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Celebrating African films in the phosphate plateaus of Morocco

Rising 820 meters above sea level to its presence on the phosphate plateau and located 114km south-east of Moroccan business city, Casablanca, the Khouribga city, is situated along the infertile plateau mountains of the north African nation. The city was founded in 1923 by the authorities of the French protectorate when they discovered phosphate in the region, for which Morocco is considered to be the biggest exporter in the world. Since then, it owes its growth to the nearby phosphate deposits. Its large phosphate reserve, estimated to be 35 to 40 billion cubic meters in depth, is also ranked first at the national level. Also Khouribga is one of the cities that brings in hard currency to the Moroccan economy and that is due to its community’s residents from Italy, France, Spain and other European nations.

This phosphate-mining town, as a result, has become home to a growing population of diaspora returnees, that is, Moroccans returning to their homeland following their European adventures. As the look and feel of European cafe life is recreated on the city’s streets, Khouribga redefines the country’s migration culture.

Apart from the barren phosphate plateaus for which it is known, Khouribga has been widening its profile in arts and entertainment in an attempt to become a continental arts center.  Hence, the town has been hosting an annual film festival named after it, The African Film Festivals of Khuribga, in which African nations participate and present their art works and culture. So far, this continental cultural exchange event has been hosted every year and this year’s event has marked its 19th edition.

This annual event has also been under way for almost two decades in partnership with OCP Group (Office Chérifien des Phosphates) which is the world’s leading producer of phosphate rock and phosphoric acid as well as one of the leading global fertilizer players, with more than 90 years of history serving agriculture.

According to the organizers, this annual meeting has become an outstanding African cinema event where various nations’ artworks mainly cinema, fine arts and cultural exhibitions are presented whereby participating country interchange their cultures and arts.

Initiated by the Foundation of the African Film Festival, under the patronage of the Moroccan King, Mohamed VI, the African festival of Khouribga, has been under way in Khouribga town which is marked particularly by paying special tribute to one of the selected Moroccan cinemas. According to the organizers, it aims to promote cultural exchange and dialogue between African cultures.

With this trend, this year’s event (the 19th edition of the African film Festivals of Khouribga) marked from 16th to 24th of July 2016 paid special tribute to Ethiopian art works.

In what the organizers described to be an intention to strengthen cooperation between Ethiopian film makers and their Moroccan counterparts, this year’s edition of the festival, has paid Special tribute to Ethiopian films, art and literature works.

During this event, the Ethiopian movie “Lamb” has won the event’s prestigious award dubbed the “Ousmane Sembène Grand Prix Award” while Kidst Siyum, one of the actors in the movie playing the role of the character “Tsion” was named the second best supportive actor of the year.

During the event, Lamb was one of the movies which were presented for competition to win the best movies of the year award selected from artworks coming from 15 African nations.

But, after the final result, which was announced on 24th of July in a spectacular gala hosted in Mediatheque Culture Center at the heart of Khouribga city, a Moroccan movie and Moroccan actors were decorated as winners of most of the titles expected from the competition. Hence, the Moroccan movie entitled ‘A mile on My Shoe’ was the most decorated movie that won “Best Film of the year” award.

Despite losing the title to the Moroccan movie, Lamb was able to win the “Ousmane Sembène Grand Prix” award which is considered to be one of the most honorable and prestigious film award of the annual event. Meanwhile, the Moroccan film director Said Khallaf clinched the Special Jury Prize for the same film: “A mile in my shoes”.

For her role in Lamb, Kidist was chosen to take the first runner-up position in the “best women supportive actor” category, representing Ethiopia. Lamb was directed and produced by Yared Zeleke in 2015. It is also his first feature-length movie, and filmed on the high plateaus of northern Ethiopia around Gonder.

The film particularly featured an Ethiopian boy named Ephrame (played by the 14-year-old Rediate Amare), who leaves his homeland to live with a distant relative and takes his beloved sheep with him. One day, his uncle announces that he will have to slaughter his sheep for the upcoming Ethiopia holiday and prominent religious feast that commemorates the Finding of the True Cross identified as Meskel; but Ephrame is ready to do anything to save his only friend including returning to his home.

