Prominent Moroccan director presents films at Block Museum


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Moumen Smihi talks with Block Museum of Art staff members prior to the screening of two of his films Thursday night. Smihi is in Evanston for the presentation of his films, newly subtitled in English.

Violet Decker, Reporter

The Block Museum of Art kicked off a two-weekend-long series of film screenings Thursday with the works of a prominent Moroccan director.

Moumen Smihi, born in Tangier, has directed and written a number of films. In addition to the film screenings, he will be at Northwestern during the week to speak with students and faculty about his work.

The film series, titled “Moroccan Chronicles: The Films of Moumen Smihi,” was organized by the Middle East and North African studies program and the cinema in the Block Museum. The event, spread out over the evenings of April 10-11 and April 17-18, will feature seven of Smihi’s films from the past 40 years. Preparation for the event started last summer, said Brian Edwards, professor and director of the MENA program.

Smihi’s films have been shown at international film festivals, including The Cannes International Film Festival and The Marrakech International Film Festival. Some of his films have been around for decades, but now feature English subtitles as a new addition.

Edwards worked with Mimi Brody, curator of the Block Cinema program, and Peter Limbrick, professor of Film and Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to bring Smihi and his films to NU.

Smihi currently splits his time between living in Paris and Tangier. He is known for his portrayal of the post-colonial themes of race, gender and tradition in Morocco. He is considered a prominent figure of “New Arab Cinema” and often uses nonprofessional actors in his work.

“(Smihi) works in a way that is parallel to those in his generation,” Limbrick said. “What’s so striking about his work is this willingness to experiment with everything at his disposal. … His films are radically international. The intimacy between the character and the actor is extremely palpable in these films.”

The first screening event included the 1971 film “Si Moh, pas de chance” (“The Unlucky Man”), a study of European immigrant workers told through a discouraged man. It was followed by 1975’s “El Chergui” (“The East Wind”), which is about a woman who resorts to magical and religious practices in order to prevent her husband from taking a second wife.

“They are both beautiful and sophisticated,” Edwards said. “They engage with a variety of global cinemas and overwhelm you with beauty. There are challenging scenes, but they are fascinating in the ways in which they engage with the city of Tangier.”

A question-and-answer session with Smihi, Edwards and Limbrick followed the screenings, in which Smihi discussed his artistic process and his motives behind making his films.

“The films are related to the social history of Morocco and Europe,” Smihi said. “They explore historical and sociological issues … talking about a very specific space.”

Smihi will speak on Monday as part of “MENA Mondays” and on Tuesday through an event co-organized by MENA, the French and Italian department and the French Interdisciplinary Group.

Bienen and Weinberg freshman Anna Vosbigian said she enjoyed seeing one of his films, noting it was unique to anything she had ever seen before.

“The Block Cinema provides a fantastic opportunity to watch little-seen films from underrepresented areas of the world in terms of filmmaking,” Vosbigian said. “I’d never seen a film like this, so the story and the way the film was constructed were both fascinating.”

The series continues Thursday and Friday with double features from later in Smihi’s career.

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