France-Morocco | 99 minutes | 2020
Southeast US PremiereMorocco once had a Jewish population of more than 300,000, but from the 1950s on, a flood of emigrants left for countries such as France, Israel, and America. Celebrated filmmaker Simone Bitton shares her family’s personal story about this immigration as she invites viewers on a cinematic pilgrimage to her homeland of Morocco and searches for the traces Jews have left behind. She explores her Jewish roots by focusing on the Muslim guardians of the nation’s Jewish memory and the tradition of ziyara — a term that refers to a form of pilgrimage to sacred places. Traveling by car — and taking the opportunity to include beautiful shots of the passing landscape — Bitton makes a tour of Jewish heritage sites in towns and villages. She discovers remnants of the Mellah (the Jewish quarter), cemeteries, synagogues, and schools — places often lovingly and reverently maintained by local (non-Jewish) people, who see them as a beautiful and timeless connection to God. Throughout the film, Bitton investigates the tradition of ziyara itself, one shared by both Muslims and Jews. Taking a few days off to visit the tombs of saints, pilgrims not only pray but more importantly commune with nature, celebrate outdoors, meet new people and exchange ideas. In revisiting Morocco and the ziyara tradition, Bitton also discovers a story of hope. She conducts intimate conversations, not only with those old enough to remember sharing their land with Jews, but with a new generation of Moroccans inspired by their heritage. These deeply personal insights include everyday people and specialists, all of them modest and magnificent heroes.
Directed by Simone Bitton