Nine students from the School of Media Arts & Studies were among fifteen who journeyed to North Africa to take part in MDIA’s Documentary Storytelling in Morocco program over winter break. Based in Rabat, the country’s capital, the students also traveled to the ancient cities of Marrakesh, Tangier and Fes.
While on a field trip to Meknes, students did a two-night homestay with local families. They also traveled to Chaouen, known as the Blue City because of the many homes and businesses that are painted various shades of blue.
Prior to their departure, working in teams, students researched documentary topics, made project presentations, and began establishing contacts in and around Rabat via Skype and social media. Upon arrival each team began the process of conducting interviews and gathering visual material. Local translators of French and Arabic were utilized during the interview and transcription processes.
MDIA junior Jarrett Lehman reflected on his experience, “The work that we did in the program was enriching on a number of levels. It was helpful with learning the practice of field research by conducting interviews, as well as with using that information in a constructive way and creating a story from it.
Doing this project in a place where English is not the dominant language makes it even more constructive. It gave us the chance not only to experience and attempt to understand a foreign culture, but to break the boundaries of cultural difference and connect with people on a personal level.”
Jarrett’s teammate on a project about Morocco’s emerging youth culture and the effect it is having on traditional ideology, was MDIA junior, Christopher Walter: “I was able to immerse myself in many different aspects of Moroccan culture. Interviewing local people gave me the opportunity to learn about their lives, culture, history, future, etc. I think the truest way to study a culture is to communicate with everyday people of all ages, and to do so in their own environment. Having done this in Morocco was an eye opener for me and made the experience something I’ll remember forever.”
Other documentary projects focused on witchcraft and the conflict it presents with the Islamic faith, the country’s passion for soccer, and a day in the life at a traditional souk (marketplace). Adrienne Green, a student in Scripps’ J-School teamed up with MDIA’s Olivia Busby to look into race and racism in Morocco, a country that is nearly 99 % Muslim: “By taking the scriptwriting class as a non-media student, I discovered that the skills that I had learned in my other coursework were truly transferrable. Making a documentary, especially one about a subject as difficult as race, showed me that the film and media industries can make use of all people and talents. In a short time I picked up a lot of technical skills and learned how to think and create in a brand new way.
Olivia Busby agreed: “I learned a lot about storytelling and how to structure a story using visuals and sound. I had always been interested in going into film in some way shape or form but after this experience I would say I'm probably leaning more towards documentaries. I will remember the feeling of accomplishing something that started as absolutely nothing.”
J-School student Briana Ekanem said, “I was so lucky to learn the ins and outs of short-form scriptwriting while simultaneously immersing myself into the Moroccan culture to practice those skills. I learned very quickly that research from across the world can only go so far; there is no learning quite like listening and communicating to local and native people. With the help of translators, it was a unique and enriching experience that could have only been achieved through travel and stepping out of my comfort zone.”
In addition to their documentary scriptwriting assignments, the students also took a course called “Media in the Muslim World,” taught by Professor Adelmajid Hajji from the Moulay Ismail University in Meknes. Professor Hajji writes and teaches about international communication, peace and conflict resolution, and is the author of Arabs In American Cinema 1894—1930. Weekly screenings and discussions were held at a local movie house with local filmmakers, some who described the difficulties of expressing themselves within a monarchy that forbids criticism of the king or Islamic beliefs.
For information about next winter break’s “Screenwriting and Documentary Storytelling in Spain” contact Program Director Frederick Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the program website.