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Northwestern's Block Cinema and MENA to Host Free Film Series

Renowned Moroccan director Moumen Smihi to visit campus and speak April 10-15

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April 7, 2014 | by Judy Moore
Moumen Smihi Film
"A Muslim Childhood," dir. Moumen Smihi (2005). 

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A film retrospective featuring seven works by Moroccan director Moumen Smihi -- one of the most important Arab filmmakers working today -- will take place in mid-April on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus. Free and open to the public, the films span Smihi’s 40-year career.

The film series and other related events with Moumen Smihi on campus represent a partnership between Northwestern’s new Program in Middle East and North African Studies (MENA) and Block Cinema.

Moroccan Chronicles: The Films of Moumen Smihi will include six features and one short film. Most are newly struck 35mm prints. The films will be screened with English subtitles on April 10 and 11 and April 17 and 18 at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art’s Pick-Laudati Auditorium, 40 Arts Circle Drive. The April 17 and 18 screenings will be shown as double features. Smihi will discuss his work opening night, April 10, and at the April 11 screenings. He also will be talking to Northwestern students studying his work during his campus visit. For more information, visit Moroccan Chronicles: The Films of Moumen Smihi.

During his weeklong campus visit, Smihi will appear at two additional events, which also are free and open to the public:

• Smihi will be the featured speaker during a MENA Mondays series talk, titled “Moumen Smihi in Discussion,” from noon to 1:30 p.m. April 14 at University Hall, Room 201, Hagstrum Room, 1897 Sheridan Road. The event is in English.

• Smihi will talk about his films and address the audience in French from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, during a program co-organized by MENA, the department of French and Italian and the French Interdisciplinary Group.

“Moumen Smihi’s work is so richly engaged with the history of Morocco, the legacy of French colonialism and the challenges posed to the region by globalization that it is an ideal body of work to bring together the MENA community and that of Block Cinema,” said Brian Edwards, director of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences’ MENA Program and associate professor of English and comparative literary studies.

MOUMEN SMIHI

A foundational figure of the “New Arab Cinema” movement, Smihi was born in Tangier in 1945. His exceptional films are as fearless in their politics as they are quietly radical in their form. He has written, produced and directed award-winning and influential full-length feature films, short films and documentaries. Recent screenings at Cannes, Marrakech and other international festivals are giving him new audiences and wider recognition.

“This retrospective series offers audiences an opportunity to learn from an incisive figure in Middle Eastern cinema whose work gives further context and background to the political and cultural landscape of the region,” says Peter Limbrick, the curator of this retrospective.

MOROCCAN CHRONICLES: THE FILMS OF MOUMEN SMIHI SERIES

The Films of Moumen Smihi, “The East Wind“ (“El Chergui”), 7 p.m. Thursday, April 10 (Moumen Smihi, 1975, Morocco, 35mm, 80 minutes). Set in the mid-1950s, “El Chergui“ presents Morocco on the eve of its independence. Its protagonist, Aicha, uses magical practices in her effort to prevent her husband from taking a second wife. Around her, a society of women creates its own form of active resistance. The film will be preceded by “The Unlucky Man” (“Si Moh, pas de chance” by Moumen Smihi, 1971, Morocco, video, 17 minutes). Shot in Paris after Smihi completed film school, “Si Moh” investigates the lives of migrant workers in France. Moumen Smihi will attend the screening.

The Films of Moumen Smihi, “44, or Tales of the Night,” 7 p.m. Friday, April 11 (Moumen Smihi, 1981, Morocco, 35mm, 110 minutes). Filmed in exceptionally beautiful widescreen images, “44” paints a fresco of Morocco’s 44 years of French colonization. With mise-en-scene that owes much to Visconti’s “The Leopard,” “44” captures the privilege of a religious family from Fez and the struggles of an impoverished family in Chaouen. Moumen Smihi will attend the screening.

The Films of Moumen Smihi, Double Feature, 7 p.m. Thursday, April 17. “Moroccan Chronicles” (Moumen Smihi, 1999, Morocco, 35mm, 70 minutes). Set in the ancient city of Fez, a working-class mother, abandoned by her husband, tells three tales to her just-circumcised 10-year-old son. In the first, Smihi re-stages the Marrakech market scene from Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” in which a monkey trainer makes children dance for tourists. In the second, two lovers meet on the ramparts of Orson Welles’ Essaouira locations for “Othello” and speak of their own forbidden love. In the third, set in Tangier, an old sailor dreams of vanquishing a sea monster -- the Gibraltar ferry that connects Europe to Africa. “A Muslim Childhood” (Moumen Smihi, 2005, Morocco, 35mm, 83 minutes). This is the first film in a semi-autobiographical trilogy. It follows the everyday experiences of a timid pre-teen boy who struggles to make sense of his religious homelife, secular education and budding love of cinema. All the while, the film offers a tapestry of 1950s Tangier -- an international zone influenced by Arab, Berber, European and American histories.

The Films of Moumen Smihi, Double Feature, 7 p.m. Friday, April 18. “Girls and Swallows” (Moumen Smihi, 2008, Morocco, 35mm, 80 minutes). The second in Smihi’s semi-autobiographical trilogy, “Girls and Swallows” explores its protagonist’s passion for American and French pop culture, his nascent sexuality and the tensions between his religious upbringing and secular education. The film reflects on larger questions about the relationship of the sacred and sacrilegious, religion and politics, gender roles, sexuality and freedom of thought within Arab-Islamic societies. “Tanjawi: Sorrows of a Young Tangerian,” (Moumen Smihi, 2012, Morocco, 35mm, 95 minutes). The last of the trilogy, “Tanjawi” is set in the 1960s in the early years of Moroccan independence. Its protagonist, now in high school, is full of revolutionary romanticism and simultaneously influenced by western culture. When he joins the student political movement, only a miracle saves him from the repressive crackdown that his friends suffer. Shot in startling long takes, this film is Smihi's boldest statement yet on religion and political histories in Morocco.

The film retrospective is co-presented with Northwestern’s Program in Middle East and North African Studies (MENA), the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies (BCICS), the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities and the Harris Lecture Fund, and the Center for Global Culture and Communication (CGCC). It was curated by Peter Limbrick, associate professor of film and digital media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Special thanks to filmmaker Moumen Smihi; Dilip P. Gaonkar, associate professor of communication studies at the School of Communication; Brian T. Hanson, director of programs, research and strategic planning for the Buffett Center; Wendy L. Wall, professor of English in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences; Hamid Naficy, professor of radio/television/film in the School of Communication; program curator Peter Limbrick; and Livia Alexander, principal, LivAlex Advisory Services in New York.

CONSTRUCTION ALERT

A long-term construction project on Northwestern’s south campus has limited access to the Block Museum and Arts Circle Drive. Free parking is available in the lot directly south of the museum. For directions and parking information, visit www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/visit/directions-and-parking/index.html.