Here's another example of how farsighted Senator William Fulbright was.
Fulbright, after whom the US Government scholarships for international exchange are named, probably didn't imagine that his program would be funding documentary films, but his intent – that funds from the disposal of surplus World War II materiel further international understanding – couldn't be better served by The Dressmakers.
This project, by Fulbright Morocco alum Shara K. Lange (who also received support from AIMS), covers the lives of artisanal clothes makers and those who cater to the world of international fashion. Morocco has both; just go down the street and the shop windows will display hand-made caftans (above image from the film's official website) for local customers looking for something nice to wear during wedding season in pre-Ramadan Tangier.
At the other end of the spectrum, there's the collection of timeless Yves St. Laurent creations recently featured at the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh. Morocco has always attracted the top names in fashion.
Salima Abdel-Wahab, who in some sense is the "star" of The Dressmakers, is a native Tangeroise who chooses to live in a bucolic hacienda outside the city, but who is equally at ease in the world of haute couture.
(cover of The Dressmakers Paper Dolls, a book to accompany the film)
Shara Lange's camera spends most of its time on Salima, but we also see the offshore textile industry in Morocco, including European and local entrepreneurs, and meet some of the women who work at the bottom of the ladder (90% of the garment industry is female – "they don't smoke; they follow instructions more readily").
ESPOD, a Moroccan non-profit dedicated to providing women training in dressmaking, features in the film – you wouldn't want to cross their gutsy hidjab-wearing trainer, who wants some of her assertiveness to rub off on her charges. Like TALIM's own women's literacy program, ESPOD helps provide skills that allow women to enter and thrive in the work force, a key pillar to family stability.
Not forgotten are the cottage tailors who can whip up a wedding caftan to order in their postage stamp sized workshops. There's a very professional touch to this warm film about people who make the clothes that Moroccans wear, but also provide many of the "Made in Morocco" jeans or teeshirts that you may have lurking in your closets.
While I might wish that the colorful caftans beloved of Moroccan women feature cool, natural fibers instead of the hermetically hot synthetics that seem to be the fabrics of choice, there's no doubt that there's a pride in featuring traditional designs. In the world of Moroccan clothes designers, there's a sense that they form part of the nation's cultural heritage – "it wouldn't do if everything people wore here were, say, American designs."
I think Shara K. Lange has a very promising future as a film maker in front of her. Watching a feature-length documentary about the clothing trade would not necessarily be my choice as a movie-goer or even TV-watcher, but the skills and research, along with the empathy and humor, that Shara and her team convey will stand her in very good stead whatever the subject.