By Karima Rhanem
By Karima Rhanem
Morocco World News
Rabat, June 26, 2013
French Moroccan film maker Kamal Hachkar has been raised among Muslim and Jewish communities who peacefully coexisted together for thousands of years in Morocco. In his home town Tinghir, the only memory that stayed of the Jews is empty houses and tombstones. He went to Israel in quest for the old generation of Moroccan Jews to understand the causes behind their “exile”. His film was accused of normalization with Israel; the film maker was also accused of being a traitor, and even worse a Mossad Agent. Despite this controversy, his film was awarded by the Tangiers National Film Festival; an award he’s deeply proud of. His film stirred important debate about Jewish-Muslim dialogue in Morocco. Kamal Hachkar hopes that Morocco’s intercultural heritage and diversity will be taught in Moroccan schools to educate kids tolerance, peace and intercultural coexistence; principles that Morocco enjoyed for thousands of years.
Interviewed by Karima Rhanem
MWN: Your movie sparked a lot of controversy among Moroccan civil society and political parties, which even resulted in boycotts. Were you expecting such a boycott even if Morocco has thousands of years of Jewish history?
Kamal Hachkar: I didn’t expect this controversy. Sometimes you don’t foresee what will happen after the film making. My Goal was to make a film that examines the causes of the Moroccan Jews who left Morocco to the “Promised Land”. It is insane to delete 3000 years of history. This has not impacted me. On the contrary, it intrigued people’s curiosity to watch the film and 90% liked it. So, they haven’t managed to impose their views. This gave me more strength to continue in the same path and fight against all ideologies that censor artistic creativity.
MWN: What do you think the basis for accusing your film of normalization with Israel? And do you think there is a common understanding of what normalization means?
KM: I can’t see how a film could normalize relations with a state. It is not the objective of a piece of art. I believe that those who stood against it don’t really understand what arts mean. These people ignore a historical fact that Israel exists for 60 years and we cannot delete it all of a sudden by a magic spell. However, we need to continue fighting for and defending the rights of Palestinians to have their own state but in a pacific way. My film talks about a part of Morocco’s history and as you know part of our Moroccan citizens live now in Israel and this is a fact that we cannot deny. One should not also forget that 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs (Christians, Muslims, Druze..).
MWN: But some people said you defended more Israelis in your speeches and statements than the Palestinians. What can you tell us about that?
KM: This is not my vision. I am fighting against extremists of both sides. I have no issue with denouncing either the Jewish settlements by extremists in Israel or the politics of Hamas in Gaza. I don’t think in terms of tribes and clans. I hail Israeli citizens who denounce the politics of occupation and the wall that I also denounce. In the meantime, I share all my solidarity with pacific Palestinians who call for justice and the right to live in a sovereign state in full dignity. Unfortunately, we don’t hear those NGOs – who defend the Palestinian cause in Morocco – denouncing massacres perpetrated by other ‘extremist’ Muslims on their own Muslim bothers. I believe that Morocco can play a key role in the peace dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis as did the late King Hassan II.
MWN: Moroccans Muslims and Jews throughout history have lived in peace without major issues? What happened that changed the Moroccans perceptions today about the Jews?
KM: The Arab Israeli conflict had a negative impact on the perception of Jews. Some obscurantist groups have been monopolizing the Palestinian question for many years and they make a business out of it. They need to hate to feel they exist. I think that my film allowed others to see to what extent we look like each other and have a sense of belonging to the same people and culture of Morocco. Moroccan Jews have a deep attachment to the land and culture of Morocco and are very patriotic. Responsibility lies in education and we need a serious look back at our historical manuals.
MWN: In a democracy, people have the right to support, protest or boycott. In Morocco, regardless of the calls for boycott, your film was not banned, you won a festival award, and the film was screened in 2M TV. Do you think if you were in another Middle Eastern country, things would be different?
KM: Of course, I have always respected others’ right to criticize my film but they cannot ask me to censure it because it is a direct attack on artistic creativity freedom and democracy. Tinghir Jerusalem was broadcast last year in Morocco’s second channel 2M in prime time with an incredible audience. Program director, Réda Benjelloun has immediately supported the film and so 2M during the whole period of controversy. Of course, it will be difficult to present my film in another Middle Eastern country due to the rise of ‘Islamists’ into power, who may prevent the film screening.
MWN: We have seen in the news that several people who criticized your film and called for boycotts have never seen it. What do you think?
KM: Yes, it is ridiculous to call for boycotting a film that you have never seen. I call on them to first watch the film and then debate it in full respect. The ‘Islamist’ press has accused me of being a traitor, and even a Mossad agent. It’s a total defamation. I found it really outrageous that the Minister of Communication boycotted the Tangier National Film Festival due to the presence of my film. Fortunately, the Moroccan Cinematographic Center thanks to the leadership of his head Nourredine Sail, who has always defended freedom of creation, screened the film. What is important for me is all the support and messages I have received and I am very proud of my diverse Morocco.
