Rachida El Garani: Between A Rock And A Hard Place
Established filmmaker Rachida El Garani was born in Genk, Belgium in 1975. She has multiple identities being part Amazigh, Arabic and Flemish and sees herself as both African and European. Her complex heritage has meant that she is neither 100% Belgian nor Moroccan, which resulted in difficulties whilst growing up.
As someone who escaped an abusive marriage, El Garani is currently raising funds to create a film that unpacks the brutality and consequences of domestic abuse. She aims to empower women to extricate themselves from abusive marriages.
Looking back on her own life, El Garani says, “What I lived through destroyed me to the core as a woman. I had to rebuild myself and I’m still doing it until this day. I was silent about my past for 25 years, until I decided to make this film when my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer in 2016.”
At the recent 14th edition Durban FilmMart (DFM), which took place from 21 –24 July 2023, El Garani won three awards for her pitch of her upcoming film “In My Father’s House” (Morocco), which included The Special GZDOC (Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival) Invitation for 2024; the Miradas Doc Award (Tenerife), where she will participate at MiradasDoc 2024, as well as a post-production grant from the Red Sea (Saudi Arabia) to the value of $20 000.
At the age of 36, El Garani took the decision to follow her unrequited passion for film and attended the film school RITCS in Brussels where she obtained a master’s degree in Audiovisual Arts.
Deeply influenced by her father, she has rich memories of their shared love of cinema. As a 10-year-old boy, El Garani’s father had a small role in the film “Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves,” directed by Jacques Becker in 1954. This was filmed in Taroudant, where he was born, and was the beginning of his enduring and deep love of film.
Full of pride, he used every opportunity to tell visitors about his participation in the film. Later, when she was 12 years old, El Garani’s father gave her a camera and taught her how to use it. “I knew from a young age that I would become a photographer or a film-maker. But my father had other plans for me,” says El Garani.
Although the stage was set for El Garani to pursue her dream, at the age of 16, her father forced her to choose between two marriage proposals. “One proposal was from the Imam’s son and the other was from my father’s friend’s family in Casablanca. ”
Already in love with a young man from Taroudant in Morocco, El Garani was dismayed by her father’s intentions. Knowing that her father married for love, she could not accept that a different hand would be dealt to her.
While visiting her grandmother in Taroudant, Morocco, during school holidays, El Garani’s father threatened that if she didn’t choose one of the marriage proposals, he would take her passport away and leave her to live in poverty with her grandmother. Unable to defy her father, weeks after she turned 16 years old, El Garani opted to become engaged to the man from Casablanca. She was 18 when the marriage took place in Belgium.
Just three weeks into the marriage, her husband started to abuse her. The abuse became increasingly extreme and violent. Over the years she repeatedly protested, but her parents always made her return to her husband. However, in May 1996, El Garani was beaten up so severely that she resolved to ask for a divorce against her parents’ wishes. As a Moroccan immigrant, El Garani ’s husband would lose his residence permit in Belgium if the marriage lasted less than five years.
El Garani recounts, “I fled from Genk after two years of marriage and started a new life in Brussels. It took four years before the divorce was granted. He was doing all he could to prolong the divorce date so that he could get his residency permit.”
In September 2000, El Garani married her childhood sweetheart, who supported her ambition to become a filmmaker. At the age of 36, El Garani took the decision to follow her unrequited passion for film and attended the film school RITCS in Brussels where she
obtained a master’s degree in Audiovisual Arts. As a mother of two daughters and, after four arduous years of studying, she was able to follow her dream.
Finding out that her father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer spurred El Garani into reconciling with her father, from whom she had been estranged. Through their conversations, El Garani discussed making a film with her father because of his knowledge of their rich cultural heritage. He agreed to work on the film with her.
She recalls, “I bought two directors chairs – one with his name and one with my name. And a clapper board because my father asked, “Will you buy me a clapper also because I really want to do the action thing?.”
El Garani also attempted to film her grandmother who lives in Morocco. However, in March 2021, the family made the decision not to be a part of the film. Undeterred, El Garani intends to ride her motorcycle to Morocco, where she will re-enact and film the crucial parts of the story.
El Garani wants to explore the trauma and the resultant implications that has existed in four generations of the women in her family. She says: “I want to break the cycle so as to protect my daughters from the same fate…. My father was the director of my life.”
Given her multiple identities, El Garani believes that her film is important to audiences from Arabic, African and Western cultures. She stresses, “Domestic violence doesn’t have a nationality. Every woman in the world can identify with my story because it happens in every culture.”
As a final comment El Garani adds: “The attention, love and care that you give to your wounds help you overcome pain and trauma. I’m making a deeply personal film of a fractured family that will hopefully ultimately reunite and find space for forgiveness. My goal and ultimate wish is to reconcile with my father before I lose him completely to Alzheimer.”