Film series takes viewers on a musical journey through Morocco

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Veteran Moroccan filmmaker Izza Genini presents three of her 1980s documentaries on Moroccan musical traditions in one of the final days of the Docu.Arts Festival in Berlin — Originally published in Ahram Online.
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Standing as a testament to the memory and vitality of Morccan folkloric music, Izza Genini’s project Maroc Corps et Âme (Morocco Body and Soul) includes ten short documentary films, each focusing on a different region and musical tradition of the North African kingdom.

Three of the films from this project, produced between 1987 and 1992, were shown at the Docu.Arts Festival in Berlin last weekend. As part of the program, Genini was invited to the German capital to meet the audience and introduce the films that began her long career in documentary filmmaking.

Starting the discussion with an overview of Moroccan musical traditions, Genini invites the audience to see Rythmes de Marrakech, which was filmed during the Achoura Festival, an annual celebration in southern Morocco.

In this film, Marrakech is filled with music, from women singing, dancing and drumming in their homes, to shopkeepers in the old market of Jamaa El-Fna, leaving their shops to follow groups of musicians through the allies of the old city.

The second film in the series, Louanges, follows the eight-day pilgrimage to Moulay Idriss, a sacred site in the country, during which people spend their days listening to religious sermons and chanting in attempt to achieve a state of trance that will bring them closer to God.

Louanges shows men and women dancing side-by-side to achieve this state of trance, an uncommon practice in most other Arab states. During the trances “there is no frontier between men and women,” Genini commented. “When someone is going in a trance you must never stop,” she added, explaining that men and women actually help each other in seeking this trance state.

The final film shown, and perhaps the most extraordinary of the series, was Aita. This film portrayed female “cheikat” groups, musical groups who sing, dance and cry out, turning their cries and sways into a moving song.

The film shows performances of the cheikat, but it also their group lunches and behind the scenes moments. This is the only one of the three films in which the musicans speak directly to Genini, which shows her unique relationship with these women.

“I was very facinated by this woman Fatna Bent El Hocine,” Genini said. Rightfully so — Bent El Hocine and her company Oulad Aguida’s songs trancend personal limits by using stories rooted in Moroccan folklore. The result is gripping and beautiful.

Originally a distributor and producer of feature films, Genini found herself making documentaries as a way to explore her Moroccan past.

“My personal way crossed my professional way in these projects,” she said.

Born in 1948 and part of a generation that often feels disconnected from Moroccan culture and history, Genini lived and studied in France for more than a decade. Upon her return to Morocco, she began to reconnect with Moroccan culture through films and music.

“In this reintegration and re-identification to my culture the people took my hand. Most of the musicians in the films, I spent moments with them without knowing that I would make a film with them,” she said. “It was really something I received and wanted to share the process.”

“I had no idea it would be a work for memory, it’s just my emotion and feelings that drove me to make this work,” she added. “Everything I have done was by instinct. Through these songs and rythyms I found my own memories and learned about my background. Nothing was intentional. For me it was natural I was showing something i was experiencing myself,” she explained.

Genini did not stop at the ten films included in Morocco Body and Soul. She spent the rest of her career making documentary films about the rediscovery of her Moroccan heritage. In one of these films, Malhoune, which was screened all over the world, she portrayed the personal story of her families’ Moroccan Jewish heritage.

Morocco’s rich cultural heritage is beautifully represented in Genini’s documentary project Morocco Body and Soul and throughout her many documentaries.

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