As regular blog readers know, the annual Africa in Motion film festival was founded in 2006 by Lizelle Bisschoff, who was at the time a PhD student in the then School of Languages, Cultures and Religions at the University of Stirling, whose research project was supervised by David Murphy. 13 years on, Lizelle is now Senior Lecturer in Theatre, Film and TV Studies at the University of Glasgow, David is Professor of French at Strathclyde University, the School of Languages, Cultures and Religions is part of Stirling’s Division of Literature and Languages and Africa in Motion is still going strong with Justine Atkinson as the Festival Producer.
The festival has just released its programme for the 2019 edition which will run from 25 October to 3 November, with screenings and a wide range of other events in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Division of Literature and Languages is particularly pleased to be the joint sponsor this year of the screening of Lost Warrior, a Somali-Danish coproduction being shown at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on 26 October. You can access the full programme of events via Africa in Motion’s website here. So much to choose from!
Any of you with an interest in African cinema (one of our areas of research expertise at Stirling) should catch up with Radio 4’s The Film Programme where Lizelle Bisschoff, founder of the annual Africa in Motion Film Festival (and former French at Stirling PhD student), has just been talking about her Africa’s Lost Classics project. The 2017 festival kicks off next week and the full programme is online here.
In this anniversary year, we’re also welcoming to Stirling our first cohort of students on our new BA Hons Translation and Interpreting degree, in partnership with HNU in China. As a means of strengthening the ties between existing Stirling students and their HNU counterparts, a buddying scheme has been running since September 2016 with around a dozen Stirling students helping HNU students to get to know the University, the campus and the town, and generally helping them get used to life in Scotland. We thought it would be a great idea for one of the buddies to get a chance to travel to China to meet with next year’s HNU cohort this Spring so, after a very competitive selection process and with Faculty support, we’re pleased to announce that Elliot Knight (currently in the 2nd year of his degree in French) will be travelling to China to represent the University and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities in a few weeks. More tales to follow on that front!
Closer to home, we’ve also been able to send another group of Student Language Ambassadors into a local secondary school – McLaren High in Callander – to talk to pupils there about life as a Languages student and the opportunities that opens up in terms of Study Abroad, employability, travel, and so on. Stefano Intropido, David Vescio and Ross Brown took on this role as Language Ambassadors, in a visit jointly organized by Jean-Michel DesJacques, Cristina Johnston and McLaren High teacher Alastair Brown. Alastair was very impressed by our students’ performance, commenting that ‘they spoke very well in all classes, and at the assembly, where they got a spontaneous round of applause from the pupils. They gave very motivating accounts of their language-learning journey and responded very well to the pupils’ questions.’ We hope to continue sending our students out into schools as ambassadors over the weeks and months ahead.
As well as looking forward to receiving our copy of our former PhD student Stefanie van de Peer’s edited collection Animation in the Middle East, we’re also excited to learn that another former French at Stirling PhD student, Lizelle Bisschoff has a new AHRC-funded project on ‘Africa’s Lost Classics in Context’ with David Murphy as co-investigator. The project aims to bring a number of screenings of ‘lost African film classics’ to UK audiences, complemented by public and educational events and activities to contextualise the films for audiences, in collaboration with the five UK African film festivals, including Africa in Motion which was founded by Lizelle while she was doing her PhD. The project started in January 2017 and will run for a year.
Alongside all the usual work, assessments and other commitments our students have for the second half of the semester, we also have a number of teaching and research-related events coming up, involving both staff and students. Our Year 4 French students, for example, will get the opportunity to try out Interpreting Taster Sessions in late-February, early-March, taking full advantage of Stirling’s new interpreting suite. A number of our students will also be attending the Language Show Live at the SECC in Glasgow in a few weeks and 3 of our current Year 2 students will be attending a Summer School run by our partners at the Ecole de Management in Strasbourg in June. Mid-March, we’ll be welcoming Lucie Herbreteau of UCO Angers to Stirling on an Erasmus teaching exchange and she’ll be taking classes involving not only our final year French students but also our postgraduate Translation programme and Years 1 and 2 of our undergraduate French programme. And, finally, at the end of March, Cristina Johnston has been invited to introduce a screening of Claude Chabrol’s Une Affaire de femmes at Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema with Hugh McDonnell of Edinburgh University, as part of Mihaela Mihai’s project on Greyzones.
