Moroccan Cinema, Culture and Arabic Language

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Rabat, Morocco

Arrival Abroad Date: June 20
Program End Date: July 25

Program Overview

This program offers students an introduction to Moroccan cinema, arts, and culture and enriches that experience with Arabic language. Students take two classes: “Moroccan Cinema and Culture” and “Arabic” for a total of 10 credits. They will live with a Moroccan family in the beautiful capital city of Rabat to better immerse themselves in the culture and, in addition to daily classes in the nearby host institution, they will explore exciting locations around Morocco on field trips with the program. 

In their cinema class and through field trips, students will meet filmmakers and producers, visit production facilities, museums, and art galleries, and learn more about cinema in Morocco. In addition, students will begin (or continue) learning to read and write in Arabic, tying their explorations of film and culture to their language studies in ways that will enrich both subjects. Studying Arabic and film together offers students a unique opportunity to learn one of the most important and beautiful languages in the world and to develop a deeper appreciation of world cinema.

This program is limited capacity.

Max Enrollment: 25

Language of Instruction: The Moroccan Cinema and Culture course will be taught in English. The Arabic Language (1 or 4) courses will be taught in both Arabic and English

Study Abroad Program Coordinator: Emma May

Faculty Leader: Peter Limbrick


168M: Moroccan Cinema and Culture (5 units)
Cinema in Morocco dates back to the earliest days of the medium, around the turn of the 20th century and was furthered by the French during the colonial period. But it is only in the years since independence in 1956 that a cinema by Moroccans has truly emerged. Its history is fragile, faced with difficult financial constraints and the widespread distribution of other films (Egyptian, Hindi, Hollywood) to the detriment of Moroccan cinema culture. Despite the challenges, Moroccans over the past half century have doggedly fought for a unique cinema. Now, Moroccan cinema is finding commercial and international success and its output exceeds many other Arab countries. Morocco also invites other producers to shoot on location and its studios have welcomed many famous productions. This course will trace many currents of Moroccan cinema but will particularly focus on experiments within the documentary and fiction film traditions. The course will show how Moroccan filmmakers have interacted with and drawn on other artistic and literary experiments in Morocco, the Arab world, and Europe to craft films that speak to Moroccan realities. The course includes screenings, reading, discussions, and writing, and will be animated by visits from filmmakers and artists as well as field trips to better understand the contexts for Moroccan cinema and culture.

Either: Arabic 1 or Arabic 4*  (5 units) depending on prior study.
Just like at UCSC, students will learn Modern Standard Arabic, the formal Arabic that is read and spoken throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Learning MSA (or fusha, in Arabic) will allow you to read, write, speak, and understand the Arabic used in historical and contemporary news media, literature, and poetry, and will enable you to communicate with speakers from a wide range of countries no matter their regional dialect. In addition, you will learn a small amount of darija or Moroccan Arabic, which will let you communicate more casually with local people in Morocco.

*Arabic 4 students must have completed Arabic 1, 2 and 3 prior to participating

Program Highlights

This program has opportunities for students to experience Rabat and other areas of Morocco with built-in excursions that allow for hands-on learning.  All excursions include transportation, accommodation, entrance fees and some meals. 

Daylong Excursions

While in Rabat students will visit the Moroccan National Cinema Centre, tour the central market, visit the Rabat Cinémathèque, Museum of Modern Art, and Royal Institute for Amazigh (Berber) Culture, and meet curators at independent art spaces like Kulte Gallery and Appartement 22.

During this excursion students will visit the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, Royal Palace, the Hassan II Mosque (third largest in the world!) and the Casablanca medina (old town) and market. 

Overnight Excursions

Fez, Meknes & Volubilis (3 days, 2 nights)
During this excursion students will visit the medina in the city of Meknes (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), tour the Roman ruins at Volubilis, experience a guided tour of the ancient city of Fez (another World Heritage Site), visit the Moroccan Cultural Studies Center at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University and tour the library at Qarawiyyin (the oldest university in the world, founded by a woman, Fatima el-Fihri). The library was recently renovated by another woman, Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni. 

Marrakesh (2 days, 1 night)
While visiting Marrakech students will tour the beautiful Jardin Marjorelle and Library at the Yves St. Laurent Musum and will hear a lecture on the halqa and storyteller tradition. Students will also have a city walking tour that will include the famous medina, the Mellah (or Jewish neighborhood), and the Jmaa el-Fnaa, the famous central square full of performers, vendors, acrobats, and musicians. 

Ouarzazate (3 days, 2 nights)
On this excursion, students will fly to Ouarzazate and visit the Atlas Studios, where many Hollywood productions have been made, including The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Gladiator (2000). We will visit the castle or ksar at Ait ben Hadou, an ancient trading post for those traveling from the Sudan to Marrakesh. We will travel to the beautiful gorges of Tinghrir and Todra, the centre of a Moroccan Jewish community that we will have learned about in the documentary, Tinghrir-Jerusalem (2014). And we will reach the edge of the Sahara desert at Merzouga, seeing how the southern Moroccan communities live.

Tangier, Tetouan, Chefchaouen (4 days, 3 nights)
During this excursion students will visit the famous Mediterranean town of Tangier, just a stone’s throw from Spain and one of Morocco’s most vibrant cities. Previously the destination for expatriate writers like Paul Bowles and Alan Ginsberg and painters like Henri Matisse, it is now a center of industry and trade while preserving a beautiful medina and incredible views of the Gibraltar Strait. We’ll visit the Cinematheque de Tanger (a beautiful restored theatre and educational center for cinema) and will meet a “Tanjawi” (Tangerian) filmmaker, Moumen Smihi, who will show us the cinemas of Tangier. Students will visit the Tangier American Legation Museum (formerly a US embassy), and explore the literary and cinematic history of the city. In the nearby city of Tetouan, we will encounter the Spanish colonial history of Morocco and will visit a new research and translation institute, the Borges Library. Traveling over the Rif mountains, we’ll then reach the picturesque town of Chefchaouen which, with its medina painted blue, is one of the most iconic Moroccan towns.

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