Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch wins two grand prizes at the Cannes Film Festival |
Nabil Ayouch, the first Moroccan filmmaker in 60 years to be nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, may not have won the coveted award, but still won two prestigious awards.
Ayouch’s seventh feature film, Casablanca Beats (High and Strong) about young people seeking outlet through hip hop, won the Positive Cinema Award while the 52-year-old director and screenwriter himself received the award for best film director in recognition of his career.
Casablanca Beats was directed and written by Ayouch in collaboration with Maryam Touzani. The film is a tribute to Moroccan youth.
It is performed mainly by Anas Basbousi, as well as by Ismail Adouab, Meriam Nakkach, Nouhaila Arif, Abdou Basbousi, Zineb Boujemaa, Soufiane Bellali, Mehdi Razzouk, Amina Kannan, Samah Barigou, Maha Menan, Marwa Kniniche, Marouaneha Bennani and Abderrahrahrahmani.
When Ayouch first heard that his film was up for the Palme d’Or, he said he could hardly believe it.
“It’s like I’m a kid walking past a bakery with a cute chocolate eclair in the window that I was never allowed to have and now I finally can,” he said. .
Ayouch’s film is only the second Moroccan film ever chosen for the official selection at Cannes, after Ames et Rythmes by Abdelaziz Ramdani in 1962.
Reflecting on his portrayal of Moroccan youth in Casablanca Beats, he said: “They have so many stories to tell but not the tools to do it.”
The film is set in Sidi Moumen, a dilapidated neighborhood made infamous in 2003 after a group of radicalized local youths carried out suicide bombings in the city, killing 33 people.
Ayouch is not new to the neighborhood.
His 2012 film, Horses of God, based on a novel by Moroccan painter and author Mahi Binebine, followed two brothers from their childhood until the day they decided to become suicide bombers. He called on non-professional actors from the neighborhood.
There were also scenes from his independent hit Ali Zaoua: Prince of the streets more than a decade ago.
In 2014, Ayouch founded the Stars Cultural Center in the underprivileged neighborhood, offering music, dance and other lessons.
The filmmaker said the center provided the idea and much of the cast for the Casablanca Beats fiction.
“I attended workshops and it was really amazing to see them dance and listen to their words,” he recalls.
“I wanted the whole world to hear what they have to say.”
Casablanca Beats’ participation in the Cannes film festival, which ended this weekend, was widely praised in Morocco.
This is in stark contrast to her previous film Much Loved, a straightforward approach to prostitution in the country that sparked anger online.
“The Much Loved episode is not totally forgotten, but the wounds are largely healed and my resolve is intact,” Ayouch said.
“I want my films to travel, but my natural audience is the Moroccan audience,” he added.
“Those who say that I ride on the backs of other people’s misery don’t watch my films.”
The director grew up in the popular Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, falling in love with Charlie Chaplin and Terrence Malick films through the film club at his local youth center.
At the end of the 1990s, at the age of 30, he settled permanently in Morocco and founded his production company.
“It is thanks to the cinema that I was able to find Morocco,” he said, “I want to show it in all its generosity, its diversity and its contradictions.