Busy, busy times and more news to follow, I’ve no doubt, over the coming weeks!
It’s that time of year again! Founded by our former PhD student, Lizelle Bisschoff, and now into its 11th year, the annual Africa in Motion film festival has just launched its 2016 programme. Details here and, as ever, a fantastic array of films from every genre imaginable, as well as Q&A sessions with leading figures from African cinema, workshops, exhibitions and much more! Events in Glasgow and Edinburgh from 28 October to 6 November.
Another new semester is well underway with lots of French-related news to report…
Welcome, first and foremost, to our new intake of Year 1 students – whether you’re starting from our ‘Advanced’ stream or in our Beginners’ classes, whether you’re here to study French with Human Resource Management or Education, with Spanish or Mathematics, with English or with Business Studies, welcome to Stirling! And a particular welcome to those of you here as part of our double degree partnership in International Management and Intercultural Studies with the University of Passau – we hope you enjoy your year in Scotland!
On the staff front, following the retirement of our former Language Assistant Bernadette Corbett, we’re delighted to welcome Mathilde Mazau to French at Stirling. Mathilde previously worked at the University of Glasgow and will be teaching spoken and written language classes across all years of our undergraduate programmes, working alongside Brigitte Depret.
And welcome back, of course, to our Year 4 students returning from Study Abroad, readjusting to life in Stirling after a semester at Sciences Po in Paris, in Perpignan, Limoges, Clermont-Ferrand or elsewhere, and to Year 3 students coming back after a year on the British Council’s English Language Assistantship scheme! As ever, a new group of Stirling students are about to embark on a year as English Language Assistants as part of the British Council-run scheme so best of luck to them and we look forward to hearing about your year when you come back. We’ve also got around 20 students waiting to find out in the next week where they’ll be spending their Semester Abroad in Spring 2016…
Following on from an extremely interesting workshop organised by our Language Coordinator Jean-Michel DesJacques and led by Petra McLay of SCILT focusing on the transition from Higher French to University French just before the start of semester, we have a whole range of French-related events to look out for over the coming weeks and months.
The Africa in Motion Film Festival – founded by former French at Stirling PhD student, Lizelle Bisschoff – celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and the packed programme of events (screenings, exhibitions, concerts and much more) can be found here.
As part of the Division of Literature and Languages’ regular research seminar series, we’re particularly looking forward to two papers by colleagues from the University of Aberdeen and the University of Glasgow later in the semester. Ed Welch (Aberdeen) will be giving a talk entitled ‘Image, Imagination and Power: Visualising Urban Futures in Post-war France’ on 25 November and Jackie Clarke (Glasgow) will give a paper entitled ‘Consumer Culture in Post-war France’ on 2 December.
And our own Bill Marshall will be giving a paper on 21 October on ‘The Uses of Prehistory’, developing work he conducted during his recent research leave, a project for which he has also been awarded funding via a British Academy Small Research Grant with a Stirling workshop coming up over the next few months. Bill’s success as one of the joint recipients of the Prix du Québec from the British Association of Canadian Studies will also enable him to go to Montreal in early 2016 to conduct research for an edited book on Quebec Cinema: Texts and Contexts, and on Quebec bande dessinée for an article on images in that medium of the First French Empire.
French Programme Director Cristina Johnston and her Spanish counterpart, Ann Davies, have been successfully awarded Cohort Development Funding by the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities for a series of workshops aimed at Modern Languages PhD students on ‘Writing for an Interdisciplinary Audience’. The workshops will take place at the Universities of Edinburgh, St Andrews, Stirling and Glasgow, involving colleagues from all those partner institutions. More details will follow in due course.
Stirling staff remain as active as ever in giving papers and keynotes at various locations throughout the UK and well beyond. David Murphy is giving a seminar on ‘The Performance of Pan-Africanism’ at the University of Edinburgh in November 2015 and Bill Marshall will be delivering a keynote lecture at the World Cinema and Television in French conference at the University of Cincinnati in September 2016. Bill will also be giving the annual Christianson Lecture at University of Bristol in March 2016. Elizabeth Ezra will be introducing and leading a discussion with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet at St Andrews University in October 2015 and has been invited to give a talk in November at the University of Aberdeen on her forthcoming book, The Cinema of Things. And Jean-Michel DesJacques continues to represent Stirling at regular UCMLS meetings throughout the year.
