Award-Winning Film on Morocco is Released on DVD
The award-winning documentary, Morocco: The Past and Present of Djemma el Fna, about the story tellers, musicians, acrobats, and snake charmers of Marrakech’s legendary public square, has been released to universities, public libraries, and consumers in the DVD format. The short documentary features travelers from the United States, Japan, and Ireland, who encounter costumed monkeys dancing to wild drum beats, a storyteller surrounded by awed faces of children, and a turbaned snake charmer coaxing a cobra from his basket with his flute-like instrument, the ghaita.
Since its release in 1995, the documentary has been widely distributed in the United States; it has introduced Americans to one of Morocco’s most historic locales, a site that has enchanted visitors for centuries. New York-based producer Steven Montgomery spent two weeks filming at the Place Djemma el Fna, and portrayed Marrakech’s square as a venue for peaceful cultural exchange between Arabs and Westerners. His interview with snake charmer Belaid Farrouss and his children in their Marrakech home has become one of the most noted scenes of the documentary. The film features original music by Moroccan composer and singer, Hassan Hakmoun.
Recently, Montgomery was honored to receive congratulations on the success of his film from André Azoulay, Counselor to the King of Morocco. Mr. Azoulay stated: “I am very pleased to see that your documentary is now being used at universities and libraries in 34 states. It is a real achievement and you can be proud of it. It is also a major breakthrough for Morocco in terms of knowledge and pedagogy in American universities and in the community of students.”
Initially, when Montgomery proposed his project, he encountered resistance from wealthy potential investors in Marrakech, one of whom protested, “You will not make this film! We do not want our city represented by this dirty place of the poor!” However, Montgomery was fortunate to have found encouragement and support from many Moroccans, including the former Director of the
Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM), Souheil Ben Barka, who stated in a letter: “I wish you much success in the making of your film. I am convinced that your documentary on the Place Djemma el Fna will bring wonderful publicity to our country.”
Morocco: The Past and Present of Djemma el Fna, was first presented at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and has received film festival awards in Chicago, Washington D.C., Houston, and Atlanta. It has become one of the most widely distributed films for use in the field of Middle East Studies, and has been acquired by such noted institutions as Harvard University, Columbia University, Duke University, and Georgetown University.
Montgomery commented on his experience in Morocco. “Moroccan people were so kind and generous to me as I was working on the documentary. Moroccan hospitality is a central theme of my film in which visitors from around the world visit the Place Djemma El Fna. I am pleased that through the wide distribution of my film, so many Americans have learned of this tradition of hospitality, which I experienced myself, as I was so warmly welcomed in the beautiful country of Morocco.”
Morocco: The Past and Present of Djemma el Fna is available for purchase at the Web site: www.moroccofilm.com
Morocco: The Past And Present of Djemma el Fna
Marrakech’s famous square has for decades stirred the imagination of Westerners. This documentary captures the color and romance that once led visitors such as Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, and later, hippies of the 1970s to marvel at its magic.
In the film, we reach the Place Djemma El Fna by horse and carriage, trotting at full speed through the narrow streets of the Medina. Inside the gates of the old city, we enter the magical square with its storytellers, acrobats, musicians, and snake charmers – a place where caravans from the Sahara once journeyed for trade and entertainment. Our Moroccan guide introduces us to performers he has known since boyhood: a man who drinks boiling water for amazed crowds, costumed monkeys dancing to wild drum beats, a blue-robed man from the Sahara selling natural medicines from the desert, and snake charmer Belaid Farrouss, whose cobra rises from the pavement and dances in a “hypnotic state.” We meet a mysterious, veiled Moroccan woman who speaks to us in English with a Brooklyn accent and decries the effect tourists have on young Moroccans.
From early morning, when Moroccan children arrive for storytelling, to evening when foreigners feast on spicy chicken and soups, we discover the square as an enduring symbol of Arab hospitality. Visitors enjoy their exchanges with people who at first appeared strange and exotic. In turn Moroccans show their interest in foreigners and the world beyond Morocco which they represent.
Produced and Directed by Steven Montgomery Music by Hassan Hakmoun
“This candid, timeless video documentary presents Marrakech’s famous square as a meeting ground for history and cultures… [it] enriches the viewer’s understanding of public places in general ... the film has proven an excellent classroom resource.” -- Saudi Aramco World, 2005
“A fresh and original perspective on one of Morocco’s most ‘exotic’ tourist spots. The music by Marrakech-born Hassan Hakmoun and others blends superbly with the visuals, and the hand-held camera increases the viewer’s sense of intimacy. The film blends the tourist’s ‘gaze’ with that of Moroccans earning their livelihood in the plaza ... By allowing tourists to speak about what they see and English-speaking Moroccans to talk about what they see elsewhere, Montgomery avoids the clichés of travel videos and ethnographic films of an earlier era.” --Dale F. Eickelman, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 1998
Royal Air Maroc
Banque Marocaine pour le Commerce et l’Industrie
New York Foundation for the Arts
Price Waterhouse Morocco
Elkhalil M. Bine Bine
Contact: Steven Montgomery, 400 W. 43rd St., #34A, New York, NY 10036
Tel.: 212-736-9279. Cell: 646-267-9113; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org