Fear & Movies: Morocco, Hollywood and Me

By John Slattery

Having been overseas for three and a half years, I returned to the United States. When I came back, I came straight to San Francisco.

In the first few weeks people would ask, “So, where’d you move here from?” When I told them I’d just come from a year of teaching in Paris, 99% of their responses had a similar theme, which all fit into one category: I LOVE PARIS!

Typical responses were:
“Paris! Wow, lucky you!”; or
“You know my wife and I had our honeymoon in Paris”; or just,
“Man, I love Paris!”

Often in the same conversations, their follow up question had to do with where I was before Paris. When I told them that I’d been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco for two and a half years—they had a very different kind of response. They usually all fit into two different categories:

One sounded like this:
“Morocco?… Were you scared?”
“Morocco, hmmmm…. and you lived to tell the tale?
“You know, my wife and I, we were in Paris on our honeymoon and, we - got a ticket to go to Marrakesh for the weekend… but then, well, you know, we decided not to go.”

I call this category: FEAR.

The second category sounded like this:
“Morocco?  Did you ever see that mummy movie with the guy…. In some desert and there is this windstorm coming…? That was all shot in Morocco”; or
“My wife and I, we were in Paris on our honeymoon… and we went into this great little theatre in the 5th… and we saw Laurence of Arabia there….Wasn’t that made in Morocco?; or
“Morocco yea!...Black Hawk freakin’ Down!”

This category I call: MOVIES.

My first feature length film Casablanca Mon Amour is a non-traditional road movie, shot in Morocco, which explores the entwined relationship between FEAR & MOVIES. The film will have a special preview screening at the on Saturday November 10 at 2:30 pm at the New People Cinema in San Francisco as part of the San Francisco Film Society's Cinema By The Bay Festival. (Tickets are onsale now.)

Looking back at my return to the United States in 1998, I am surprised so many Americans associated Morocco with FEAR, inasmuch as the events of 9/11 had not yet transpired.

Before spending those two and a half years in Morocco, I’d spent a year of high school living with relatives in Ireland. When I returned from that first sojourn, nobody said, “Oooooh, Ireland, scary...”

My experience in Morocco reminded me of time spent in Ireland. Both the Moroccan and Irish cultures take hospitality very seriously. Neither culture has any regard for time. The Irish saying, “If you are only a day late, you’re still too early,” has a near exact translation in Moroccan Arabic.

Strangers and relatives took great care of me in Ireland; strangers and friends took great care of me during my time in Morocco.

When going to another land to experience its culture or to make a movie, factor these two things into your equation: a serious regard for hospitality and serious regard for good food.  You will find both of these in Morocco!

We are now two wars and more than ten years past the events of 9/11. And the landscape of the entire Middle East—of the world—radically changes every day.

Casablanca Mon Amour addresses what is perhaps the most pressing social issue of our time: The history, strength and quality of a particular relationship between an Arab/Islamic and a Western society. The relationship (between the U.S. and Morocco) is examined through the cultural lens of cinema.

Get this: From 1896 to 2000 over a thousand U.S. films showed Arab / Muslim characters. Of these, only 12 films showed positive characters, 52 were neutral, and more than 900 were portrayed negatively.

Casablanca Mon Amour offers a critical perspective—one often missing from the dialogue about Islamic World/West relations—on the unchallenged lineage of degrading images of Arabs in Hollywood movies.  With a look toward how these images naturalize prejudicial attitudes toward Arab/Islamic culture in the U.S. as well as how audiences in Arab/Islamic countries interpret these images.  Adding to the ongoing debate within the United States about America's national character and global role, the film connects to similar debates unfolding within the Muslim world.

Casablanca Mon Amour is a modern road movie—using movies as a road map plotting the course between yesterday’s Hollywood and today’s Morocco—that encapsulates the more complex and fractured nature of living in a world where TV and wars compete for headlines and occupy imaginations.


John Slattery began work in television as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, where he wrote and hosted a pilot for a social-issue TV series at the Moroccan National Institute of Television.

While studying directing and cinematography at UCLA he received the Kenneth Macgowan Award for Excellence in Filmmaking, the Joseph Drown Award for Motion Picture Production as well as the Edgar Brokaw Scholarship in Film Production. John also worked in the UCLA Dept. of Film, Television as a teaching assistant.

Professionally John has collaborated with a broad range of talented producers, DP’s and organizations on a number of short and full-length films, and TV shows, including: two-time Academy Award® winning Cinematographer Haskell Wexler ASC, PBS/WNET American Masters, and MTV.

In 2004 John founded Zween Works, a multidisciplinary film and video production house that produces short and long format social-issue films. Zween Works focus is creating narratives which inform and connect people to issues and organizations that work for justice.

John holds an MFA from the Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

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