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An African Surf Documentary

A little anatomy or what it takes to make a surf movie.

When you are watching a (surf) movie the next time be reminded of one thing: Every little scene might have cost sweat and tears, hours of coordinating people, equipment and more people.

Photos by Judith Recher / Lupi Spuma
Text by Mario Hainzl

There has to be someone to feed the cow. Someone else has to slaughter it. Another person has to butcher it. Finally, it’s up to another person to grill and serve it. It is a pretty straight-forward process. And honestly, for me making movies was an as obvious process. That is until I dove into this ridiculous adventure.

When you are watching a movie the next time be reminded of one thing: Every little scene might have cost sweat and tears, hours of coordinating people, equipment and more people. There is a level underneath the surface of a 90-minute movie that is breathtaking, exciting, boring, interesting and annoying. For instance, here in Safi we arrived to shoot with our character Yassine. It was supposed to be a fairly simple scene: Yassine takes his longboard, goes up the hill, then I film him with our Ronin and the A7s camera as he races down the hill.

But here is where it gets complicated: Shooting film in a public area (= street) is a delicate thing in Morocco. You need to get a shooting permit in which you should be able to specify beforehand on which days you are going to shoot and in what city. Just the mere thought of such a document and the process of acquiring it in a country where things work so differently than at home is daunting.

 

Months before the shoot we contemplated the idea to do the filming without a permit. Because really, if there is a document, there are going to be questions. Through our production company, Lotus Film in Vienna, we have heard about the challenging contracts with the police the late film director Michael Glawogger had when he shoot his last unfinished film, “Untitled.” Just by having a shooting permit officials at borders, customs or even just an encounter with an average police officer on the street, can get sketchy.

“What is this piece of paper? What does it say?” they will demand.

That leads to other questions.

“Is the given situation with this film crew within the boundaries of what the permit actually permits?”

“Is this document real or faked?”

“Is there a hidden agenda behind this scene that could harm the reputation of his greatness, the king Mohammed V, may God watch upon him?”

But with tons of equipment we were brought to one conclusion: We have to have a shooting permit. There is no way around it. Otherwise we risk getting our equipment confiscated by some cumbersome policemen, or worse, getting our hard drives with the precious material seized by some wary border control officer.

Patrolling the phosphate industry compound of Safi.

Immediately that means changing the script. Everything must praise the great country of Morocco. There can be no discerning elements in the script. It’s pure adoration for Morocco. Then we save it as “BEYOND Surf Movie Treatment Morocco Edition” and find out who needs to receive it.

The embassy of Morocco was our first guess. We made an appointment and after driving a couple hours from our hometown in Graz, we found out that contrary to the emails we had send back and forth, the responsible guy was not there. We were not able to leave a digital version of the script at the embassy, so we went to a copy shop, steered around problems with a PDF, printed, came back and left the script, a translated motivational letter and copies of our passport.

»Three days before the shootings in Morocco, finally. The permit is ours.«

 

Weeks went by and we didn’t receive an answer. The responsible guy in the Moroccan embassy in Vienna, told us on the phone it might take some time. The documents have to get sent to the responsible guys in Morocco via embassy post, which usually takes two weeks and due to the many documents to process the ministry in Morocco would need at least another couple of weeks to give us a decision.

Three weeks before the scheduled shootings in Morocco we decided we couldn’t wait any longer and contacted a company that serves as a production company on location in Morocco for all sorts of foreign production companies. Emails were exchanged negotiating price and conditions under which they would help us acquire the shooting permit.

Two weeks before the shootings in Morocco and we’re still waiting.

Three days before the shootings in Morocco, finally. The permit is ours.

Shooting permits, passports, copies of passports, etc. Keeping it all together is not always an easy task.

So in the second week of the shooting in Morocco we race down the hill. Yassine goes deep, flying through the hot Moroccan air. The downhill track ends next to a roundabout and just as we hit the breaks to discuss with Yassine the next take a guy in a thick winter jacket stops next to our car. We didn’t notice him first, but suddenly two other guys, equally shabby dressed on old motocross bikes pull into the road and stop next to us. Being that there were three of them, they obviously felt adequately empowered to represent law and order in Morocco. They approached us.

“What is it you are doing here?” they inquire.

I pull out the shooting permit.

“Alhamdullilah, we have that paper,” I think as I hand it over.

One after the other takes long looks at the paper. It’s not the eye movements of somebody actually reading the document. It’s rather an observing-the-paper kind of eye movement. I asked myself if they read the newspaper the same way. Their judgement of the paper was not certain enough it seemed, so one pulled out a walkie talkie while the other two guys kept observing the document.

 

»What is it you are doing here?« they inquire. I pull out the shooting permit. »Alhamdullilah, we have that paper«, I think as I hand it over.

Is there a hidden agenda behind this scene that could harm the reputation of his greatness, the king Mohammed V, may God watch upon him?

Some Arab phrases and minutes later a friendly guy in his 60s, dressed like an upper middle-class dentist from the ‘80s on his way to his motor yacht in Miami, jumps out of a red Mercedes that had just come down the road we were filming on.

“Hello gentlemen,” he greets us. Observing the paper with his eyes, the dentist guy say, “Hmmm, ahhh, ummm, so what are you doing here in Morocco, gentlemen?”

“We are shooting a documentary about surfing in Morocco. It’s written there on the paper,” I reply, pointing at the shooting permit.

“I don’t see no sea here? So what are you shooting here?” he insists, smiling.

“We film our young friend Yassine here. He is a skater, not a surfer,” I reply.

A little unsure whether he is just learning, resistant or stupid.

“What is the topic of your documentary?”

 

The conversation kept going and in my mind I thought of the changed script, the emails, the arguments on how good the movie would be for Morocco from a touristic point of view, all this adoration for Morocco. And I thought of the absurdity of the situation. Would he really assume we would start a revolution in Morocco? Or an uproar of the masses by presenting a longboarding guy from Morocco? I felt annoyed and as if a piece of my granted freedom was taken away from me.

»I don’t see no sea here? So what are you shooting here?«

But we stayed respectful. And nodded our way through a conversation as senseless as hot coffee on a stick. Two hours later the dentist guy had called another guy even higher up in the hierarchy than him. He kept his copy of the shooting permit and we went up the hill for another take of Yassine going down the street, racing, free, fast and wild. It was the best shot of him longboarding and we had achieved what we wanted.

In the final movie it will be a scene of maybe six seconds. In your head Yassine will be the longboarding guy who rushes down the hill carelessly. Good for you.

For us it was hours spent for these seconds. That’s pretty pathetic. And fun.

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