N-ES: Any new projects?
AB: Unfortunately, all Moroccan filmmakers live only in “projects.” Nothing more. It is the common curse of our generation. This year I am finishing a short color film on Sidi Ahmed Ou Moussa, which allows me to reconnect with the “mythical reality” of the past. As I study the tenth century of the Hijri calendar (sixteenth century of the Christian era)—the time of the Portuguese occupation and of the great poet Sidi Abderrahmane Al Majdoub—I find strange affinities with the reality we are currently living through. To reconsider the past is to understand the present in order to master it and find the adequate weapons for our defense and our survival. There is no better project for a filmmaker than to contribute with his modest means to the radical and systematic transformation of his society, with a view to building a world that is not traumatizing.
N-ES: Why did you delay shooting your feature film [Mirage]?
AB: Thirty or forty million [dirhams] is not easy to come by. Whereas everywhere else films require hundreds of millions, if not billions, here in Morocco, at the beginning, we make do with small budgets. But these budgets, however small, are not easy to find. For a long time, I was hoping for a private producer. That was a big mistake. People who have money power don’t give a damn about promoting any kind of national cinema; what they want is to make even more money, and at a lower cost. They even try to discourage all attempts by making people believe that a film cannot be profitable without a headliner, for instance—another stupid myth we don’t need. I looked at the other possibilities. Repeating the Wechma experience?13 It seems impossible for me to push my colleagues into that kind of ordeal again. They were too disappointed and discouraged. After all, they had sacrificed everything for that first film. I don’t have the right to ask them to make the same sacrifices again. So, what’s left?
The CCM,14 with its new policy, has helped the last two national productions enormously. They are willing to fund my project without any restrictions, while the private sector—if they had deigned to take an interest in the film—would have undoubtedly imposed a lot of nonsense on me in the name of profitability and commerce. With the CCM, I risk none of that. I should add that if I took my sweet time shooting my first feature, it is also because I was not ready. Making a feature film is not the be-all and end-all; it is as important to express yourself in a short film as in a one-and-a-half-hour movie. It would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it, to say that a novelist is more important than a short story writer. Of course, with our short films we have no chance of reaching the general public. So far only the FNCCM has largely helped make our productions known through its network and has, by the same token, supported us enormously. As for commercial theaters, no law requires them to show Moroccan short films. The audience is much more used to seeing documentaries about Florida. So, with feature films we will have to face the general public—assuming that our productions are given access to theaters in the same way as foreign films. This issue of distribution is not yet fully settled. It took me almost two years to finalize my script. I first wrote it like a novel. After a few months, I ended up with a voluminous manuscript of over two hundred pages. A vast epic. Bringing such a novel to the screen was out of the question. I neither have the capacity nor the financial means for it. So, I limited myself to a less ambitious subject. Now I am struggling with issues of a different nature. I have not definitively solved some problems with the dialogues; I have not yet chosen the leading actor. Our so-called professional actors have few opportunities to improve themselves and develop their talent. When they are given work, on television and on theater stages in particular, they are always left to their own devices; they work in haphazard ways. For certain roles, I am thinking of taking nonprofessionals.
N-ES: Do you take the audience into account in your work as a director? To what extent?
AB: Too much is said about the audience. People think too much in the audience’s place. The distributors and exhibitors pride themselves on knowing the audience. They invariably describe it as a bunch of idiots who are incapable of appreciating a good film. These same people forget—or pretend they don’t know—that they alone are responsible for the nonsense that floods the national market. Will they let the audience choose for itself? Certainly not. As far as I know, no audience has ever demonstrated in the streets to demand King Kong movies and, before that, Italian westerns and Macistes. Very often I read in the newspapers that such and such a theater, “by popular demand,” has decided to show such and such a film. How on earth was this demand made? By referendum? By mail? They are keeping the audience in a state of fascination. People are no longer going to the movies to let off steam; they’re going to the movies to be repressed. I have heard it said more than once that the public is the only judge, etc. Sounds nice. What a beautiful democratic rule. But does the public have the necessary weapons to be able to judge? Has it not, on the contrary, been deprived of them? Haven’t they dulled its capacity for judgment and clear-sightedness to the point of preventing it from reacting in a healthy way against harmful programming policies? So, what attitude should we adopt? I say: film or theater creators, artists who respect themselves, must never try to please the audience, to please it by exploiting the weaknesses that were inculcated to it. On the contrary, they must denounce them. We must be sincere with the public; that is the best proof of respect. In any case, whatever the degree of mystification it has been confined in, the Moroccan public will not get it wrong when it is eventually allowed to watch Moroccan films.
N-ES: Do you have projects other than the feature film that you will start in the coming weeks?
AB: Sure. Among others, an adaptation of [The Siege of] Numantia by [Miguel de] Cervantes. But what good are projects, new projects, when we always have to conquer our own national market? If we have to go through the same channels every time to get any old project done, and if we have to fight every time to get access to Moroccan theaters, it will be hell. We must manage to impose a common agenda with three main laws, namely: a national fund for film production, exploitation and distribution quotas, and a tax exemption for national productions. Some ill-intentioned spirits keep raising the problem of tax exemption for films without specifying their nationality. Next, they’ll demand a tax exemption for Hong Kong movies! Lastly, I wanted to point out that a producers’ guild was just officially created. I am sure that they will be good interlocutors. As for me, I do not claim, as some do, to save Moroccan cinema by making a feature film, nor do I claim to make a masterpiece. Only fools make such pompous claims. I actually proclaim my right to make bad movies, and this is not a joke. My only ambition—the ambition of all Moroccan filmmakers—is for the audience to get used to watching themselves on the screen, to see their own problems being addressed and thus to be able to judge the society in which they live. The screen must no longer be the privileged mirror of foreign realities.