Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I see the stars at noon

When there is news in the Western media about illegal migrantion from Morocco to Europe, it all too often takes the form of reports on the bodies of nameless would-be migrants being washed up on European beaches after their boat journeys end in disaster. The film “I See the Stars at Noon”, directed and co-produced by Saeed Taji Farouky, shows the picture from the other side by following the attempts of 26-year-old Abdelfattah from Meknes to reach Spain through “hijar sriyyah” (secret emigration).

Farouky was born in Britain in 1978 to mixed Egyptian and Palestinian parentage. His film’s title is a Moroccan saying which means that someone’s world is turned upside down.

Abdelfattah’s attempt to reach Spain fails when Spanish police board the ship that is transporting him and other illegal migrants. Last heard of, he was working as a security guard in neighbouring Tunisia.

The documentary was shown to acclaim at the Dubai Film Festival in December. I saw it last week at its European premier held at the Frontline Club in West London. Farouky and the film’s editor and co-producer Gareth Keogh fielded many questions afterwards. The two are co-founders of the production company Tourist with a Typewriter.

The film consists largely of dialogue between Abdelfattah and the unseen filmmaker as the young Moroccan tries to negotiate his way though the clandestine world of people-smugglers. Abdelfattah knows the risks but is willing to take them. His idea of life in Europe and of his prospects there are inflated.

Abdelfattah makes an appealing subject with his attractive looks, and his apparent decency and wish for a better life. He despairs of the future that awaits him if he remains in Morocco. In one scene he takes Farouky to where some of his friends are gathered, drinking and smoking kif, a collage of pictures of scantily-dressed women on the walls.

The unexpected development in the film is the way in which Abdelfattah turns the tables on the filmmaker, forcing him to examine the relationship between subject and director. He asks Farouky for help towards the 750 Euros he needs to pay the people smuggler for passage on a cargo ship, otherwise he will be forced to go on a risky “boat of death”. He points out that the filmmaker is benefiting from him: “Without me the documentary wouldn’t be possible.”

This absorbing and searching film reveals much about the dilemmas of being a documentary filmmaker, and about the desperate struggle many young Moroccans face and the factors that make them keen to reach Europe even at the risk of their lives.

Susannah Tarbush
31 January 2006

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