Movement on Road ‘96
Morocco, Qatar, 2018
Nadir Bouhmouch’s Movement is a beautifully lensed, lyrical stroll through the lives of poor Moroccan villagers who take a determined stand against a silver mine that is both robbing their land of water and polluting it with cyanide.
As an object lesson in how community activism on the frontlines of little reported, micro-localised protests against environmental degradation by wealthy elites, Movement offers hope, encouragement, and an array of colourful characters. But, like many films both directed and produced by one individual, Bouhmouch is too close to the material.
The film opens in the arid, dusty and windswept environment of the village protest camp atop Mt. Albban, a rocky outcrop with sweeping views across an ochre-tinted valley toward distant mountains hiding «Africa’s seventh largest silver mine.» Here, in rock-built shelters, villagers have kept watch since 2011. This was the year when they turned off the source valve along a – now rusting – pipeline that had supplied water essential to the silver mine’s operations for years.
Martyrs from those times… are revered to this day.
The water source – and a concrete tank built over it – lies on land within the limits of Imider, the tiny settlement far below where the villagers eke out an existence. A fertile quadrant of almond trees and barley fields nestled in a sheltered corner of the valley near the ruins of a French-colonial fortress, Imider’s wells began running dry after intensive pumping began in the mid 1980s.
The first protests began in 1996 – from which the villagers take their action’s name, «Movement ’96». Martyrs from those times – men imprisoned or who died in clashes with the police – are revered to this day. Bouhmouch skims over what happened to that protest, but by 2011 – with almond trees dying and the land increasingly poisoned by cyanide from mine spoil leaching – the action was reignited. This time, villagers took matters into their own hands, turning off the valve operating the pipeline pump and occupying the heights of Mt. Albban.
Their story is told through their own words, songs, poems and community events, including a delightful open air spring fete complete with mums and dads (and their children) putting on short plays between speeches and encouraging film screenings of other environmental activists.
The harsh beauty of the arid heights and stony valley (cue shots of sheep and goats gathering around the rusting water pipeline), all gorgeous blue skies and straw and russet-coloured rocks, is contrasted with the verdant hues of the tiny fertile village, where almond blossoms now burst out «the size of cow hooves.» Beauty of the images aside, Bouhmouch chooses to tell the story through the villagers gathering and talking about events. It is an approach that avoids any necessity for a narrative commentary, feeling forced at times.
This time, villagers take matters into their hands
«We’ve suffered from drought and pollution because of this mine», says one woman as she and her companions scythe hay beneath an almond tree, «but ever since we closed off the valve to the mine, the water has come back. Last year we did not even have a harvest.» Another woman adds, «but it does not matter, as long as there is cyanide we cannot hope for much; when you demand your rights you are repressed.»
Bouhmouch makes no attempt to put forth the other side of the story; there are no images or interviews with anyone associated with the mine and viewers are only told it is one of the continent’s largest and most lucrative.
The village men arrested and imprisoned on protests claim they were set up; no footage of court appearances or of clashes with the authorities is shown. Perhaps that does not matter.
Movement reveals the unity that comes from a common purpose
Movement reveals the unity that comes from a common purpose for people who are palpably demonstrating that they are not powerless, and that by educating themselves and refusing to be intimidated, they can make a difference on the frontlines of the ecological movement that deserves the support of all those who are committed to a fairer, more equitable world. Protecting the environment is priceless compared to the squalid values global capitalism puts on money.