Rim Mejdi is ready to make her mark in the Moroccan film industry.
“I’m 26 and I’ve lived in Morocco my whole life. I can’t tell stories anywhere else for now,” she said recently.
Faced with the challenges of being a young woman making films in a small industry, Mejdi has not let that stop her. Two of her short films have screened at the Locarno International Film Festival, “2=1=0” (2010) and “En dehors de la ville” (2014). She is also participating in the Locarno Filmmakers Academy, a program set up by the festival to help support young filmmakers from all over the world. Between roundtable discussions and workshops at Locarno, Mejdi sat down with Indiewire to discuss some of the challenges she faces as an emerging filmmaker.
In Morocco, the film industry is small but growing. The first Moroccan movie was made in 1958 and the industry only started to grow a decade later, when several young people went to Europe and studied film in the Soviet Union, France and Poland. When they came back to Morocco, they struggled. The public did not gravitate to the abstract and theoretical films that emerged from this generation of filmmakers and the industry went into a hibernation period until the 1990s. Now things are picking up again and Morocco is producing around 20 feature films a year, making the country the third largest producer of cinema in Africa.
The biggest challenge within the industry is securing government funding – especially if you’re just starting out. To get funding, you need to be accredited, to be accredited you need to make films. As Mejdi explained, “It’s not just about going to film school. For example, the films I made in film school don’t count. I need to make films officially. It’s a tricky business.” Few films in Morocco are made without government support. But Mejdi remains optimistic. Filmmakers from all over the world are now making films in Morocco and a young generation of students is going out and making films without waiting for permission (or funding).
As a woman in the film industry, Mejdi said she often feels pressured to fulfill others’ expectations. She is not interested in being the vehicle for other people’s ideas about what it means to be a woman in Morocco or in the film industry. “Even if we think we’re in the 21st century, even in the Western world, women making films and talking about women’s issues is still not acceptable,” she said. “We expect very specific things when a woman is making a film, and when those expectations are not fulfilled people get angry.”
Mejdi said that as a Moroccan, there is a strong pressure to conform and to tell certain kinds of stories. “People are always expecting me to talk about women in a certain way, especially because I’m from the Arab world. I always have to treat these kind of taboo subjects and sometimes you just want to tell stories about serious things, but not only serious from the other’s point of view,” she explained.
People expect her to tell stories about female characters as they relate to religion and social circumstances, when all she yearns for is to be a storyteller. She wants to be taken seriously as a filmmaker first, with the freedom to tell the stories she wants regardless of her gender, ethnicity or religion.
Mejdi excels at telling unfamiliar stories in familiar ways, as she uses a classical style matched with innovative mise-en-scene to build an incredible amount of tension in her work. “En dehors de la ville” in particular, a story about a woman waiting on the outskirts of town with a stranger who knows more about her than he lets on, is as strong a thriller as it is a drama. The way she uses the unusual environment to establish mood and build character is refreshing, as she never leans on the obvious approach.
Mejdi said she tries to cover different experiences in her films and to focus on being innovative from the point of the story and the mise-en-scene, but that she still prefers a more classical style.
Now developing her first feature film, Medji is faced with new challenges. Working on short films where “you need to squeeze your idea and make it dense,” Mejdi said she now has to slow down and enjoy the freedom that comes with making a feature. But increasingly, there is pressure to make feature films for a more global audience.
Young filmmakers today are not only faced with competing within their own country, but internationally as well. It’s easier than ever to make a film, and you need to set yourself apart because, “they’re making films all over the world, and everyone is trying to do new things,” explained Mejdi.
Her experience at the Filmmakers Academy has allowed her to see that different places in the world have their own unique set of challenges. “There are other countries where they have their own struggles, but if it’s your passion you have to push through,” she said.
Mejdi came to Locarno expecting to meet people and to watch challenging films – she got that and more. “You see how they struggle and you get ideas and you know that it’s your passion and you have to follow it and do whatever it takes to make films,” she said. “You have to move forward and stop complaining. If you want it, you should take it by the balls.”
This article is part of a series written by members of the 2015 Locarno Critics Academy, organized by Indiewire, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Locarno Film Festival.
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