Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Terry Gilliam on Morocco and Fez

The View from Fez is in debt to the New York Times for this thoughtful piece by one of our favourite British film makers, TERRY GILLIAM, writer and director of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” opening Dec. 25, director of “Brazil.”

Home Movies (Fez, Morocco, 2001)

Tourists. Terrorists. So closely related, thanks to my bad enunciation. By my holiday planning as well. Both should definitely be avoided. Most of all the tourists. Especially if one is trying to make a happy holiday home movie.

Many years ago we missed our chance to holiday in Egypt. The first gulf war was rolling into action, but I was stuck — making a film for Hollywood. Not a holiday movie with my family.

You are probably wondering: “ What is he talking about? The war wasn’t in Egypt, and I don’t remember his ever making a war film.” Right on both counts. Nevertheless, I was desperate to go on an Egyptian holiday. And thanks to the high standards of American education, most Americans seemed to think that Iraq was next door to Egypt and therefore possibly directly in the sights of their not-so-smart bombs. Now, only a few hours away, stood the pyramids — without a tourist in sight. Heaven! But, I was working. Damn!

Years passed, until one day a busload of Dutch tourists taking in the ancient sites of Egypt was brutally ambushed and blown up by a gang of Muslim fundamentalists. With no film commitments, this was my chance. I grabbed my 17-year-old daughter, Amy, and my mini-DV camera and we rushed off to Cairo and points south. Security was high, the fundamentalists were busy celebrating, and the Nile was empty of tourists. Bliss. Utter bliss. The people were lovely, apologetic and delighted to see they hadn’t been abandoned. The bartering rates were generous: 200 camels for my daughter, a once-in-a-lifetime bargain! Impossible to say no. But fortunately, blood turned out to be thicker than my burning desire for livestock.

It was a longer wait until my next chance for a happy holiday filmmaking opportunity.

I had planned to be in Marrakesh, Morocco, at the beginning of October of 2001. But the horror of Sept. 11 changed all of that. Paranoia was rampant. All Arabs and Arab countries were suspect. All Muslims were the enemy.

I had been to Morocco many times. We had shot part of “Time Bandits” there. But I found, despite all of my experiences in North Africa, I was having doubts. I was nervous. Everyone I knew was canceling travel plans. Fear of flying was universal. But it was my second daughter’s birthday. Did I want her growing up with the kind of mindless fear that was raging all around us? No. The only way to deal with this was to leap. Confront it head on. A slight change of destination — Fez, one of the most wondrous cities in the world. Tickets and camera in hand, we hopped onto a Royal Air Morocco flight and into the semi-unknown.

Like Egypt during the gulf war, Morocco was empty of foreigners. The people of Fez welcomed us with open arms and empty shops. A city of apologies. Their sad, heartfelt mantra was “Islam is peace.” We completely agreed. We dined in strangers’ homes. We made new friends while prejudice and paranoia engulfed the West. I shot beautiful footage of a tourist-free city, my daughter Holly (to the left, with a shopkeeper) immersed in a sea of Moroccans happily bustling about their ancient business as if the world had never changed. In America, Homeland Security was conceived and beginning to metastasize. The future of fear was growing in the belly of Dick and W’s double-backed beast. For us, though, our Moroccan holiday was the perfect antidote.

It’s eight years later. I wonder how many more of these wonderful holiday films my children will be in before the madness abates?

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