We’re also really looking forward to finding out more about our students’ French Society events for the coming year and will be posting more about them over the weeks and months ahead. And there’ll be plenty of events organised for French students coming up too, including a get-together for future and returning Study Abroad students from Stirling as well as visiting French and Francophone exchange students, and an employability event organised by Frances Sessford from Publishing Studies with a range of participants talking about what to do with a degree in Languages.
And last but not least, on the teaching front, we’ve got option modules running this year in French Crime Fiction, Quebec Cinema, The French Atlantic Slave Trade and the Cinema of the Fantastic and, for the first time, we’re offering an option module in Translation Theory at Honours level. French at Stirling staff will also be contributing teaching to a range of Stirling TPG courses including Translation Studies, Translation with TESOL, Gender Studies and our Film Studies programme.
We’re looking forward to this year’s Africa in Motion Festival which has just announced news of dates, screenings and competitions. This year, the festival celebrates its 10th anniversary and we’re delighted to have had the chance to be one of its supporters over that period, from its earliest days as the brainchild of our former PhD student Lizelle Bisschoff.
This year’s theme will be ‘Connections’ and the festival will run from 23 October to 1 November, with screenings and events in Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as (we hope!) a screening at Stirling’s MacRobert Cinema.
As Stefanie explains, ‘Mohamed Amin is the first-time director of Adios Carmen, one of the gems of Moroccan cinema which will be screened at Africa in Motion this year. He is originally from Morocco, and now lives and works in Belgium. His films show a real affinity for children, and it looks like that is continuing in future projects. Merlin Pitois is distribution and communications manager for Ali n’ Productions & Zaza Films Distribution in Casablanca. Ali N’ is fast becoming one of the major production forces on the Moroccan filmmaking scene, and an important player on the world cinema distribution platform. Merlin worked closely together with Hicham Lasri, the director of They are the Dogs. When I spoke with these two young men, forces of nature on the Moroccan cinema scene, they discussed their respective films, and both also talked about hidden post-colonial histories in Morocco, such as the Spanish presence in the Rif area (the north of the country) and the terror of the 1980s under King Hassan II.’
Stefanie Van de Peer: Both films deal to a certain degree with memory and memory loss, and the failure of history to treat the colonial and postcolonial past with respect. Why do you think some of these issues are ignored or forgotten, and what made you want to address them?
Mohamed Amin: Memory is central to my work. I see it as a way to build bridges between the past and the present. This history of 1970s or 1980s in the Rif, and in Morocco more widely, is difficult, traumatic. But for me, stories and memory often connect to childhood. And perhaps children often represent our memories in film. My films are told from the point of view of children. Adios Carmen is the story of my own childhood. The story of Adios Carmen starts from my encounter with Carmen, a Spanish exile in Morocco, who was my neighbour when I was little. She worked as an usher in a small movie theater in the village. When my mother migrated to Belgium in the late sixties, it was Carmen who took me under her wing and, in a way, brought me up. With this story, I wanted to tell my first movie experience and the impression it left on me. My love for cinema and the desire to make films has been there since my childhood. So it is a romantic, nostalgic story, but also one that does not avoid talking about the tense relations between Morocco and Spain.
Merlin Pitois: Films like They are the Dogs, which deal with difficult aspects of our politics and history, sadly only reach a very small number and a particular type of people, who actively take the time to go and see this kind of film and think about its subjects. This is the slightly more pessimistic side of film distribution: Moroccan films are known by the ‘professionals’ through film festivals, but most films will never be released commercially, so the memory loss continues. Unfortunately, also, audiences in Western countries have very little interest in watching films from the ‘real Morocco’ – I mean films that really deal with the issues in our society and real Moroccan people. There are films about Morocco that are not from Morocco, which manage to get a great interest abroad only because they show the exotic side of Morocco, with its deserts, camels and “thé à la menthe”… a continued colonialist and orientalist view of our country.
SVdP: I would like to know more about the era in which the films are set: not many films deal with the Spanish presence in Morocco, or with Hassan II’s reign of terror. Are they taboo subjects? Why do they not get more attention in Moroccan cinema?
