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!
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.
Our former PhD student (and current Teaching Assistant!) Stefanie van de Peer is organising a one-day symposium at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on Saturday 17 May as part of the annual Edinburgh International Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace. Proposals for contributions to the symposium (‘Ceci n’est pas une Révolution: Filming Movements in the Maghreb’) are sought and the deadline is 21 March. The full Call for Papers follows below. As well as a day of discussions about film in the Maghreb, the event will also include screenings of new and classic films from the region.
1‐Day Symposium, 17 May 2014, Film Guild Cinema, Filmhouse, Edinburgh
9:00am – 4:00pm
The cinema of the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) was born out of the struggles for independence from France, something that is most evident in film production between the sixties and the eighties. In the last three decades, a pre‐occupation with the anti‐colonial struggle has given way to issues of class, gender, economic deprivation and the roots of Islamic fundamentalism. Since 2011, the Wave of Revolutions and anti-government campaigns sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, ostensibly started in the Maghreb, inspires films on the historical roots, immediate causes and the people behind the Revolutions.
This one‐day symposium wishes to look beyond the media frenzy, beyond the emphasis on the so‐called ‘Arab Spring’ in order to look more closely at the historical Waves of Revolution that have dominated postcolonial filmmaking in the Maghreb since independence.
This symposium aims to address issues of style and themes, of the political impulse in Maghrebi cinema, and of the relationship Maghrebi filmmakers have with their ex‐coloniser. The symposium is organised by Dr Stefanie Van de Peer (University of Stirling), as part of the Middle Eastern Film Festival (MEFF) in Edinburgh and with the collaboration of the Edinburgh Film Guild. MEFF’s retrospective of Maghrebi films aspires to move away from the relegation of Maghrebi films to French screens, in order to project these films onto British screens, critically tracing the development of the cinema of the Maghreb and the influence of its ex‐colonial power.
This Symposium will bring together scholars from around the UK focusing on the Maghreb for a day of dialogue, topped off with the screening of some of the best new and classic films from the Maghreb. Proposals for contributions to the symposium are now invited. Please send your 300‐word abstract for a 20‐minute paper to Stefanie Van de Peer at email@example.com, accompanied by a 100‐word bio, by Friday 21 March 2014.