Berber girls from the High Atlas Mountains

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Imaging & Sound -15 October 2001

Tea in the Sahara
          In November, DePaul music faculty member, Victoria Vorreiter, will screen her first ever production, "The Music of Morocco and the Cycles of Life," at the Escambar Film Festival in Toulouse, France. One of the remarkable features of the project—besides the stunning imagery and sound—is the fact that Vorreiter, a self-taught shooter, was able to circulate as a single woman in the Muslim community, recording the most intimate moments of Moroccan life.
          "When you look at the arts, music is unique because of its extraordinary transformative power. Melody and rhythm are immediately able to penetrate to the core of our being. Music ritual marks every rite of passage in our lives, from a baby in the womb until our last living breath. This is especially so in Morocco, a country where the oral tradition is centuries old and still very strong," explains Vorreiter, who has traveled to this North African country on 5 separate occasions between 1998 and March 2001, for research, interviews, and capturing footage on her Sony DV cameras.
           Vorreiter has long been drawn to Morocco, one of the most westernized Islamic countries, for its rich musical heritage. "Morocco's strategic location in the northwest corner of Africa places the country at a historical and cultural crossroads. So throughout the centuries the indigenous Berber tribes became influenced by the Arab world, Islamic culture, Sub-Saharan Africa, and all major Mediterranean civilizations. This means the music of Morocco is amazingly diverse. There is a fantastic mix of tradition" Berber chanting, Koranic recitation, Andalusion ensembles from Spain, trance music of Sufi brotherhoods, and music of the famed blue men of the desert, the Tuareg, " describes Vorreiter.
          "Because I was doing this entirely alone, and as a woman, I was able to move very discretely and had access to privileged situations. People would welcome me into their homes. For example, I was able to tape grandmothers singing ancient lullabies to their children. I filmed an all-night double wedding in a small Berber village. And I recorded the Moussem in Fes, a festival where tens of thousands of people come to celebrate with music the life-after -death of a saint in a symbolic funeral procession. Music accompanies all the important moments in life."
           Grant money for the 150K production raised from the Ford Fund, the Illinois Humanities Council, Royal Air Maroc, the Moroccan Tourist Board, and The Dowd Foundation allowed her to initially purchase camera gear and pay for travel expenses. The 80 hours of footage was finished by editors Leslie Simmer and Janet Sutcliffe at Kartermquin.
           A newcomer to production, Vorreiter's connection to Kartemquin was made indirectly through legendary author Paul Bowles, the ex-pat who wrote The Sheltering Sky later made into a film by Bertolucci. Vorreiter made a pilgrimage three times to visit Bowles in Tangiers before his death. In the 60's Bowles made field recordings of Berber music in Morocco for the Library of Congress.   
She credits him as her spiritual mentor for the project. A friend introduced Vorreiter to cameraman Jim Morissette, who also had a connection to Bowles. "Jim's father was Paul Bowles best friend in college. Growing up, Jim had heard about Paul Bowles his whole life. His father, Bruce Morissette, had a rich correspondence with Paul and had traveled with him to France to visit Gertrude Stein," she notes.
           Vorreiter plans to create a series of documentaries by filming the indigenous music of other countries when this film is completed.