The commercial capital of Morocco is catching up to the western world through a series of dedicated governmental initiatives, putting old institutions like ABC Cinema on Boulevard Mohamed V at risk. Made famous by the romance starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca is a bustling metropolis with a brand new tram line that connects all of its main neighborhoods.
By some accounts this is good. Quality of life has improved for some people, the place is modernizing. But this new world order has not only created environmental hazards such as poor waste and water management, it has also dealt cinema the death knell. And one man is valiantly trying to forestall its complete demise.Brownbook Magazine recently interviewed Hassan Belkady, the owner of the legendary ABC Cinema on Boulevard Mohamed V.
Belkady’s family took possession of the theater once a French ban in the 1950s, which prohibited Moroccans from owning movie theaters, was lifted and King Mohamed V returned from exile.
It was once a bustling place that shone during cinema’s golden age. From Black and White classics to local films, ABC Cinema was at the cutting edge of the moving image industry.
When Belkady’s father fell ill in the 1980s, there was no question but that he would take over. A self-confessed “Cinephile,” the dentist has plied his own money into this and three other cinemas to keep the industry alive.
He spent a decade slowly renovating each building so that they would have the comforts of a mega cineplex but the ambience of the original red curtain days when people dressed in their best clothes to see a new flick.
ABC Cinema continues to offer the best, including a weekly art house film put on with help from the French Cultural Institute, but Belkady admits that the tradition itself has suffered.
“Also, every year we lose many movie theatres here in Morocco,’ he told Brownbook Magazine. ‘This year, there are only about 30 theatres left and they suffer from a bad reputation for safety and cleanliness.’
While his theaters are clean and equipped with modern sound and seating, keeping people interested in the cinematic experience amid the new You Tube, iPad reality, where it’s easier and cheaper to watch movies on a tiny screen, is a challenge.
Belkady says that despite all the obstacles, he is ready to keep fighting.