama of experiments conducted, despite censorship and limited means, by a pioneering generation of filmmakers in all parts of the country and the diaspora.

From student exercises to full-fledged features, from public commissions to highly subjective projects, these films cover a wide creative spectrum that veers between experimental joy and political impatience; lyrical poetry and meticulous ethnography; formal exploration and historical narrative. They stretch the documentary form in all directions. As Ahmed El Maanouni said about his first feature, «the ‘documentary’ label is a catch-all. All I know is that the film is not science fiction. The audience will say whether our sounds and images are true.»

After the 1970s, documentary film production in Morocco became scarce, before returning forcefully two decades later with the likes of Dalila Ennadre, Hakim Belabbès, and Ali Essafi. This recent period would deserve a retrospective of its own. In focusing on the earlier phase, our main regret is the quasi-absence of films made by women: while many women have shaped these works in invisible ways, it was only later, from the 90s on, that women directors burst on the scene.

We view this retrospective as a step in the ongoing project of recovering our cultural memory in all its rich multiplicity, and sharing it with the world. We have composed it with help and support from many friends and colleagues, most crucially Touda Bouanani and Léa Morin; as well as institutions, especially the CCM in Rabat, whose staff —in particular Tariq Khalami andi Samir Bouchaibi— went beyond the call of duty. We are very grateful to Manuel Asín and the whole Punto de Vista team for their thoughtful invitation and their support throughout the process.

Curated and notes by Omar Berrada and Ali Essafi

* Retrospective made in collaboration with Casa Árabe, the African Film Festival - FCAT, the Moroccan Film Center, Instituto Cervantes Tangier, Filmoteca Española, Cinemateca Francesa and Cinemateca Bologna/ The Film Foundation/ World Cinema.

Session 1. Colonial Nights

Tetuán, la blanca
Arturo Pérez Camarero
Spain, 1943, 15 min, DCP, B&W, Spanish

La fugue de Mahmoud
Roger Leenhardt
France, 1952, 33 min, DCP, B&W, French

Mostafa Derkaoui
Poland, 1968, 4 min, DCP, B&W, silent

Mémoire 14
Ahmed Bouanani
Morocco, 1971, 25 min, DCP, B&W, French

Petite histoire en marge du cinématographe
Ahmed Bouanani
Morocco, 1973, 6 min, DCP, colour, B&W, French

Session 1. Colonial Nights

Session 2. The Country of Memory

Tarfaya ou la marche d’un poète
Ahmed Bouanani
Morocco, 1966, 20 min, DCP, B&W, French

Mémoire 14

Ahmed Bouanani
Morocco, 1971, 25 min, DCP, B&W, French

Visages de Marrakech
Mohamed Abouelouakar
Morocco, 1977, 35 min, DCP, colour, French

Mémoire ocre
Daoud Aoulad Syad
Morocco, 1991, 17 min, DCP, colour-B&W, Arabic-French-English

Session 2.  The Country of Memory

Session 3. In search of Perfect Death

Une ombre parmi d’autres
Abdelkader Lagtaâ
Poland, 1969, 5 min, DCP, B&W, silent

Chant pour la mort des adolescents
Idriss Karim
Poland, 1973, 11 min, DCP, B&W Polish

Idriss Karim
Poland, 1969, 6 min, DCP, B&W, Polish

Si Moh, pas de chance
Moumen Smihi
France, 1971, 17 min, DCP, B&W, Arabic and French

Majid Rechiche
Morocco, 1970, 18 min, DCP, B&W, Arabic

Majid Rechiche
Morocco, 1972, 30 min, DCP, B&W, Arabic

Session 3. In search of Perfect Death

Session 4. Poets and Sociologists

De chair et d’acier
Mohamed Afifi
Morocco, 1959, 20 min, DCP, B&W, French-Arabic

Retour à Agadir
Mohamed Afifi
Morocco, 1967, 11 min, DCP, B&N, no dialogue

6 & 12
Ahmed Bouanani, Majid Rechiche, Mohamed Abbderrahmane Tazi :
Morocco, 1968, 18 min, DCP, B&N, no dialogue

Le rocher
Larbi Benchekroun
Morocco, 1958, 11 min, DCP, B&W, French

Sin Agafaye
Latif Lahlou
Morocco, 1967, 22 min, DCP, colour, French

Les tanneurs de Marrakech

Mohammed Ait Youssef
France, 1967, 21 min, DCP, colour, French

La nostalgie du naïf

Mohammed Ait Youssef
Morocco, 1977, 10 min, DCP, B&W, French

Session 4. Poets and Sociologists

Session 5. Inner labyrinths

Lekcja 41
Abdellah Drissi
Poland, 1966, 7 min, DCP, B&W, Polish

Mostafa Derkaoui
Poland, 1968, 4 min, DCP, B&W, Polish

Zofia et Ludmila
Hamid Bensaid
Poland, 1971, 9 min, DCP, B&W, Polish

Elzbieta K

Idriss Karim
Poland, 1973, 12 min, DCP, B&W, Polish

Alyam, Alyam
Ahmed El Maânouni
Morocco, 1978, 80 min, DCP, colour, Arabic

Session 5. Inner labyrinths

Session 6. Music without Make-up

Masrah Ennas
Actualités marocaines
Morocco, 1974, 6 min, DCP, B&W, French

Izza Genini
Morocco, 1987, 26 min, DCP, colour, Arabic-French

Ahmed El Maanouni
Morocco, 1981, 88 min, DCP, colour, Arabic

Session 6. Music without Make-up

Session 7. The Seventh Gate

Crossing the Seventh Gate
Ali Essafi
Morocco, 2017, 80 min, DCP, colour, Arab-French


Session 7. The Seventh Gate
Promoted by
Gobierno de Navarra
Organized by
With the aid of
Con la financiación del Gobierno de España. Instituto de la Cinematografía y las Artes Audiovisuales Acción Cultural Española Plan de Recuperación, Transformación y Resiliencia Financiado por la Unión Europea. NexGenerationEU

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