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Film, Theatre and Television

Atlas Studios, Ouarzazate
Atlas Studios, Ouarzazate

There is a long tradition of street theatre in Morocco. In the halka (literally ‘circle’) several performers gather around a narrator and act out the story. Venues such as the Jamaa al-Fnaa in Marrakesh attract large crowds. Many of these halka performances have a comic intent, often to make a social or political point.

During the colonial period, dramatic groups from Egypt visited Morocco, and there were theatre productions for the European community. One of the most famous colonial theatres was the Gran Teatro Cervantes in Tangier, built in 1913 with a splendid art-deco facade. It is now unused and dilapidated, although there is a Spanish government project to restore it. It was not until after independence that formal theatre was popularized, first by the radio and then on stage. In 1962, the first theatre, the Théâtre National Mohammed V, was opened in Rabat. In the 1980s, university theatrical groups developed, and the Institut Supérieur d’Art Dramatique et de l’Animation Culturelle (ISADAC) was founded in Rabat. The Théâtre National Mohammed V is now a venue not only for theatre but also for opera, ballet, and musical performances.

There is an annual Berber theatre in Casablanca in May, which includes mime, masks, and puppetry, as well as formal theatrical performances. The annual Marrakesh Popular Arts Festival (Festival National des Arts Populaires) in June or July, includes entertainers and artists from Morocco and abroad including singers, snake charmers, dancers, acrobats, and musicians, as well as formal theatre performances.

Modern Moroccan drama, like other Moroccan literature, is written in both Arabic and French. Tayeb Seddiki writes in both languages and was a major force in founding radical theatre groups. Ahmed al-Tayyeb Aldj not only writes in Arabic himself but has translated Molière, Shakespeare, and Brecht into Moroccan Arabic.

Félix Mesguich has been credited with bringing the movie camera to Morocco in 1907. Mesguich, who was born in Algeria and served as a French colonial soldier, was an early collaborator with the brothers Lumière, who toured the world with their Cinématographe between 1906 and 1910. But it was not until 1919 that the first feature film was made in Morocco. Several dozen more were made between the two world wars. After World War II, Morocco began to be seen as a venue for foreign film-producers: Orson Wells filmed parts of Othello (1952) in Morocco. The first authentically Moroccan film dates to the early 1950s, when Mohammed Ousfour began filming, making Moroccan versions of Robin Hood and Tarzan as shorts. He also made the first Moroccan feature film Le fils maudit in 1958. The Moroccan film industry grew slowly. The Dictionary of African Filmmakers identifies one or two films a year in the 1970s, but the industry grew rapidly in the 1980s, assisted by state funding through the Fonds d’Aide à la Production and the Fonds d’Aide à la Production, which were, by 2004, making grants totalling USD 4.4 million. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, a dozen or so feature films and a few additional short films were being produced each year by producers such as Mostafa Derkaoui and Abdallah Mesbahi (Abdellah Masbahi). During this period, Ouarzazate became a centre of the Moroccan film industry, partly because foreign film-makers filmed there, for example, Martin Scorsese (Kundun), Ridley Scott (Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), and Tony Scott (Black Hawk Down).

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