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Moumen Smihi: Poet of Tangier

October 10, 2013 - October 27, 2013

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“In his films as in his writing, Smihi continues to elaborate the need for an Arab cinema that critically engages its cultural and political environs not through the singularity of nationalist, postcolonial or religiously driven identity but by exploiting and further exploding the contradictions and heterogeneity that mark cinema’s existence in the Arab world.”Peter Limbrick in Third Text 117 (2012)

One of the key figures of Moroccan and North African cinema, Moumen Smihi is a filmmaker, writer, theorist, and critic, but most of all he is a Tanjaoui: a citizen of Tangier, the atmospheric port city of Morocco, hub between Europe and Africa, Christianity and Islam, and legendary haven to such writers as William S. Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Mohamed Choukri, Jean Genet, and more. Smihi’s films mirror the cultural and intellectual potpourri of Tangier’s fabled streets; characters speak of Rita Hayworth, Jean-Paul Sartre, Taha Hussein, Goethe, Orson Welles, and Farid al-Atrash, as well as a myriad of Moroccan and Arab writers, artists, religious thinkers, and independence fighters. Narratives begin, then open up into other stories like ancient fables, or are merely paused entirely while the camera rests on images of a Moorish courtyard or archway, or to make room for a hypnotic song. For Smihi, who studied in Paris under Roland Barthes and has written several books on film theory, cinema is a tool “to produce the image of a society at a critical moment in its history, to allow it to see itself.” His Tangier resembles the New York of Woody Allen or the Tokyo of Yasujiro Ozu, a re-created, “fictionally authentic” space where habits, locales, sounds, discourse, and cultural identity are mirrored and saved, protected against the onslaught of modernization and homogeneity.

For Smihi and other filmmakers, though, there is a great difference between their representations and those of Western or “first world” filmmakers: “What is the act of filmmaking,” he questions, “in a culture that received the apparatus of cinema as one of the machines that had enslavement as its goal?” Smihi aims to create “forms which would function precisely to translate another way of living and thinking . . . another culture, other social options than those put forward up to now by the West.” Unlike other theorists, though, who position themselves in direct opposition to Western influences, Smihi remains a poet of Tangier, where continents, religions, and outlooks have merged for countless years, and where room is made for churches, mosques, cinematheques, and brothels. All find their home in the films of Moumen Smihi, a body of work unlike any other, and proudly Tanjaoui.

We are delighted that Moumen Smihi will join us on Thursday, October 24 for a Afterimage conversation with critic and scholar Peter Limbrick, following a screening of 44, or Tales of the Night. Limbrick is an associate professor of film and digital media at UC Santa Cruz and is currently writing a book on Smihi's work (an essay from this project appeared in a recent issue of the journal Third Text). In addition to organizing the Smihi film tour, he has previously curated public programs of Arab film and video for BAM/PFA and for the San Francisco Arab Film Festival.

Jason Sanders, Film Notes Writer

Thursday, October 10, 2013
7:00 p.m. The East Wind
Moumen Smihi (Morocco, 1975). (El Chergui). Moumen Smihi in person. Life in the medina on the cusp of Moroccan independence, amid the contradictions of colonialism, religion, patriarchy, and resistance. Smihi’s debut feature, one of Moroccan and Arab cinema’s most groundbreaking films. (80 mins)

Thursday, October 10, 2013
7:00 p.m. The East Wind


Thursday, October 17, 2013
7:00 p.m. Moroccan Chronicles
Moumen Smihi (Morocco, 1999). (Chroniques Marocaines). Moumen Smihi in person. Smihi pays tribute to the art of storytelling—and the grace of life—in this collection of four tales, four cities, and multiple realities. (70 mins)

Sunday, October 20, 2013
3:00 p.m. A Muslim Childhood
Moumen Smihi (Morocco, 2005). (El Ayel: Le gosse de Tanger). Introduced by Moumen Smihi. The first installment of Smihi's trilogy about a young boy coming of age in 1950s Tangier. An elegy to the port city's polyglot cultural tapestry and elegant architecture. (83 mins)

Sunday, October 20, 2013
5:00 p.m. Girls and Swallows
Moumen Smihi (Morocco, 2008). (Les hirondelles: Les cris de jeunes filles des hirondelles). Moumen Smihi in person. New Print! In this second installment of Smihi’s Tangier chronicles, Larbi Salmi hovers between childhood and manhood, soaking in the city's unique blend of American, European, and Arabic cultural and intellectual influences. (80 mins)

Thursday, October 24, 2013
7:00 p.m. 44, or Tales of the Night
Moumen Smihi (Morocco, 1981). (44 ou les récits de la nuit). Moumen Smihi and Peter Limbrick in Conversation. New print! Smihi’s most epic work illuminates forty-four years of Moroccan history through a series of visually striking tableaux, inspired by 1001 Nights and Ulysses. (110 mins)

Sunday, October 27, 2013
7:30 p.m. The Sorrows of a Young Tangerian
Moumen Smihi (Morocco, 2012). (Tanjaoui: Peines de coeur et tourments du jeune Tanjaoui Larbi Salmi). Moumen Smihi in person. New Print! Set in the early 1960s, the third part of Smihi’s Tangier trilogy finds Larbi Salmi navigating both young adulthood and the early years of Moroccan independence. (95 mins)

Moumen Smihi: Poet of Tangier is curated by Peter Limbrick and coordinated by Livia Alexander, with thanks to Ody Roos and Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM) and Denis Bisson and Hannah Loue, Cultural Services, Consulate General of France, San Francisco. It is part of our ongoing series Afterimage: Filmmakers and Critics in Conversation, which is made possible by generous funding from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association®. Our series is presented in conjunction with San Francisco’s Arab Film Festival and a symposium and exhibition at UC Santa Cruz, Unfixed Itineraries: Film and Visual Culture from Arab Worlds, as well as with UC Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.