Sofia Alaoui: “There is a total denial of the colonial past among French politicians” – Jeune Afrique

THE NEWS VIEWED BY. Every Saturday Jeune Afrique invites a personality to decipher a topical issue. Today, Franco-Moroccan director Sofia Alaoui talks about the French presidential election and shares her convictions about cultural emancipation and Berber identity.

Daughter of diplomat, director and screenwriter Sofia Alaoui, she grew up between Casablanca and Beijing. Inspired by the encounters she made during her travels around the world, she developed a taste for observation and storytelling. It is therefore very natural that he resorted to the seventh art. After graduating from high school at the Lyautey Institute in Casablanca, he studied film in Paris, before returning to Morocco to open Jiango Films, his own production company.

Released in 2016, his documentary The children of Nablus tells the story of a film workshop project in one of the largest refugee camps in the West Bank. Two years later, a kenza col, is filming a group of young people in a suburb of Val-de-Marne. But since then, Sofia Alaoui’s cinema has taken on a new, almost dreamlike dimension. Shot in a village in the Atlas, his latest short film, It doesn’t matter if the beasts die, is a fantastic fiction starring a shepherd who comes face to face with an extraterrestrial way of life. Written entirely in Berber, it won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020, then the Caesar for Best Fiction Short Film the following year.

The Franco-Moroccan director is currently working on a feature film. Between us, which should be published in late 2002. Young Africa he met her.

The rejection of identity in France is terrible, it is totally counterproductive

Jeune Afrique: As a Franco-Moroccan, what is your relationship with your two countries of origin?

Sofia Alaoui: I am lucky enough to find my source of inspiration and to write in Morocco. Also, the movies I make take place in this country. But as I claim an international dimension, I really work between the two countries, both through my kingdom-based production company and my collaboration with French partners.

So I go back and forth a lot. I am currently in Paris. Last week I was in Casablanca, and next week I will be back. This allows you to look at your country in a different way, taking a certain distance, better observing its flaws or qualities. This teaches me to appreciate France and Morocco better.

Will you vote in the French presidential election? What inspires you about the current French landscape?

I am involved in both countries. So, of course, I will vote in the presidential election. I am not surprised by the rise of the right and the far right, which are still very strong in France. But at the same time, I don’t understand much. My dual culture, my travels have led me to open up to others. It boosted my development. So this rejection of identity, I find terrible. It is totally counterproductive.

I have the feeling that in France there is all the weight of the colonial past. Some politicians are in total denial. However, this was not so long ago. I find this absolute refusal to dialogue violent. But I think it’s also a generational issue and it will finally come out. In Morocco, for example, people are moving further and further away from France. More and more things are being done with African countries. The weight of France is declining on the continent and this is creating a form of existential unrest in the western part.

The West has imposed its definition of Arab cinema on us

In 2018, you returned to Morocco to develop your own production company, Jiango Films. Did you encounter any obstacles?

To make films, we are still somehow tied to France. To find the money, we have to do co-productions with other countries that have a much stronger funding system. But meIt was very difficult to materialize my projects, to be in line with my conception of cinema. The only way to do this job was to do it independently. So I set up my own production company a few years ago. But for the past five years, great things have been happening in Morocco, the art scene is moving very fast.

Is Moroccan cinema ready to integrate new profiles, new themes, to experiment with new forms?

Absolutely. New avenues are explored, innovative projects are proposed. With other directors in the Arab world, I talk about Morocco’s relationship with the West. Before, we thought that cinema in our respective countries could only be social and realistic. But, in a way, it was the West that imposed this definition of Arab cinema on us.

We told ourselves that science fiction, for example, was not accessible, that we could only make political cinema. But in fact, we had to break with that image that Westerners want to have of our countries. There are other ways of making movies, other cinemas that exist, that are emerging. And that’s great, you can be a politician by doing the fantastic. You can be a politician doing science fiction.

I grew up integrating the absurd idea that speaking French was better than speaking Arabic.

your short film It doesn’t matter if the beasts die, awarded at Sundance and Caesars, was shot in Amazigh. Was it a political, artistic, or circumstantial choice?

I am very interested in the question of identity, first because I am French-Moroccan, but also because I studied at a French high school. I grew up integrating the absurd idea that speaking French was better than speaking Arabic. And finally, I realized that in Morocco society spreads the idea that those who speak French are superior to those who only speak Arabic.

And I discovered that below Arabic, there was actually another category: Berber. There is a kind of value system, representative of the “castes” present in Morocco. This hierarchy upsets me a bit, Morocco is a Berber country, the Moroccan identity is mostly Amazigh, which we tend to completely forget. There is a kind of self-loathing, we do not recognize this facet of Moroccan identity. Through What does it matter if the beasts die, I don’t have a political speech. But I roll in the Atlas and my characters are the same Berbers. So I roll in their language, simply. It is a means of recognizing Berber as a national language.

Due to a lack of speakers, Berber is an endangered language. The government of Aziz Akhannouch [lui-même berbérophone] should it be integrated into the education system? Or promote its use in culture, in cinema?

There have already been initiatives in this regard. A few years ago, Amazigh was not recognized as a national language. And there are traffic signs that are in Berber, Berber channels. Obviously, I hope that Akhannouch, by his origins, will allow this to develop. I don’t think it’s a language that’s going to disappear. In any case, I hope not. But in my opinion, it is just beginning to flourish again. I believe in this linguistic and cultural renewal.

I hope that Morocco will also make progress in the field of social justice

The image of the National Independent Myth (RNI), currently in power in Morocco, contrasts with that of the very conservative Justice and Development Party (PJD). How do you judge your action today?

From my point of view, the election results of six months ago are a step forward. Where other countries are locked in a conservative logic, Morocco has managed to overcome this temptation and bet on openness. The current strategy is mainly oriented towards economic development. But I hope that we will also make progress in the field of social justice. This is really what is missing in Morocco. The economic aspect is obviously important. But in order to be able to advance at all levels, sooner or later this issue will have to be addressed.

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