In partnership with the American Embassy in Rabat and the Sundance Institute, last night the Legation hosted a showing cum discussion of the award-winning documentary "Freedom Riders" in the presence of the film maker, Stanley Nelson.
I do not say award-winning lightly. Stanley Nelson, already a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Genius Fellowship, just picked up three Emmy Awards for Freedom Riders (Nonfiction Filmmaking – Best Documentary, Editing for Nonfiction, and Writing for Nonfiction).
With the additional draw of Nelson, we had a capacity audience of students, academics, interested citizens, and friends of the Legation. With the good vibes still resonating from last week's Tanjazz and its African American jazz greats, perhaps the memory of the American civil rights struggle was even more topical. And no one missed the obvious parallels between the American South of the Sixties and the current struggle for rights in the Arab world.
For those who don't know Freedom Riders, it tells the story
of a courageous band of civil rights activists who challenged segregation simply by traveling together on buses and trains through the Deep South in 1961. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws, more than 400 black and white college students risked their lives—and many met with bitter racism, mob violence and imprisonment—sorely testing their belief in nonviolent activism.
Stanley Nelson's 35 years of documentary film making (Jonestown, The Murder of Emmett Till) have honed his narrative skills to perfection. Moroccan audiences are known for their conducting full-blown conversations during lectures, concerts, films, but last night all were riveted to the screen, as septuagenarians told of their brushes with death at the hands of screaming mobs of Ku Klux Klan racists.
In the Q & A after the film, several of Tangier's film community peppered Nelson with "making of" questions, professional to professional, and many of the audience were impressed that he succeeded in getting the testimony of both sides of the racial and ideological divide.
Last night's screening and discussion shows, if anyone doubted it, that Freedom Riders plays well in the Arab world. Coupled with the screening of Cherien Dabis' Amreeka earlier in the day at the Cinémathèque, the Sundance Institute's Film Forward program has gotten off to a great start in Morocco, and, we hope, elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East.