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Hosts, Guests & Visuality in Ouzoud, Morocco

October 6, 2011

Reuben Ross

Ouzoud is a village undergoing rapid change. Once a quiet Berber community in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the last 10 years has seen it become one of Morocco’s major tourist destinations, receiving between 70,000 and 80,000 visitors a year. The main attraction: the Cascades d’Ouzoud, a spectacular set of waterfalls in the centre of the village, mentioned in popular guidebooks and advertised in Marrakech tour company windows. Two years ago, in the sweltering heat of mid-July, I traveled three hours from Marrakech in the back of an old Mercedes taxi to visit a Dutch friend who had recently bought a guesthouse there. But, upon my arrival in Ouzoud, I was surprised by what I saw. The waterfalls were beautiful and the landscape was impressive, but what about the large pile of smoldering rubbish? What about the dirt tracks that villagers used as roads? Surely, this was not typical of a major tourist destination that seemed to promise tranquility and natural beauty. I began to wonder how I can answer these questions and how I can better understand the complex relationship between tourists and locals. So, I returned to Ouzoud this spring to conduct fieldwork and produce a short documentary film as part of my MA dissertation project in Visual Anthropology, allowing me to explore these issues in further detail.

My film, entitled Ouzoud, addresses many of these issues in the anthropology of tourism, complementing the written dissertation. But, it was also conceived as an experiment in ethnographic cinema, to find an engaging and appropriate technical, aesthetic and theoretical form that such a cinema could take. I began with the premise that all films, including documentaries, are “created, structured articulations of the filmmaker and not authentic, truthful, objective records.” Just like tourists seeking some form of visual authenticity and, at times, perhaps even believing they have found it, documentary film often pretends to show the truth when, in fact, it is portraying a heavily mediated version of reality.  By making full use of thematic and dramatic editing techniques, I deliberately brought out the contradictions of tourism and the irony of many statements made by participants. I edited the film to reveal, through a variety of interviews and scenes of Ouzoud, the hosts’ and guests’ differing conceptions of tourism (at times echoing the ironic undertones Dennis O’Rourke uses in Cannibal Tours). Imagery such as a young child riding a donkey as a modern car drives next to him and Doug exiting his shiny Land Rover followed by a shot of a beggar, combined with engaging music and dynamic editing create a film that makes powerful comments on the nature of tourism. Ultimately, I share Jean Rouch’s enduring belief that ethnographic films should not be confined to the “closed information circuit” of academia, but that, ultimately, “ethnographic film will help us to ‘share’ anthropology,” through the use of such techniques. Hopefully, the film has done that.

Hamid, a young tour guide from Ouzoud, describes the effects of tourism on his village, with the waterfalls behind him. “If there are big hotels in the village, and after there is another one and another one, then maybe we are going to have factories and we are going to have a lot of pollution,”Hamid ponders. “I like to see everything traditional, everything as it was in the past. I mean, we would like some development, but not something other.”

In the end, Ouzoud finds itself as a village at the frontiers of mass tourism, where a problematical course of change is currently unfolding before our eyes. Scattered with holiday homes, guesthouses and campsites, its markets sell souvenirs and postcards, while countless restaurants serve couscous and tagine to tourists. Even now, just months after leaving Morocco, I have learnt of a new, Western-style supermarket being built in the center of the village. But, most importantly, Ouzoud is just one of thousands of villages like it, undergoing similar changes all over the world. It is now up to visual anthropologists and other social scientists to document, interpret and present these changes in new and effective ways. Throughout my written dissertation, I asked how tourism in Ouzoud can be defined, how it broadly affects the village community and how hosts and guests perceive one another. Meanwhile, if tourism really does have the potential to catalyze such immense global change then, through the film, I have explored whether a more visual, even cinematic, study of tourism will help illustrate that.

Watch the film below or on Vimeo here!

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