However, both winners, Kidst and Yared did not attend the event because they did not travel to Morocco. But on behalf of them, Rediate Amare and Rahel Teshome (who plays another key character in the movie Azeb) received both awards from the organizers. During, the event the youngest character, Rediate and his fellow Rahel were greeted and showered with applause from participants of the event consisting of cinema goers, diplomatic community members, non-Moroccan students and residents of Khouribga town. 

As Lamb was screened in the cultural center a day before, many people watched it before the award ceremony. Hence, the two actors were received with cheers as they enter the award ceremony the next day whereby people were lined up to take photographs, selfies and even asking for signed autographs.

The screening of Yared Zeleke’s movie was also accompanied by traditional Ethiopian tunes like the traditional song of Maritu Legesse, queen of Bati and Ambasel melodies. Shortly before the announcement of the winner of the “the Best Film of Year” award, The Reporter was able to ask Rediate whether he expects that they (Lamb) would win the title. “With the help of God, Yes; I would expect to win the title,” he replied.

However, both Rediate and Rahel told The Reporter that they did not feel disappointments after the final announcement which confirmed the Moroccan film as the champion of this year’s film festival. “Indeed, they (the Moroccan film and the actors) deserve to win the title. They have really brought a very good film. I do not feel down for seeing Lamb not winning it. Rather, I am really honored to witness an Ethiopian film winning the “Ousmane Sembène” Award. This award is a huge honor for Ethiopian movies which still leaves a lot to be desired.

The event was also said to be aiming at serving as crossroads for meeting and exchanges been the various actors of the continent.

Sponsored and promoted by the world’s biggest manufacturer of phosphate and fertilizer, OCP Group through its subsidiary OCP Foundation, the African Film Festival of Khouribga also had two main side events including International contemporary African art exhibition, scheduled for July 17th at the newly built Mediathèque Cultural Centre, and literary meeting, moderated by Noureddine Sail with the participation of the artists, photographers and Ethiopian writers.

The famous photographer and social entrepreneur, Aïda Muluneh, was a guest speaker at the event whereby she has presented Ethiopia’s photography experiences and art in the biggest art exhibition center. Particularly, her famous photo collection entitled “Ethiopia: Past/Forward” was displayed and was able to steal the attention of spectators.

She is the 2007 recipient of the European Union Prize in the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie, in Bamako, Mali. As well as the 2010 winner of the CRAF International Award of Photography in Spilimbergo, Italy. She is also the founder and director of the first international photography festival in Ethiopia, the Addis Foto Fest. Aida continues to curate and develop cultural projects with local and international institutions through her company DESTA (Developing and Educating Society through Art) For Africa Creative Consulting PLC (DFA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Similarly, in the same exhibition center, the works of the Ethiopian artist Ephreme Solomon was among the several works of fine arts which were displayed and visited by exhibition goers, artists and members of the diplomatic community.

The event was attended by Ethiopian ambassador to Morocco, Yeshi Tamirat, who also received a special award representing Ethiopia for its art, films, and literature for which the organizers dedicated this year’s 19th African Film Festival in Khouribga.

“In order to boost the regions it operates in, OCP is continuously promoting African arts and cultural activities. Engaged with all partners and stakeholders during this 19th edition,” the organizers said in a statement they delivered to The Reporter.

Ambassador Yeshi, on her part, told The Reporter that she was delighted to receive the special tribute award from the organizers. “The event is a very important venue where we were able to promote our country’s deep-rooted and vast culture which I found to be fitting with our mission, which is cultural diplomacy,” Ambassador Yeshi said.

Initiated by the Foundation of the festival of African cinema, this film encounter will be an opportunity to pay tribute to the Ethiopian cinema so as to strengthen the links between the industrialists of Morocco and the Ethiopian cinema, and open exchange opportunities and prospects between the Ethiopian filmmakers and their Moroccan counterparts, said a statement from the foundation.

Founded in 1997, the African Film Festival in Khouribga aims at promoting African cinema, represented through its filmmakers and their new productions.

The event is sponsored by OCP group through its foundation. OCP Group is the biggest fertilizer and Phosphate producers whose products dominate the global market. At its current capacity, the industry giant supplies over 75 percent of the world’s fertilizer demand.

By Yonas Abiye, Khouribga, Morocco

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