This film is very personal to me. I grew up in Salé and I understand what it means for those young people to have no opportunities and little hope for their future. The city of Salé had a golden age a long time ago – at the time of the pirates who played a huge role in protecting the country, but now the light of the city has burned out and it has been totally neglected. Those young people are trying to light the flame of the city again. I can see too what the circus represents for the trainees and feel their excitement about having the first full scale contemporary circus in Morocco. Many people believe that Moroccans can never be successful in the physical arts – dance, circus, even sport. These young people want to break this stereotype. I wanted to tell an important story about young people’s lives in Morocco, through a magical lens, which is mesmerizing and beautiful to watch.
We discovered Cirque Shems’y whilst filming Casablanca Calling. We were driving through Salé on our way to meet somebody, and took the coast road that cuts between the sea and the city. The desolate beauty of the coastline was striking. A dusty windswept stretch of empty land stretched out on both sides of the road – leading onto shanty towns on one side and onto old fortresses and the blue of the Atlantic sea on the other. Then, like a mirage, we saw what seemed to be sails blowing beyond a tall stone wall. We went nearer to investigate and realised it was a circus tent. Intrigued, we went inside and were amazed by what we found: a professional circus school training children from the surrounding neighbourhoods, many of whom were living on the street, to become world class circus professionals. The vibrancy and energy inside the tent blew us away and we just knew this was a film we had to make.
As a director, I have made films in many different countries, and have been lucky to work with talented people from around the world. I am committed to opening up marginalised experiences in a compelling and accessible way to audiences worldwide and using film as a medium to communicate human stories and activate social change. Pirates of Salé is a film I felt compelled to make because I wanted to convey the magic and the beauty of circus, and to heighten this through the stark contrast with the everyday world in which these young people live. This is more than a portrait of young people living through difficult times on the fringes of Moroccan society; it’s a universal story about the importance of pursuing our dreams and finding the freedom to do so.