MWN: You won an award in the Tangiers Film Festival. Do you regard it as recognition of the cultural heritage the film is trying to transmit, and a message to all « conservative » minds trying to influence the freedom of expression and arts creativity?
KM: My film has won different awards but the award that is close to my heart and which I am very proud of is the one I got in Morocco. It is the recognition of Moroccan cinema of my work and a slap in the face to all closed minds. Through my film several people have discovered this history for the first time and I hope that our history of diversity and pluralism will be taught in Moroccan schools.
MWN: Could you explain to us the choice of your native town Tinghir, given the fact that Moroccan Jews who immigrated to Israel, lived in different parts of Morocco?
KM: I was born in Tinghir. I left my native village at the age of 6 months to France but I kept a strong link with Tinghir. I spent most of my summers there. My grandfather Baha, may God bless his soul, told me lots of stories about the Jews who lived in our neighborhood and I really wanted to capture this important part of our history through the film. So I traveled to Israel to find the Jews of my city. I wanted to tell their story before the old generation of Moroccan Jews disappears.
It is a universal story of identities who travel. My film talks about exile and a sense of belonging to the land. I tell a story of a loss and absence. I tell the story of gaps in this history through my personal views as French Moroccan, proud of my identities.
MWN: You have screened the film in France, Morocco and Israel. How was it received in those different countries?
KM: The film was screened in the USA, Canada, Belgium, Italy and soon in Spain and Germany. I had a warm welcome and the cinemas were full. The film is scheduled to be screened nationwide in France as well. And I have just learnt that my film was selected at the Boston Film Festival. All that is the fruit of 4 years of hard and challenging work. I have the chance to work with my wonderful post-production editor Yael Bitton and my operating chief Philippe Bellaïche.
MWN: Are you planning to screen it in Tinghir?
KM: Not yet, but young people in Tinghir are impatiently awaiting the projection of the film. I hope to see the film screened in the grand place of Tinghir in front of the post. I am very proud of the youth in Tinghir; they have little or no means but do a lot of efforts to promote culture. They have always been on my side during the controversy. Tinghir is an old city that has been marginalized. We hope to see more cinemas there, as well as public spaces for artistic creativity, dialogue and exchange.
MWN: Today, there is not a single Jew living in Tinghir, the only memory that stayed in the city is empty houses and tombstones in the Jewish cemetery. Do you think it should be preserved as part of Morocco’s cultural heritage?
KM: We begin to be aware of the importance of preserving this heritage and it is crucial to develop cultural tourism. Recently, under the patronage of the King, Ben Danan synagogue in Fez was inaugurated after being renovated. Figures like my friend Jacques Tolédano made a remarkable job in preserving this heritage. Imagine if we taught this history in schools, we could have organized field trip for students to visit and learnt about it. I believe that this could be an important source for economic development for Morocco.
I would also like to pay tribute to the Atlantic Andalusian Festival founded by the King’s Advisor Andrey Azoulay. During that festival, we enjoy listening to the entire Jewish musical heritage.
MWN: What is your dream Kamal?
KM: My dream is to present my film in all Moroccan schools as I did in French Cultural Institutes in Morocco. Tinghir Jérusalem was chosen as a study material for future civic education modules in Arabic and French. For this I thank Hassan II foundation and in particular Dr. Zahi, as well as the foundation of the three cultures and its president Elvira Saint Girons for the promotion of my film in Morocco.
MWN: So you think the debate on your film in Morocco was healthy in the sense that it brought back to the limelight the issues of interfaith/intercultural dialogue and tolerance?
KM: Absolutely, everything that could contribute to a better understanding of our history is positive. We need to reconnect the new generation with our diverse history. It’s the best vaccination against populist discourses and hate speech. During the debates on my film, I sensed this desire for dialogue. I traveled more than 10,000 km all across Morocco thanks to the French Cultural Institute to discuss my film. I met many young people who told me these Jewish women in your film look like my grandmother.
I think that Moroccans are intelligent enough to make the difference between state acts and those of the people.
MWN: What are your future plans? Will there be Tinghir-Jerusalem part II?
KM: I have several projects and I am preparing a second part which will mainly focus on the new generation of Moroccan Jews. The film will focus on a profile of an Israeli (Neta Elkayam), proud of her Moroccan roots who hopes to meet and work with Moroccan artists. It will be a journey around our shared music. But it is always difficult to produce a film given the current financial environment. Yet, I will always continue to fight for coexistence and mutual understanding between Moroccan Jews and Muslims. My film is a sign of Love to my country’s history and a respect to its diversity.
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