The Moroccan director and screenwriter Azlarabe Alaoui Lamharzi has emerged as one of the few Arab filmmakers whose careers combine academia and practice.
A longtime director of feature films and documentaries, Alaoui now heads the Sijilmassa Centre for Audiovisual Studies and Research, in the far south of Morocco. He is also a professor at a number of Moroccan universities and institutes, where he shares his experiences with students.
The new generation of aspiring filmmakers in Morocco feels a great passion for cinema and audiovisual arts, Alaoui said in an interview with Al-Fanar Media.
“I notice their great demand to study cinema, as one of the important academic disciplines, just like other university majors,” he said.
Passion alone, however, is not enough, he said.
“Knowledge, perceptions, and interests must be diversified. A cinematographer, especially a director and a screenwriter, must wear, at the same time, the mantle of a writer, philosopher, sociologist, psychologist, and anthropologist,” he said. “That’s to provide a rich visual discourse and a distinctive cinematic culture close to the community.”
A Personal Journey
Alaoui’s own cinematic journey started in high school, when he and some classmates produced his first short film, “Save Me”, in 1985.
He studied film direction in Canada, and in 2000, he obtained a Ph.D. in visual cinematic discourse, in Morocco.
“A cinematographer, especially a director and a screenwriter, must wear, at the same time, the mantle of a writer, philosopher, sociologist, psychologist, and anthropologist.”Azlarabe Alaoui
Alaoui has directed many feature and documentary films, starting with his 2004 short film “Bidouza”. His latest feature film “Kilikis, the Town of Owls” (2018), has won several Arab and international awards, including the Best Director Award at the 11th edition of the Oran International Arab Film Festival. His film “Androman: Of Blood and Coal” (2012) won 23 awards.
This year, four of Alaoui’s documentary films, produced by Al Jazeera Documentary, won Platinum Awards for being among the channel’s best and most popular films. The films are “Mehdi Al-Manjra: The Man Who Forewarned About the Pains of War”, “The New Invasion”, “Rug Ladies”, and “Mowgli, in the Atlas Mountains”.
In the interview with Al-Fanar Media, Alaoui discussed some of his projects that aim to spread cinematic culture, and his assessment of cinematic education at Morocco’s universities.
Alaoui’s Sijilmassa Centre for Audiovisual Studies and Research recently entered a partnership with Mohammed V University in Rabat to improve audiovisual and cinema training at Morocco’s universities. The programme’s approach combines “academic knowledge acquisition and technical training and applied employment, by creating cooperation with study centres in order to develop this field’s scientific and academic research,” he said.
The partnership also aims to “create comprehensive libraries specialized in Moroccan cinematic research and studies, encourage book translation into Arabic, contribute to revitalizing the local cultural and intellectual movement, and raise the level of national festivals,” said Alaoui.
The integration of audiovisual arts and cinema studies as a discipline in Morocco’s public universities and higher institutes is still in its infancy, he said. “It is relatively recent and is still searching for a place within Moroccan universities, as an academic discipline that combines theoretical research and technical studies.”
He added: “So, we must exert more effort and support, both by the Ministry of Higher Education and by audiovisual professors and experts, to create an integrated, independent academic training, or even an integrated college by itself, that might combine several cinema-related interests, including literature, philosophy, and sociology. This would allow students to build knowledge and technology, give them the ability, after graduation, to make films closer to their community, according to visions and approaches that combine creativity, science, and talent.”
“A new generation of graduates, who were trained at university and who combine scientific theory and real talent, will undoubtedly advance Morocco’s film industry, and stir the artistic, intellectual and cultural scene.”Azlarabe Alaoui
The New Generation
Alaoui believes that university cinema majors will play a major role in revitalizing the artistic and cultural movement and advance the film industry in Morocco.
“A new generation of graduates, who were trained at university and who combine scientific theory and real talent, will undoubtedly advance Morocco’s film industry, and stir the artistic, intellectual and cultural scene,” he said.
“Graduating technicians, who combine good academic training in sound and image engineering, along with their gradual acquisition of expertise that entitles them to intensive training in photography and post-production studios, will enrich the film industry and provide it with Moroccan technicians.”
Alaoui also highlights the importance of giving screenwriting more space. “This could give us talented writers with enough knowledge in drama, and would create a quantitative accumulation,” he said. “Over time, all this will result in quality works that will revitalize the Moroccan cultural scene.”
Adding to Film Literature
Alaoui has published two books: “The Critical Approach to Visual Discourse in Morocco” (2007) and “A Guide to the Documentary Film Industry” (2020).
“There is a great shortage in Morocco’s academic libraries of scholarship on the audiovisual arts industry and cinema, and of the translation of books into Arabic,” he said.
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“This prompted me to think of writing a series of educational books specialized in this field,” he added. His goal is “to share my experience with Moroccan students and interested readers from Arab countries, in terms of knowledge, or based on the professional experience I accumulated over the years of my work in cinema and documentary films directing.”
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