(Leila Kilani, 2008, Morocco)
Documentary film maker and historian Leila Kilani has given us a unique look into contemporary Morocco, through her award-winning film on the country's Equity and Reconciliation Commission, better known as "l'Instance équité et réconciliation" or IER, set up to help heal the wounds of almost four decades of impunity. Impunity to disappear, to torture, to execute anyone who was deemed an opponent.
The first remarkable thing about this film is that it happened at all.How many countries have given free rein to a group presided over by a former political prisoner, investigating human rights violations committed by the duly constituted government?
The contrast with neighboring Algeria couldn't be greater. In 2005, Algerians voted for the Charter for National Peace and Reconciliation. That the intervening years have yielded neither is in large part due to the Charter's denial of responsibility for human rights abuses by state security forces.
In Morocco, where several attempted military coups and opposition by unions and leftist parties were met with equally brutal repression, especially in the Seventies, the IER has operated under an open government admission of culpability. However, unlike South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Morocco's IER was not empowered to question the torturers and those behind the dark years of repression. Kilani's film, made with the full cooperation of the government and the IER, documents this conscious omission, but puts the whole process in the context of a national therapy session.
Her technique is deceptively simple: much like Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, to which Nos lieux interdits has been favorably compared (not to worry, it only lasts 108 minutes, unlike Lanzmann's 9-hour film-fleuve), Kilani simply turned the camera on as families and survivors tell their stories or talk with each other. It is simple and effective. As the son of one of the disappeared hears his father's contemporaries describe the conditions of his death, we see him flinch, and that split second on film shows Leila Kilani's sensitivity to her subject - and to the real people she films - better than any film reviewer can describe.
Michel Amarger, RFI film critic, told the audience that Kilani's selection of "little people" instead of representatives of victims' groups may have rattled the latter, but it certainly makes for better cinema. In other, less sensitive hands, Nos lieux interdits might have been simply what Kilani had originally imagined: a filmed travelogue of desolation, cataloging Morocco's former black sites.
King Mohamed VI, speaking of the IER's work (their site has an English version), said that "the truth uncovered is only relative... and absolute truth is known only to God." Most of the family members are content with even less: the son who bears up to hearing the conditions under which his father died really only wants to give him a decent Islamic burial.
Kilani's film was shown on the margins of Brussels' 4th annual Arab Film Festival, which partnered the showing with "Le P'tit Ciné," part of their documentary series "Travail de mémoire." Leila Kilani has mastered her two chosen careers, history and film, and her subjects' memories, though painful, are no doubt cathartic.
Morocco has shown the way. When do we get to see anything remotely similar in post-Bush USA?