Nadir Bouhmouch, the free spirit of Moroccan cinema
Oumayma Ajarrai / Morocco
Oumayma Ajarrai / Morocco
Two years after finishing his cinema studies at the University of San Diego, Nadir settles in Morocco with the ambition to make impactful films. Not so as to feature a Hollywood cast, but so as to shed light on people and their struggles for dignity and social justice. Nadir’s documentaries are distinctive because of their subject matters; they are firmly political and strongly defend the causes that are close to his heart. While Nadir’s militant vision is perceived through his numerous works, his current collaborations contribute to enriching a filmography that brings resistance to the big screen.
His first films
In 2011, while studying on the other side of the pacific, he is affected by the different protests erupting in certain Arab countries. When on February 20th the movement starts to organize in Morocco, Nadir decides to plunge into the scene with his camera. In My Makhzen and Me, Nadir reflects on his own journey and on the reasons which motivate him to believe in and support this popular movement, while he himself comes from a social class whose interests are protected by the same Makhzen that he denigrates. The Makhzen, a strange popular terminology in Morocco, actually designates a political entity with unclear boundaries. It can be described as an elitist body “centred around the king and composed of royal dignitaries, businessmen, rich landowners, tribal chiefs, military figures and security officials”, to which the people scream “Go Away”. For Nadir, matters are clear. The lack of expression and social justice in Morocco are striking and he wants to talk about it loudly and clearly, in his own way.
Poster of the film "My Makhzen & me"
A year after this first project, in March 2012, the death of Amina Filali sends shockwaves throughout Morocco. Forced to marry her rapist, the young 16 year-old Amina Filali commits suicide by drinking lethal rat poison. Several civil society activists ask for the repeal of the article 475 of the Morrocan penal code which stipulates: ” If the minor kidnapped or abducted marries the perpetrator, he can no longer be prosecuted, except by persons empowered to demand the annulment of the marriage – and then only after the annulment has been proclaimed”. This law encourages Nadir to take his camera again and come back to Morocco. Outraged by the situation of women’s rights in his country, he directs 475, When Marriage Becomes Punishment.
Amina Filali’s younger sister, carrying a photograph of her sister © Riley Dufurrena
However, while emotion wins and leads the crowd to protest, the young director approaches the case by taking an insightful look on the very origins of the problem. He does not deal with the subject in a superficial way, which would consist of blaming the lawmakers, but actually proceeds with an in-depth investigation and conducts interviews with the victim’s family members, which leads him to discover that this rape wasn’t the first one in the Filali family…
For Nadir, the patriarchal system never stops perpetuating violence and it is the whole thought process of new generations that should be disquieted. His films, and his other feminist commitments are an attempt to establish safeguards in a society, unfortunately, still plagued by an endemic machismo.
An acknowledged “Fitna” with the cinema club Agora
On the 22nd of September 2017, the Cinema Club of the cultural Association Agora held the first dematerialized press conference in Marrakech. Agora’s members aired a live video on social media in order to answer the questions of journalists and the general public. They specifically presented their program, of which Nadir Bouhmouch is the co-organiser.
After a first event held between Imider and Marrakech, Agora comes back with a program dedicated to the Rif, a region of north-eastern Morocco that has been experiencing ongoing turmoil since 2016. The death of Mouhsine Fikri, a fisherman who was crushed to death inside a garbage truck, sparks global outrage. Protests multiply to denounce the region’s economic and social isolation. Despite the national solidarity, the Makhzen, known for its security tactics, uses physical and symbolic violence in order to contain the crowds. In this climate of growing tension, the mobilisation for the Rif is labelled as “Fitna”. A tag that the regime uses to stigmatize the “disruptive elements”, which according to the state, are only looking to incite violence. These events inspired the communication campaign of the Agora association, which decided to name this second event “Fitna”. In the spirit of creating an alternative popular culture, the organisers aim to make cinematographic training more accessible and to give participants the possibility to develop a strong militant documentary culture.
Posters used to promote the Program Fitna, © Ciné-club Agora
The participants are given the opportunity to discover on screen films as: Rif 21, a historical documentary in which Manuel Horillo paints a heroic portrait of the riffian resistance fighters during the colonial war. The Moroccan director Tarek Idrissi will present his film Rif 58/59: Breaking the Silence, which looks back on the 1958 and 1959 Rif uprisings. The public will also be able to watch Libertarias by Vicente Aranda, The Legionnaire by Peter Macdonald and the films of the female directors Larissa Sansour Nation Estate and Soraya El Kahlaoui Landless Moroccans. As for Nadir Bouhmouch, he will be changing hats, from animating debates and training workshops to being a director and presenting his latest co production Timnadine N’ Rif.
Nadir Bouhmouch signs this visual poem of powerful beauty in partnership with the collective “Movement on the road 96”. A series of contemplative landscapes of warm colours followed by stunning portraits of villagers with harmonic voices in the background, chanting a few verses in Amazigh. Inspired by Timnadin, a form of popular haiku typical of the Asamr region (southeast Morocco), one of the writers of the movement proposes a text, poignant in its simplicity. Verses which, once coupled with the image, convey a resounding cry.
My brothers, my sisters,
Heart and thoughts are with you,
But my arm is short,
and has no support
Still more patience and conviction,
The day will come when god will answer,
All praise be to him,
We have endured oppression and treason,
What we went through is not easy,
Our movement is a lantern for generations,
It will still lighten their paths,
We hold our breath during these 7’19’’ minutes where the cradling images and the sublimed distress of the witnesses appeal to us. The villagers of Imider, organised in a movement named “On the road 96”, are standing up against an important mining company (SMI) since 2011. The conflict began when the villagers found themselves without access to water because of the mine’s overexploitation. Thereafter, the situation deteriorated when SMI stopped recruiting the students of the village. Since then, assemblies are held and an intensive action of civil disobedience has been undertaken. The movement asks SMI to contribute to local development by distributing its wealth as an attempt to repair the negative externalities which the company is responsible for. However, SMI continues exploiting the village resources, from which the villagers are deprived.
Staying true to his commitments, Nadir recently released his new series of documentary shorts. Composed of four episodes, Paradises of the Earth focuses on four cities: Jemna, Gafsa, Redeyef and Gabess. Apart from the fact that they are located in Tunisia, these cities also have the particularity of being extremely polluted and of having been core centers of the 2011 uprisings. In this new project, released online on November 5th 2017, Nadir catches our attention again by choosing an audacious angle to treat an essential topic, that remained too long in the shadow. In his videos, he takes interest in the activities of a group of young environmental activists from North Africa, which despite the physical frontiers between countries, circulate in order to encounter other civil society actors and exchange thoughts on the current initiatives to protect the environment. Nadir and his camera embark on this “solidarity caravan” and follow the group from one contaminated area to another, while interviewing them on their actions and motivations. According to these activists, the challenges of desertification and the consequences of climate change are still not being addressed by post-revolutionary Tunisia. Now, this environmental crisis has a considerable impact on the population’s living conditions, which are continuously degrading, and urgent solutions must be found outside the capitalist system, which they deem incompatible with the protection of the environment and in great part responsible for its destruction.
* Translation of an extract proposed by the author
Editing Sidney Cavaricci WhiteTweet