Friday, January 20, 2012

"Hidden Waters" documentary: Director's Update

In September 2011, The View from Fez asked filmmaker Joe Lukawski about his new project in Fez  and he told us - "Les eaux cachées, or Hidden Waters will take the shape of a 52 minute documentary film, produced over the next nine months in and around Fez to address the issues of water conservation and the urban restoration taking place around Fez’s waters. In this, one of our principal aims is to bring Fassi tradition and folklore alive as we explore some of the dying trades linked to the old water system and to a way of life played out increasingly in the shadow of modernity." Four months later, we caught up with Joe for an update. Here is his report

Fez, 20 January 2012 -  After having been inspired by the city and its people over the course of a few short visits, I came back to Fez in September under the Fulbright program to do research and produce a documentary film about water in Fez. The working title “Hidden Waters” was inspired by the vast underground medieval water system that has fed Fez’s fountains and gardens, turned its waterwheels and nourished its people for hundreds of years.

However, over the years, damage to the old water system has threatened the old city as knowledge of the traditional system slowly vanished alongside the trades that maintained it. Restoring the areas surrounding the river, then, is not only a matter of resource management, but of urban preservation. In this sense, my original aims were to take a historical look at Fez’s waters and to explore the types of restoration initiatives currently underway around the rivers of Fez. However, since September the story has been widening as I meet more people and learn more about Fez’s traditions and cultural practices surrounding water.

All this time in re-production, fielding questions about what I’m doing in Fez and trying to promote the project, has forced me to see the film in a different light. I’m beginning to envision the film as it should turn out - a series of interesting and aesthetically beautiful episodes rather than something monolithic, dry and over academic. At this point, the film will be more focused on cultural practice and tradition, folklore, etc… than the structural elements of Fez’s history with water.

Though the old system is interesting and Fez is an architectural gem, in the end it is the human element that will valorize water as something to be protected and taken care of. Its too easy to take water’s importance for granted, or on the opposite end to feel helpless in front of technical information about its current state. I hope that talking about water in a way that places it at the center of urban culture and local tradition will enrich the vocabulary of people communicating about sustainable development and water by bringing daily life and culture into the discussion. Jinn stories, Gnawa dance, and the importance of water in everyday Moroccan symbolism are but a few of the topics I am exploring and filming at the moment.

Initial fundraising initiatives for the project on Kickstarter did not bear fruit, however, I really think this is what drove me to re-examine my project and what it means to be in Morocco as a Fulbrighter. In the end, I have a camera and a microphone, so there will be a film. I guess I am beginning to see Fulbright Morocco as a chance to learn more about myself as a filmmaker, about Moroccan language and culture and to make something more artisanal, with my own hands and the help of the motivated people around me.

The expat community in Fez – the likes of The View from Fez, Cecile from Fès et Geste, The Biehns, Marie Roland-Gosselin – and my colleagues in Fulbright Morocco have supported the project with their experience in the city, their connections and their ecouragement. Karima el Baz from MACECE has been a great help in bridging the gap between myself and the Moroccan authorities, helping me get my paperwork in order. Also, I’ve been able to collaborate with Peace Corps Morocco volunteers Joe Hollowell and Steven Kurvers on film shoots in the Middle Atlas, a great opportunity to bridge the gap between two long-lasting U.S. programs and a breathe of fresh air when the dense medina becomes hard to work in.

My Fassi colleagues have been fantastic. Without Omar Chennafi I could never have gotten anything off the ground. I’ve also had the great fortune to be able to have two Moroccan students from the College Moulay Idriss, Sarah Touiger and Yassine Houari, as production assistants in their time outside class. I’ll be teaching them a bit about documentary filmmaking from camerawork to sound to conducting interviews as they assist me in shooting.

As the first full videocassettes start lining up on my editing desk, it’s exciting to know that I have all the necessary paperwork in order, a production schedule, and a good head start on filming. However, it’s even more exciting to finally hit the streets camera-in-hand. I’ll be shooting on location in and around Fez through mid-April before starting post-production. A trailer should be ready by mid-March.

For updates, photos and production stories 
from “Hidden Waters,” check out the blog at

You can also visit Joe Lukawski's blog at


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