Philadelphia- Tarik Mounim is the founder of Save Cinemas in Morocco, an organization dedicated to preserving traditional theaters to promote public cinema in Morocco.
Tarik Mounim first learned of the derelict state of Moroccan cinemas when he returned to his home country from Paris in 2006 for a role in the film Goodbye Mothers, which included scenes shot in an old theater in Tetouan.
“When I saw how amazing the cinema was, and how run down it had become, I met with the theater owner to ask what had happened. He explained to me that as less and less people were visiting cinemas, many were in disrepair or closed,” Tarik says. Other cinema buildings were purchased and repurposed for other businesses.
Internet piracy and the rise of movie multiplexes have each played a role in the decline of traditional cinemas in Morocco. “Now you can buy a pirated movie on any street corner in Casablanca for 4 or 6 dirham,” Tarik explains. “It kills creation, it kills culture, it kills cinema.”
The Moroccan Cinematographic Center, in charge of funding and regulating film projects and institutions, put money into producing movies while neglecting to restore old cinemas; instead, they built multiplexes, and stopped sending new releases to the old theaters. At 60 dirham per ticket, the multiplexes are unaffordable for many Moroccans.
The young actor knew that to lose the historic cinemas would mean a loss of vital cultural venues for Moroccans. “It is the only place for people to share the experience of watching a movie,” Tarik says. “If you watch a movie on a big screen, you are in the movie. Cinema is a mirror to society, a way to understand society and to broach formerly taboo topics.”
Mounim founded Save Cinemas in Morocco in 2007 to raise awareness and funds for the preservation and promotion of traditional movie theaters. Without funding or publicity, the organizers began by selling t-shirts at an international film festival in Marrakech to make money and garner media attention, and by sharing stories and pictures of the cinemas on social media.
From the beginning, SCIM received enthusiastic support from students and young professionals. “We made an active campaign to mobilize people and convince the authorities that they should not destroy the theaters. Some investors were interested in buying the cinemas to make supermarkets, so we got in front of this, and the more we communicated about the story of the cinemas, the more people joined our cause.”
Eventually, more than twenty old cinemas were declared historic landmarks thanks to the efforts of Save Cinemas in Morocco.
SCIM recently developed an exhibition with English artists for the Biennale heritage month to push authorities to buy a theater for renovation that could then be made more accessible with lower ticket prices.
Tarik hopes that restoring old cinemas will pique interest in subsidizing theater tickets to encourage public engagement with art. He sees the buildings as the symbolic heart of visual art. “Cinemas are temples of culture,” he says. “Making cinema affordable will encourage people to share movies, their culture and their hearts.”
Without major donors or public funds, Save Cinemas in Morocco has managed to gain the support of the Minister of Communications for the preservation of cinemas as historic monuments. Now, SCIM is looking for funding for their newest project. “We want to put cinemas where there are none – El Jadida, Ouazazate, Essaouira, Agadir, and many other cities,” Mounim says.
Tarik, who is also the director of development at Sandman Productions, says that starting an NGO in Morocco can be challenging. “It is difficult to find funding, and there is little existing structure.” However, he advises aspiring organizers to learn by doing. “It is the best school,” he says. “When you work for someone else, you have to sacrifice your passion; when you work for yourself, you are surrounded by people who believe in your project.”
The SCIM founder sees broader significance in preserving traditional cinema. “The language of cinema is the language of dialogue between people; it is about peace and understanding – an international language. A country where there is no cinema is missing something.”
“We will not save all the cinemas, but we know one thing: there is less and less space in our cities for cultural events. For us, it is vital to explain to the authorities that there is a demand for this kind of place, for people to have a place where they can express their creativity, especially young people,” Mounim says.
“The more people who join us, the more we will change the mentality of authorities and engage them in issues of cultural politics in Morocco. We are happy to organize partnerships with artists or anyone who is interested in supporting our efforts, and we invite them to join us.”
This article is part of a series on young artists, creators and organizers pursuing unconventional paths. Read about Off-the-Wall Pilgrimage, the first Palestinian-Israeli arts festival in Paris, and an interview with rapper Soultana.
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