Yto Barrada, photographer and filmmaker: “My look at a changing Morocco”
You are famous as a photographer as well as for other things. What else do you do?
I am also a sculptor and filmmaker. I showed a film at the Venice Biennial, at the Arsenale, which was chosen by Bice Curiger as part of the ILLUMInations section. It’s a collection of sixteen family stories. Actually, it’s about my family, which is a large Moroccan family. It is the story of the Socialist party. My family has been on the left, and my film is called “Hand-Me Downs.” It will be shown in October in New York at the Museum of Modern Art.
In addition to being a photographer and filmmaker, you’ve created the Cinémathèque de Tanger.
Yes. We started ten years ago by bringing a beautiful building from 1938 back to life. Nobody wanted it. It was the old Cinema Rif. In that period, movie theatres in Tangier were closing left and right. The cinema was in the main square of the city, which is called Grand Socco. The name of this square is also in the title of a famous book by Joseph Kessel. It is the square where the word “independence” was pronounced for the first time by Sultan Mohammed V in 1947. We were occupied by the French and the Spanish at that time. Tangier was an international city, governed by nine powers. This was a long period that lasted from the 1920s until 1956.
Why did you create this film archive and cinema?
Because in Tangier everyone is nostalgic for this period they never knew – a period that I myself didn’t know. Here people like my grandmother, her maid, an intellectual, and a horse trainer can all come together.
What are your plans?
Morocco produces fifteen films per year, and there are big international production companies that come to shoot their films here. But in this country, the history of cinema was lacking. Children had never seen Pasolini or Fellini. Of course there were cinema clubs and film aficionados even back in the 1960s and 1970s. But it’s different now. We want to educate people, but in a pleasurable way, showing films that range from Dreyer to musical comedies. We have saved and restored many films.
Do you plan festivals as well?
The film library is like a festival that has lasted three hundred and sixty-five days a year for the last five years, with about twenty-five films shown per month.
Are you doing all of this alone?
Not alone. We are a team, a non-profit association. This project has also been made possible because of the interest that there is right now in Arab countries.
Is Morocco different from other Arab countries?
Every country has its history, but the principle is the same. Everyone is asking for the same thing. We have been independent for fifty years, and we all want social justice, less corruption, and most of all, education. In Morocco, sixty per cent of people are illiterate. This is the most important plague we need to work on in the coming years. The reform of the constitution is only the beginning of this process.
What about the Muslims?
The Muslims are the true protestors. We need to work quickly to help democratic people who show goodwill and who need to be accompanied along their path. The religious types are very strong so there’s an urgency.
And the King?
He has less power today than before. He needs to take things all the way in order to satisfy the “Spring” movement.
What do you think will happen in Morocco in the near future?
People continue to ask for changes to happen quickly. There are some important proposals. Until recently, in Tangier, all people talked about was football. About Barcelona against Real Madrid. Now politics is back in the largest sense of the word. Even television has taken on its responsibilities, and we are seeing interesting debates. And all of this is much better than the status quo we’d got used to.
A bit like what happened in Tunisia and Egypt?
People have the same questions. We are isolated.
And how about your work as a photographer?
A show of mine just ended at the Guggenheim in Berlin. And it will now go to the Wiels Museum in Brussels in September and then England. It’s expected to tour for more than a year.
In Arles, you organised a charity sale of forty-nine photographs of Tangier that had been donated by artists and collectors. This was to finance your budget. How did the sale go?
Well. It was all very joyous and generous, and we received enough money to start the year, considering that there are no longer public funds like the film libraries in Rome, Bologna, or Paris receive. We are about to publish a book that tells about our five years of activity. It will come out in September in Barcelona in five languages. It’s being published by La Virreina Museum.
17th July, 2011.