MA: I think it is the decade-long marginalization of the Rif region that ensured that the rest of Morocco is not interested in this region. This also explains the fact that cultural products rarely come out of the region, even though its specificity and its history should inspire tremendous works of art. It is this region that experienced the most intense period of Spanish colonisation from the 19th century until the 1950s, and it is also in The Rif that the most active resistance to their presence was enacted. Although local stories deal with this history, because of Morocco’s general ignorance regarding the Rif, its history is neglected. Touring this film, I have noticed how Moroccans do not know the area and its history, but how interested many now are, and proud and delighted to discover it, its language and culture, as a piece that fits in Morocco’s puzzle.
By including Carmen as a central character, I also wanted to address the topic of migration in Spanish Morocco after independence. It gets little attention, yet it was real and has many similarities with the current wave of migrations between Morocco and Europe. It is and has always been a reciprocal migration. First it manifested itself in one direction and then twenty years later, in the other: first, the Spaniards fled the Spanish civil war, later they fled the Franco regime, and yet later, Moroccans fled oppression and poverty. Through this story, we can also make the connection with many other migration stories, wherever they happen in the world. Children are often the victims, and we have to remember that these journeys cause physical and mental anguish. I wanted to show that it is never something simple or trivial, or even happy. People are leaving because they experience problems, follow a dream or because they have no choice. It is human.
MP: That is really interesting of you to mention this, and I agree with Mohamed. The freedom of speech and art is a rare gift. While Morocco is one of the most stable political regimes of Africa and the Middle East these days, freedom of speech and art is pretty limited. So, people manage to find ways to question the system and society indirectly. Of course, one can be a bit more confrontational with the king and his government nowadays, but under Hassan II, it was unthinkable to produce a film like They are the Dogs. People went to jail for less. So there were absolutely no films at all about Hassan II’s time and society while he was alive. There were films being made of course, but they never dealt with politics or society in a critical sense.
And that’s what They are the dogs does so successfully: it proposes a vision of Moroccan society treated with humour and dealing with its problems indirectly. This indirectness can be seen as a way to avoid ‘censorship’ (which in Morocco should be called ‘self-censorship’), but it is also a way to avoid dealing with the problems directly. In doing so, the audience will be more responsible to forge its own opinions rather than the film telling the people what to think. I think this is the strength of our film: not to propose a black and white vision of Moroccan society, or telling the audience who are the good guys and who are the bad guys: but proposing a true and interesting vision of an intricate system that everyone is part of, and accepting it critically.
SVdP: Last question: what are your plans now, after Adios Carmen and after They are the Dogs? Are you working on a new film? What do you think of the future of Moroccan cinema?
MA: I am currently working on a film project that tells stories of crossed destinies of Moroccan immigrants in Belgium. The film is about dreams, disappointments and a decline in the values that used to unite them. I am also working with a friend on a project that deals with political violence in the 1970s and 1980s in Morocco. Because I am interested in matters related to memory, I will necessarily also be working with children again.
MP: Luckily, there are very interesting people doing a lot to develop Moroccan cinema further. Nabil Ayouch for example, the producer of They are the dogs, Nourredine Lakhmari, Fawzi Bensaïdi, Leïla Kilani… These are great directors and producers, and they are ‘modern’ and ambitious. They combine their commercial skills with their ability to create a truly rewarding, artistic Moroccan cinema. In addition to these producers, the CCM (Moroccan Cinematographic Centre) is developing its support, both financially and with infrastructure, and represents hope for a lot of young Moroccan filmmakers. Things are evolving positively here, that is undeniable, but it is all happening rather slowly. The film industry is building its foundations. I really hope that the next generation will be audacious, inventive and successful enough to build a great new industry. There really is a lot of talent in Morocco, people who are just waiting for an opportunity to build themselves up.
If you want to read more about Moroccan cinema, Stefanie has published widely on this topic and on Arabic cinema more generally including a chapter on Leila Kilani’s film Our Forbidden Places in Art and Trauma in Africa (co-edited by Stefanie and Lizelle Bisschoff) and a blog entry on researching North African Women in cinema. More recently, she has been turning her attention to animation from countries of the Middle East and has written a great article on the topic for the Animation Studies blog. Another of our former PhD students, Jamal Bahmad, now at the University of Marburg, has also published widely on contemporary Moroccan cinema.