Randa Maroufi — How the French-Moroccan director makes slow-moving shorts
French-Moroccan director Randa Maroufi has never made fast-paced work. Her measured films fit into the category of “slow cinema,” a minimalist style that gives viewers time to take in every small detail they see. With long panning shots and little dialogue, her films crawl through each scene, and each one hopes to send an important message. She tells Alex Kahl how she communicates so much with so little movement.
Six years ago, filmmaker Randa Maroufi noticed a trend of teenage boys posting photos of themselves holding lethal weapons on social media. She read that police forces were beginning to use the photos as evidence and open investigations into some of the boys. Randa considered the way the photos only showed one moment, one frame of each person’s life. She reckoned some of the boys holding weapons would have done nothing truly worthy of being investigated or arrested.
“When anything happens, especially something violent, and there’s a video of it online, we don’t see the full event because we only see it from one perspective,” she says. Her complaint was that in each case, we weren’t making judgments based on every possible angle or consideration.
In response, Le Park, only the second film Randa ever made, offers a full, 360-degree view of every single frozen moment. “I think these days with social media we are just scrolling and we don’t take time to interpret images. I find it interesting that the authorities can use one photo to open an investigation,” she says. “The film forces you to take more time to look at things.”
“Whenever there’s a video of something online, we only see the event from one angle.”
Shooting with a Steadicam, the director of photography Luca Coassin sprinted through each scene, weaving in between the characters and turning the camera as he went. They converted the footage into slow motion in post-production, with every 30 seconds spent with the camera rolling becoming three minutes in the film.
Her work brings to mind the “Slow Cinema” movement of the 20th Century, pioneered by directors like Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman. Defined by slow pans, long shots and little dialogue, it’s a style of filmmaking that allows a focus on the small details, the seemingly insignificant moments.
It’s thanks to this measured pace that films in this genre get their messages across. In Le Park, the slowness of the shots allows the viewer time to really question what they’re seeing. “There is no real violence in the film, but the sound and the slow take deceive us, and make it seem like something violent could happen at any moment,” Randa explains. Just as the photos with weapons on social media suggest violence but don’t actually prove its presence, Le Park suggests that fights might be happening but never shows them actually breaking out.
Like Le Park, Randa’s latest film, Bab Sebta, is also filmed in one long, panning shot. This time, she recreates the border between Morocco and Ceuta, a Spanish autonomous city on the north coast of Africa. A rare direct entry point from Africa into Europe by land, the border is heavily guarded. Randa had to cross the border multiple times when she was invited to an artist residency in the north of Morocco, and she quickly became fascinated by the process.
Spending up to eight hours queuing to enter and exit Morocco, she would watch those around her as they went back and forth to buy and sell goods. “It was so interesting to watch this place push people to find a way to pass the time,” she says. “Bab Sebta is about people who spend so much of their lives waiting. I wanted to explore what happens when time stops.”
The camera slowly pans along the long line of people as they sit and talk. Groups queue nervously, waiting for their bags to be searched by police. 10 men sleep huddled up together on a small piece of cardboard. The line moves so slowly that people don’t stay sitting in their cars, instead getting out to exercise or pray. Randa cast local people to star in the film, and most characters are real locals, “smugglers” Randa met at the border.
In Bab Sebta, Randa is documenting people for whom waiting is a large and inescapable part of their lives, and the slow, calm panning shot perfectly captures that act of waiting, with all the anticipation, frustration and fidgeting that comes with it. The border of Ceuta only really finds its way into the news when an attempt is made to breach its 20-foot fence by large groups of organized migrants, but the tranquil nature of Randa’s film paints the place in a different light. Towards the end, violence does break out. The action suddenly speeds up and the camera awkwardly zooms in and out, showing police wielding batons and smugglers cowering on the floor. Randa felt the need to show that these uncomfortable scenes were at least possible at the border, but soon after the chaos, Randa returns to her leisurely style, the film ending with a calm bird’s eye view of the long line of patient travellers.
“ I wanted to explore what happens when time stops.”
Randa’s most recent project Les Intruses doesn’t veer too far from the characteristics her projects tend to share. The footage shows city scenes involving multiple conversations or activities going on at once. There’s no men involved in any of the scenes. Women sit and play chess while those around them chat and smoke. Others kick a football around or sit on their scooters, helmets on. “When people see Les Intruses for the first time, they say ‘there’s something strange about this but we don’t know what,’ and then they continue to analyse it and notice that (the cast is) only women. If I was putting only men in these scenes, I don’t think anyone would think anything of it,” Randa says. She plans to continue the project and film all-female casts in as many typically male-dominated spaces as she can, hoping that offering the viewer everyday scenes like this can contribute in a more subtle way to public spaces being better shared.