Saad Chraibi: L’amoureur du cinema

By Pamela Nice with translation by Kabil Kahlaouy
Photo of Saad Chraibi from the online publication Aujourdhui.

Saad Chraibi has been working in Moroccan cinema as a director, scenarist and producer since 1978. He is highly respected in Morocco for his courage in addressing social and political issues in his films, such as “Femmes.. et femmes” (1998), dealing with domestic abuse, and “Jawhara (fille de prison)” (2004), on political prisoners in Morocco. His films have been shown internationally at film fesitvals, and Jawhara is to be seen in New York this coming fall.

Why film in Mohammedia, a mid-sized city between Rabat and Casablanca? Partly because of that location, which is convenient to film crews and actors from both major cities. It is less expensive than filming in Casablanca, and it has a variety of sites: an old medina, European-style boulevards, ocean beaches and easily accessible countryside.

I was invited to a film shoot of the television movie, “Le monde d’emploi” (The World of Work) with translator Kabir Kahlaouy in early February. When we arrived at the location, Cafe Tiznit, in the center of Mohammedia, we found lead actor Zakariah Lahlou standing patiently in costume, watching the upteenth take of a short scene, in which several extras followed two major characters running through the cafe. Many scenes had gone through several takes because one of the extras couldn’t resist looking directly into the camera – or even worse, making a face at it during the scene!

As the camera rolled on another short scene, in which three men rode through a medina bab (an arched entrance) on a motorbike, locals watching yelled out to them that they couldn’t do that – three on a bike was illegal. They did a retake of the scene after explaining filmmaking to the assembled crowd. This time when the motorbike zoomed through the bab, the police stopped them. And so it went.

In between takes, Kabir and I were lucky to catch renowned film director Sa’ad Chraibi to talk about his career and the process of Moroccan filmmaking. The following are some the excerpts from our discussion.

What kind of cinema projects do you most like to work on?

I always work on social themes, for example, the condition of women in Morocco; it has always been my principle preoccupation. At first my specialty was political subjects. The film I last made was on the “dark years” of Morocco, when we had lots of incarceration... And now the third subject that principally interests me is history – the history of Morocco... In order to make a step forward, we need to go backwards into our history.

How can film help to build the future in Morocco?

An example, in 1998 I made a film called “ femmes.” The subject of the film was the battered woman. Before 1998, this subject was taboo. No one talked about this subject. Once the film was out, it became a national subject. Everyone talked about it, all the media talked about it, to the point that the Minister of Women and the Family organized a national campaign on violence against women and used this film, “ femmes,” to support the national campaign. Surely art can in this way contribute to changing society.

The film I’m shooting right now is one with a social theme, entitled “Le monde d’emploi.” It’s about a guy looking for a job – its subject is unemployment. About 150,000 Moroccans with diplomas are without jobs.

How do you find funding for your films?

When it comes to money, it’s the government who finances films – 40-50% of the total budget. And the rest – in my case, sometimes I take risks for love of my art. The last film I made – a historical drama – had a lot of expenses for the decor, costumes, etc., which I had to fund partly. I owed a lot of money to the bank and had to offer my own house as collateral.

Do you ever have any foreign investment in your films?

Very little. I prefer not to use foreign investment because I want to guard my freedom. If I take their money, they will make impositions on the making of the film.

Would they make you change the script?

Yes, that’s possible.

And you feel free when you work with government funding because the government doesn’t impose any limitations?

It doesn’t impose anything.

How do you see Moroccan film as having changed since you began working in it?

There has been a great difference since the 1980s, when I started working, in the mastering of technical aspects, artistry, direction of the actor, in diversity of subjects and themes. Really, each cineaste has his own way of working, his own choice of subject, and this is good for the improvement of Moroccan cinema.

Do you think Moroccan films are dealing with Moroccan subjects more?

It gives much attention to local concerns, but it always has a leaning toward the universal. I apologize for giving you just examples from my films, but “ femmes” had a good reception outside Morocco. Which means it doesn’t only tackle local issues, but international ones.

The films have a local context, but a universal meaning. So how did you train to be a cinema auteur? By just working in films?

First, I’m a social observer. I try to observe how society is evolving, developing. Each time a social issue is dominant in society, I start thinking about that deeply, and then I start writing about it. The period of research can last from one to two years, it generally takes a year to write the script, and another year of preparation for shooting and editing. In general, I make a film every three to four years.

Did you go to a film school?

I found myself through the theory of cinematography. At first, I was a moderator for a cinema club. There was a kind of national movement which existed in Morocco in the 1970s, the Federation Nationale de Cine Club du Maroc. Then I became a critic of films. I wrote texts about film. If I am a film director now, it is not because of academic studies, but because of theory and also reflection upon cinema. In Morocco, they call me “l’amoureur du cinema” – the lover of movies.

This interview appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 10, No. 49, 2004.

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