In 1968 the first content film festival was held in Tangier, Morocco, an event not mentioned in this Impressionist documentary directed by Ali Essafi. For the most part, “Before the Light” is a haunting creation – the on-screen text is philosophical rather than explanatory.
The date of this festival is significant, however, as it can be seen as an indicator of emerging Moroccan cinema, which merged with other visual arts in the 1970s and briefly tried to forge an authentic politically relevant under the repressive regime of King Hassan II Plant.
Essafi compiles and presents breathtaking images. He faces archive interviews on the street; several covers of literary magazines, in both Arabic and French (France claimed the country as a “protectorate” from the 1910s to the mid-1950s); Newsreel clips; Scenes from European films shot in Morocco; and mainstream films produced in Morocco (including “A Thousand and One Hands” from 1973 directed by Souheil Ben-Barka and starring American actress Mimsy Farmer).
These are interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage from the 1974 film About Some Meaningless Events. The filmmakers, led by director Mostafa Derkaoui, ask themselves very much how it was common in leftist aesthetics around the world at the time. One team member thinks about how best to use the working class people in the picture and says, “We could write a script.” Another immediately countered with “No”. Her obsession with best capturing the spirit of her time resulted in an image that was suppressed shortly after its completion.
Essafi’s film offers an inspiring glimpse at a troubled time of artistic exploration, even for viewers with little experience in Moroccan history.
Before the light dies
Not rated. In Arabic and French with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 8 minutes. Check out the MoMA’s virtual cinema.