Simone Bitton: In search of Morocco’s forgotten Jewish heritage
‘Ziyara’ a film by Simone Bitton
French-Moroccan director Simone Bitton, through her documentary “Ziyara” [Visit] (2021) takes her audience on a trip to her hometown in Morocco, in search of what remains of her Jewish childhood memory, a memory shared between Jews and Muslims in Morocco.
In the film, which began showing in French halls, director Simone Bitton goes to meet the Muslim guardians of the Jewish memory of the country emptied of its Jewish population, especially during the fifties of the last century, when many of the 250 thousand Moroccan Jews immigrated to Israel.
A report published by Radio France International on Sunday details the film, which was shown in theaters in France on Wednesday, and is participating in the Cairo Film Festival, and quotes the director as saying: “The subject of my film is not my own nostalgia, nor the Jews’ nostalgia for Morocco.”
In her interview with Radio France International, the director adds: “It is the Muslims’ longing and their sense of loss. This is what I searched for, and I wanted to know how they feel that there are no Jews in the “Rif-Morocco” anymore. It is their word that I went to collect.”
The director asserts that “the film is personal but not intimate. I am not looking for my family, for example, or my ancestors. It is more of a collective search. Muslims are the ones I care about. I think when you are a documentary filmmaker even when you are looking into the past or telling the past. You are always filming it, and therefore what is in front of the film camera is Morocco today, they are the people of today, Morocco is free of its Jews, but Judaism is still looming on the horizon.”
The French filmmaker’s camera wanders between the streets and alleys, evoking a not-too-distant history of those who inhabited those areas, from “Skoila” alley to “Sheikh Daoud” alley to “David Cohen alley” and “Ben Attar” alley. On the impact of the Peyton family and on the “forgotten Jewish-Muslim brotherhood.”
The film was completed a year and a half ago, and its marketing was delayed due to the pandemic, and the director says that she has worked on this project for 5 years and has now been presented in the halls, stressing that “the story that you tell in the film must be heard, today, especially in France, noting that She is heartbroken when she sees this gap widening between Jews and Muslims, despite their common history.
Simone Bitton is a French-Jewish director of Moroccan origin, whose films simulate the reality in the Middle East and North Africa, and represent an important historical document such as the movie Mur “Wall” (2004).