Cultural Activities for Children
In Morocco, cultural activities for children are sparse. Now the Goethe Institute has initiated a project which gives children in various cities the opportunity to watch films made especially for children audiences. Mary Fowles reports
The Ciné Rail project has been bringing artistic and socially conscious films to children from all walks of life around the country in a one-coach train. Ciné Rail, with its small engine and creative heart, has toured Morocco over the last two months, chugging and tooting its way from Tangiers, down to Meknes, Rabat, Kenitra, Fes and Marrakesh.
Inside the long train car is a magical and fantastical environment where the bustle of Arabic whispers from excited children fill the room before the lights dim to black and the cinema rolls. Outside, trains arriving and departing from around the country rumble deeply, rocking the Ciné Rail slightly, giving the impression that it, too, is going somewhere.
Fostering cultural activities for children
When Dieter Strauss, director of Rabat's Goethe Institute saw a train car painted with the words "ciné ma voiture" sitting idle at Rabat's station last year, his imagination was sparked. The train was originally used to show educational and safety videos to rail personnel. But Strauss saw an opportunity that would benefit Moroccan children.
The project, which was conceived in cooperation with Morocco's Centre Cinématographique and the country's railway network ONCF, but which is entirely funded by the Goethe Institute, has little to do with the diffusion of German language or culture. The initiative, which, apart from Strauss, is entirely run by Moroccans, focuses on the development of Moroccan culture, and what is seen as a sorely lacking in the society: cultural activities for children.
"We don't do much in this country for children," said Rachid Kasmi, the director of cinema for Morocco's Goethe Institute. "So we wanted to give them a new experience with an educational message."
Bouchra Alile, a teacher at a private secondary school in Casablanca, took her 9-year-old students to Cine Rail and said the films dealt with many of the same topics she tries to teach in her class.
"The children were well sensitised to the themes," she said. "It is a new idea and these kinds of activities benefit the students and us, the teachers, by giving us the chance to get out of the classroom and see new things and meet new people."
Selection from children's film festival in Munich
The films, which were chosen from countries as diverse as Canada, Mongolia, Iran, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany, were selected at a children's film festival in Munich last year by Kasmi and Strauss with a deliberate set of criteria.
"None of the films have dialogue," said Kasmi. "It would have been very hard to find films for children in Arabic and the children would find it nearly impossible to follow films in French or any other language, I chose films with interesting story lines and music. This really holds their attention," he said adding that the children, who range between 8 and 14 years old, are best suited to watch short films.
"Each film we chose is no more than 10 minutes long, and the whole spectacle runs for a little under one hour."
Conveying values via celluloid
The topics dealt with in the films are crucial to the project's goal.
"The protection of the environment, social values like sharing and caring for one another as well as non-violence, and anti-racism were what we looked for in choosing the films," said Kasmi.
The last film in the series, which was made in Mongolia, depicts a young village girl whom, in order to fill a big metal carafe with water for her family, has to first bypass a vicious-looking German shepherd.
Swallowing her fear, she closes her eyes tight and pushes the heavy carafe past the dog. She makes it past the animal safe, but when she turns back to look, the carafe tips over and the water spills out. So, the scenario repeats.
Lack of water may even cause war
"This film shows that all around the world small children have to fetch their own water. We want to teach the children that we have to economise because water is expensive and in short supply. Also, water is something sacred in our [Muslim] society and it is essential to our existence. It is a source of energy and if we don't have enough, it can also cause war. So even though the girl is afraid, she has to show courage and fetch the water. She doesn't have a choice."
The Moroccan children who have seen the films come from varying social classes. Some come from bidonvilles, the impoverished shantytowns that populate most large cities; other children were brought from orphanages, while some came from public and wealthier private schools in each city. The Goethe Institute pays all the costs of transporting students to and from their neighborhoods.
"Over half of the children who came on board the Cine Rail had never even been on a train before," said Strauss, delighted to have given the children the opportunity.
"The kids really enjoyed the experience, and most importantly, I got the feeling that they really understood the messages in the films," he added.
Ciné Rail hopes to repeat the project in the New Year and take the train to three more cities. "We want to go to Oujda in the Far East on the border of Algeria, and Khouribga, two regions which are extremely poor and marginalized and where most people have never seen cinema," said Kasmi.
"We also want to return to Casablanca where there are hundreds of schools and a huge demand for our project."
© Qantara.de 2004