Moroccan-French writer-director Nabil Ayouch, one of the most prominent film voices in the Arab World, is set to direct “Positive School,” a hybrid, realistically-shot hip hop musical which returns him to the Casablanca of his 2012 Cannes Un Certain Regard player “Horses of God” and 2016’s “Razzia,” a 2017 Toronto Platform premiere and Morocco’s Academy Award submission.
All three are grounded in the contemporary realities of Morocco which will no doubt be portrayed in “Positive School” with the sense of urgency and necessity which is one of Ayouch’s auteur hallmarks.
But “Horses of God” and “Razzia” chronicle how seething frustration fuels violence – the Casablanca 2003 suicide bombings of “Horses of God,” the ex-student street protests of “Razzia”; or paralyzing despair. In contrast, inspired by real events in Casablanca and Ayouch’s own life, and set like “Horses of God” in Casablanca’s Sidi Moumen slum – a mix of low-rise HLM-style housing blocks and shanty town – “Positive School” looks set to record a much happier outcome, being inspired by a true-life cultural center lost in the midst of Sidi Moumen where former rapper Anas is teaching young kids, girls and boys, to express themselves through hip hop song and dance.
Ayouch and “Razzia” cinematographer Virginie Surdej and Amine Messadi have been researching “how to shoot the dance and choreography differently, in a very realistic, naturalistic way,” Ayouch told Variety.
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A fiction feature, “Positive School” will feature performances, both dance – new style and breakdance – and song: Rap and slam. The film will follow five main characters and Anas as the students battle obstacles to learning hip-hop, such as families’ opposition to young girls singing and dancing, which some claim is forbidden by Islam.
“Positive School” will show “how people who are told all the time by the state and institutions that violence should not be a way of expression can be taught another way of expression,” Ayouch said.
He added: “That’s what this teacher is doing, offering a new deal, regeneration, to these young kids who have nothing in this town. No place except this little cultural center where they can really express what they have inside. It’s giving people a sense of self-respect. It’s really civilization. It’s how to change the world.”
Moroccan hip hop is inspired by how black communities made themselves heard in the U.S. via hip-hop. “Positive School” will also be inspired by Ayouch’s personal experience. He grew up in the Paris suburb city of Sarcelles, a stronghold of HLMs with a large mixed ethnic community.
“The thing that changed my life and my destiny was a little cultural center, the Forum des Cholettes, exactly like the one where I’m going to shoot the film, one of the MJC (Maisons de la Jeunesse et de la Culture) network created by André Malraux. It’s another way of seeing culture, not the culture of museums but the culture of proximity that is close to people,” Ayouch said.
He recalled: “That’s where I opened myself up to the world, learnt to tap-dance, sing, watched my first Eisenstein and Chaplin movies. I’m very convinced I would not be a director if I hadn’t gone there.”
Written by Ayouch, “Positive School” unites the producers of “Razzia” – one of the only public signs that a film has been a success for those involved: France’s Unité de Production and Les Films du Nouveau Monde, Morocco’s Ali N’ Productions, which is Ayouch’s own Casablanca-based label, and Belgium’s Artemis Productions.
“Positive School” will go into production from August.