John Slattery (Morocco 1994-96) began work in television writing and hosting a pilot for a social-issue TV series at the Moroccan National Institute of Television.
While at UCLA he received the Macgowan Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking, the Drown Award for Motion Picture Production as well as the Edgar Brokaw Scholarship in Film Production-and even worked as an assistant to the French actress Isabelle Huppert.
John also worked in the UCLA Dept. of Film, Television as a teaching assistant to Marina Goldovskaya, one of Russia’s best known documentary filmmakers, in her year long Advanced Documentary Workshop.
While living in the “big, ugly and often misunderstood” city of Los Angeles he realized the many connections to the “big, ugly and often misunderstood” city of Casablanca. This U.S./Morocco connection – and more are explored in his first film.
John’s feature directing debut, Casablanca Mon Amour had its world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival and will be playing at festivals world wide throughout 2014.
He holds an MFA from the Department of Film and Digital Media at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Here’s an early review of the film that was in The New York Times on December 21, 2012:
Moroccan Road Film Subverts Hollywood Stereotypes
DUBAI (Reuters) – When director John Slattery first visited Morocco, the familiarity was jarring – and as removed from the images of an exotic Orient conjured up by Hollywood as possible.
That dichotomy between the representation and the reality of Morocco drives Slattery’s charming paean to a country he clearly loves and makes “Casablanca, Mon Amour” a thoughtful rejoinder to U.S. popular culture.
Two young Moroccans spend three weeks travelling their native country, filming what they see on a digital camera while passing by studios and locations that have formed the backdrop for many Hollywood blockbusters, an industry Morocco has cultivated.
The film is spliced with shots of endearingly bemused or nervous ordinary people giving their thoughts to the camera about Hollywood and its global stars, as well as clips from classics such as “Casablanca” featuring off-the-cuff anti-Arab slurs like “you can’t trust them” and “they all look alike”.
“We had the idea of going on this trip and as this naive American film crew going to make the traditional American movie ‘using Morocco,’ but we wanted to subvert that,” Slattery said after a screening at the Dubai international film festival this week.
“There was not really a script but our film would be their voyage, and wherever they went we followed them. So in that way they were somewhat directing the film.”
Shot by Hassan, who narrates the road trip, the images shift from scenes of daily life caught on camera, to his comically testy relationship with his travelling companion Abdel, to a troupe they stumble upon in Meknes that plays traditional Moroccan “malhoun” music.
Hassan, a real-life film school student at the time, is using the road trip for a class project, while Abdel wants to visit a dying uncle on the other side of the country.
Slattery includes footage from Moroccan television from the Marrakech film festival in which comic actor Bashar Skeirej declares that “a country without its own art will never have a history”.
It’s a subtle suggestion that the government should do more to promote domestic film rather than just rent out landscapes for Hollywood misrepresentation.
Morocco has formed the backdrop for a fictionalized Orient in “Ishtar”, doubled as Abu Dhabi in the “Sex in the City 2” and been various distant planets in Star Wars films.
“National cinemas in many countries are being destroyed or have been destroyed because of this massive power of marketing that is Hollywood,” said Slattery, a California-based American of Irish origin. “They destroy little films, they crush the possibility for little stories.”
The film, a labor of love that took Slattery seven years to complete, borrows from the book “Reel Bad Arabs”, author Jack Shaheen’s study of Hollywood’s anti-Arab stereotypes. Its title references Alain Resnais’s 1959 French New Wave classic “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”.
“(When) I would say ‘I lived in Morocco’, people would say ‘were you scared’, or a polite ‘what was that like?’,” Slattery said, recounting reactions in the United States when he would talk about his first experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
“There was that whole category of fear in the responses, or ‘Morocco, you must have seen Lawrence of Arabia’, or ‘Blackhawk Down’! – all these film titles. And that stuck with me, that fear and movies were the two references for Morocco.”
Yet Slattery’s first day in the North African country could not have been more mundane, he said.
“This older man opens (his door) in an old tweed jacket. This is how these old farmers dress in Ireland, and his hands were calloused and tobacco stained. It just felt very familiar to me,” Slattery said.
“I spent the weekend there, hanging out with these people, cutting hay and drinking tea, it all felt so familiar to me. I thought ‘this is Ireland.'” Both the Moroccan and Irish cultures take hospitality very seriously. Both have a similar sense of humor. And 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.
And by the way, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!