Academic journal article Framework

Vernacular Modernism, Film Culture, and Moroccan Short Film and Documentary

Academic journal article Framework

Vernacular Modernism, Film Culture, and Moroccan Short Film and Documentary

Article excerpt

Moroccan cinema, when it is present at all in anglophone film discourses, most often appears through the lens of national film history. Underpinned by postcolonial theory's emphasis on concepts of resistant nationalisms, critical discourse on Moroccan cinema tends to view it in terms of a struggle for the emergence of a coherent national practice in the wake of colonialism. This essay takes a different tack, foregrounding cinematic and artistic discourses of modernism as they emerged in Morocco after independence. In so doing, it hopes to contribute to the reformulation of the way that cinema in Morocco and across the Arab world is conceived of in relation to Europe and the United States, long understood as the centers of modernity and modernism. Understanding the nature of modernist experimentation in this period allows us to appreciate the ways that modernity in the Moroccan context is not simply reducible to a phenomenon imposed by colonialism, be it the French or Spanish imperialism of geopolitical practice or the imperialism of the imaginary sustained by European or American cinemas which, along with Egypt, historically dominated Moroccan screens. While French colonialism radically affected Moroccan society and leftnot only the technology of cinema but also an institutional production infrastructure in the form of the Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM), the modernism of Moroccan culture during the postcolonial period relied upon the active embrace of ideas and aesthetics within an international (not only French) modernist realm. While nationalist film discourses have tended to obscure the fact, this essay shows that such internationalism was manifest at multiple levels and in varying contexts: in the film text itself and its aesthetic characteristics; in the film culture of the moment, including the critical discourse around cinema, the ciné-club movement, and the development of film festivals; and in the broader artistic and literary scene of the time.

That the debates and interventions that took shape in these contexts reveal a strong interest in fostering a postcolonial national culture to recuperate what was suppressed or lost under the Protectorate should not prevent us from measuring the considerable distance between the interest in Moroccan culture and histories evinced by artists and intellectuals of this moment and the official nationalism of the era, a nationalism that often turned violently against those very same actors. Tracing the connections between the experimental film production of the 1960s and 1970s, much of it emerging around the margins of the CCM's program, and the film and artistic culture of that same moment, this paper argues that Moroccan cinematic modernism was a transnational phenomenon whose circuits of influence did not obey the expected France-Morocco or even Europe-Morocco axis. To understand the place of these films in a transnational modernist avantgarde is to refute the idea that modernism is either, at best, an imitation of artistic movements proper to Europe or America or, at worst, an example of a colonial legacy that should be replaced with something more authentically popular, indigenous, and national. Further, it is to argue that film discourses on cinematic modernism and the avant-garde are impoverished to the extent that they do not take account of practices such as those in Morocco and across the global South, practices that are equally a response to the effects of a global capitalist modernity, as Keya Ganguly has recently argued with respect to Satyajit Ray's cinema.1 Rather than seeing such practices in Morocco as constituting something "other" to the main event of European modernism, I argue that they be understood as important examples of a modernism without borders. To reinsert these films into a transnational framework of modernism is also to prize them out of cinema discourses whose borders are hermetically Moroccan, Arab, or "Middle Eastern and North African" to instead allow them voice as radically transcultural texts that respond in particular and historically situated ways to a situation of global reach. …

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