North Africa, West Asia

Amussu: participatory art and cinema as a means of resistance

A statement by the producers of Amussu, an upcoming documentary film that tells the story of a community's continued struggle for environmental justice.

Movement on Road ‘96
26 March 2019, 1.41pm
The 2nd Imider film festival for environmental justice.
Courtesy of author.

Through the ancient Amazigh proverb “Tar Izli Ur tamu” (an event without its poem is an event which never happened), our ancestors have affirmed the importance of poetry and art and their fundamental role in the documentation of our history and the wealth of collective memory. Today, the means of communication have developed considerably. Yet, this does not mean that we will substitute the poetry of our ancestors with cinema. But rather that we will combine the two arts to strengthen our cultural heritage and the legacy of resistance.

This idea has been applied to our upcoming documentary film, “Amussu,” whose creation is a form of resistance in itself. The film tells the story of our continued struggle as the community of Imider, a village located in south-eastern Morocco. For the past few decades, we have faced the abusive exploitation of the biggest silver mine in Africa, owned by Managem corporation, a subsidiary of the royal investment holding. Our struggle is about the right to water, land and a decent life.

Since the summer of 2011, we have protested against mining activities which have depleted our natural resources and destroyed the environment in our region. But also against the Makhzenist state’s marginalisation and impoverishment of our region. It is for these reasons that our social movement, which we have called “On the Road ‘96” has seen the light. Its name commemorates our community’s last peaceful uprising, repressed violently in 1996. The Movement on the Road ‘96 brings together the people of the Imider tribe, men and women, young and old, students and peasants, through Agraw – the general assembly of the community. Agraw is an ancient Amazigh democratic system inherited from our ancestors after the founding of the confederation of the Ait Atta tribes, before the establishment of the modern central state. With Agraw, we make collective decisions through direct democracy.

After the fifth year of our protest, we decided to make a feature film with the help of one of the many militants for our cause: Nadir Bouhmouch, a young and ambitious Moroccan filmmaker with whom we have already collaborated with on two short films, and thanks to whom we have been able to give the right value to this artistic work. Launched in 2016, the production of this film is also made through Agraw whose decisions are enacted by the “Local Film Committee of Imider.” This unique community-based production method is far from the typical one used in cinematographic production nowadays.

The thousands of people who expressed solidarity with the cause of Imider around the world often understood our struggle through the lens of its resistance, human rights, its demands, water rights and the protest camp on top of Mt.Alebban. However, this time, Amussu will reveal a world previously invisible to many; it will delve into the details of protestors’ daily lives, their sacrifices and the achievements of the protest camp. Through this work which blends the seventh art with our rich tradition of Amazigh poetry, we will explore human stories to which few have been exposed. We will unveil the different practices that govern indigenous communities’ relationship to the land, their local knowledge rooted in those historic democratic customs which testify to the strength of indigenous Amazigh social and political systems. These stand as an opposite to what we witness today: colonialist laws which maintain injustice and exploitation (especially the laws related to land, water and mining).

The Agraw (village general assembly) for filmic writing. | Courtesy of author.

Yet, as rich as this experience was, it was certainly not easy. Here we are referring to the fact that this film was produced autonomously, independently from any other entity. As such, the entire filming process had to be secured by the community, as we chose the right times and places to film to avoid the authorities. In addition to difficulties of filming in a repressive state, are the divergences of ideas between ourselves and between us and the filmmaker. These are discussed in Agraw with the objective of reaching a consensus that satisfies us all, particularly during the post-production stage. Outside of the filming process, we have organised cinema workshops which benefit the youth and children of the camp, under the guidance of the film crew and with the same equipment used to produce Amussu. In fact, some scenes in the documentary have been filmed by these trained youth, an illustration of our firm conviction to our right to practice art and culture without any restriction. Thus, in this manner we have directly used cinema, an art which is by no means exclusive to a certain social category or to those with money and authority.

None of us could have imagined how long our occupation of the pipeline would take, or that one day we will produce a long film about our struggle. We always hoped that a day would come when our problems would be settled and our normal lives restored with dignity. At the same time, we strengthen our resistance to adapt to the worst possibilities we might face us one day, including the continued indifference of the Makhzenist state or a return to the arbitrary arrest of our youth. Throughout these years were forced to turn our resistance into a way of life and to adopt sustainable and long-term forms of resistance, with a conviction that change is imminent sooner or later.

The experience of filming Amussu is inscribed into this long-term form of resistance. It is a project not only for and about us, the current activists of Movement on the Road 96, but also for the timeless cause and ideas we defend since it ensures continuity and communication with future generations, and challenges all attempts to erase our history. This erasure has happened before, as we see today with the misleading dominant narratives about the Ait Atta tribe’s resistance against colonialism in 1933, and during the uprisings of Imider against the Managem destructive actions in 1986, 1996 and 2004. Hence, Amussu also acts as an archive document for the generations to come, serving to preserve a significant part of the collective memory of our tribe’s struggle.

Still from the film. | Courtesy of author.

Furthermore, it is noteworthy to add that Amussu is a unique filmic experience since it is the collective product of a social protest movement, and not a production company. This is a rare achievement, the first of its kind in Africa. Perhaps, the closest to it are some indigenous Latin American and Aboriginal-Australian experiences. This is something we are proud of, and hope our experience can provide a model for any social movement looking to make itself heard. We are also proud to contribute to the filmography of Assamr (the southeast) and to provide a new reference for the world to understand the struggle of our besieged village. We see this film as a voice of all the victims of the mine industry in Morocco (Tafraout, Askawn Taliwin, Bouazer, Akka Tata, Tighanimine, Tiwitt Iknioun, Oumjrane, Jerrada, etc.) and the voice of all those struggling against extractivist industries (like those in the mining basins of southern Tunisia and Algeria). We encourage all of these communities to demonstrate more interest for the art of resistance, the art of defending causes which concern us all. And in particular, those of indigenous communities, considering their attachment to land and water, and their experiences in defending these sources of life. Amussu is not only a film but an experiment in peaceful resistance, we submit it to all activists of social and environmental causes.

Today, we celebrate the Amazigh new year 2969. After 90 months of the existence of our protest camp, and 2 years since we have launched the production of this film, Amussu sees the light. Today, our resistance continues and we keep in our memory, El Haj Mellioui, one of the characters of our film who has left us after a long struggle with disease. We hope the birth of this film will generate new lives filled with love and hope. The premiere of Amussu will take place soon here at the Imider protest camp.

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