Asmae El Moudir, Director of ‘The Mother of All Lies,’ on Memory

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Moroccan multihyphenate Asmae El Moudir is having a good year. And deservedly so. After more than a decade of work on her feature debut “The Mother of All Lies,” a complex, innovative documentary hybrid, the director-writer-producer saw the film world premiere in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section, where it nabbed the directing prize. It also shared the festival’s top award for best documentary with “Four Daughters.”

To cap off El Moudir’s stellar year, Morocco chose “The Mother of All Lies” to represent the country in the international feature Oscar race, and this week the film made its Moroccan premiere as part of the international competition lineup of the Marrakech Film Festival.

The festival success of the film, an exploration of El Moudir’s — and her country’s — past and its mysteries, via a handmade replica of the Casablanca neighborhood where she grew up and the participation of her family, didn’t end in Cannes. It claimed the lucrative top prize in Sydney’s official competition and the best documentary kudo in Durban. El Moudir notes: “I’m grateful to all the festivals that rewarded my film after Cannes, but the Cannes experience was unique. It was a surprise – a day I will never forget.” What makes her particularly happy is that audiences all over the world are able to identify with an intimate story set in Morocco.

“The Mother of All Lies”
Courtesy of Insightfilms

In the fall, El Moudir was named one of six international directors chosen for the Résidence du Festival de Cannes. Over a period of four and a half months, Cannes is supporting her as she writes the screenplay for her second feature film. It’s a fictional story inspired by an event in Rabat, where she is based when not in Paris. She says: “I like to deal with real facts, to tell stories where the emphasis is generally on the human element. I need to be inspired by a real event/fact to be able to imagine any story afterwards.”

Marrakech Film Festival and its Atlas Workshops represent an important space for the advancement of Moroccan cinema in general, and for El Moudir in particular. She says: “I personally pitched and won awards with my project twice at the Atlas Workshops [for development and for post-production], and that’s where I met all the people in the industry who helped my film go forward.” She credits the efforts of the Marrakech Film Festival Foundation, created by King Mohammed VI and his Royal Highness Moulay Rachid, for pushing her generation forward.

El Moudir feels part of an extended group of Arab and African filmmakers who watch each other’s work and give each other notes. She says: “We believe in a Morocco where we can build a new cinema that allows us to speak freely and proudly about our past. Our past, black or white, remains our past, and we must be proud of it. For those who have no memory will never have a future. We are the future of this country. It is our task to restore the memory that was erased, and to begin a new page to pass on the flame to future generations.”

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