Diaspo #32 : Mehdi Ayouche, a passionate doctor and artist

Living in Ukraine for ten years, Mehdi Ayouche left his homeland to pursue his passion for medicine and went on to become an artist. His love for cinema made him an international rising star in the movie industry.

Mehdi Ayouche, an atist who lives in Ukraine./Ph. DR
Estimated read time: 4'

A Fes-native, Mehdi Ayouche loved the world of art since an early age to which he was introduced through school theater plays and reading. Arriving in Ukraine at the age of 18, he studied at the faculty of medicine. Today, he is an intern doctor specialized in nephrology at the Kharkov Medical Academy. It is by following his vocation for medicine that he rediscovered his youth passions.

«Everything destined me to continue my studies in France», he told Yabiladi. «But given the lengthy procedures and following my relatives' advice I went for Ukraine, saying to myself : Why not!»

During the first two years in Kharkov, a meeting changed Mehdi's life : «During my second year studying medicine there, I met an artist who noticed my particular interest for cinema and art. She pushed me to take the initiative and get behind the camera.»

A filmmaker was born

It all began in 2011. During a holiday in his hometown, Mehdi Ayouche brought together his friends and family around a short film project : Gangs of New Fes. He used his then limited means and affording professional equipments was hard :

«I used my little digital camera and I set up several sets. The film reached about 50,000 views. Since then, I have been spotted by Noureddine Lakhmari who decided to back me, artistically. He sent me a message to encourage me and we met. He then began to influence me cinematographically by recommending readings, in a way to improve my script-writing techniques...»

Back in Ukraine, the young artist followed the advice of his mentor. While studying hard, he joined master classes and workshops. During another stay in Morocco, he was selected to play the role of Al Mansour Eddahbi, in an eponymous historical series directed by Anouar Moatassim. Broadcast on Medi1 TV, the saga allowed him to meet other filmmakers who showed interest in his talent.

However, the beginning was hard on the artist who was still studying : «being in the series made me miss school for a month, which could have jeopardized my studies. But I fought for it, I worked hard and I was able to overcome this obstacle.»

That was the beginning of a new life for Mehdi Ayouche who got in another project, which this time was a short movie entitled «Le goût du Saint-Pierre» and directed by Mohamed Amine Benhachem.

Screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the film showcased societal issues such as «male dictatorship and verbal violence» against women, the actor explained :

«One must know how to question one's religious, cultural, societal beliefs. The situation of women will not change until we are able to debate because we have not yet put our certainties into perspective. It's a question of education which is a matter far from being resolved and it's a shame.»

Art therapy and cinema

Slowly but surely, Mehdi Ayouche participated to films where he performed as an actor : This was the case for «La Cornice», a Moroccan-Italian co-production, directed by Nour Ayatollah, where he plays the lead role. The film will be released this summer :

«I embody the role of a young artist who is passionate about art. He spent his life buying old artistic objects before the independence of Morocco, dreaming of the day he would stumble upon a precious piece of art. What I liked about this role is the idea that you have to believe in your dreams and get attached to them. A character who looks a lot like me in his dreamy side and an artist. It is thanks to this willpower that I still want to make my dreams come true.»

Indeed, by entering the world of cinema, Mehdi Ayouche explained how his way of looking at medicine changed :

«When I started practicing art, I started to see medicine differently, especially its human side. I have always wanted to do something with which I would not only make money, but would also make myself useful. I found these values in medicine as well as in cinema.»

Thus, the doctor says he believes in the power of art to influence the psychological side of patients, a catalyst for serotonin, the hormone of happiness. Art, writing and cinema, it is what also helped Mehdi Ayouche overcome the darkest moments of his life :

«I had a difficult time in my teenage years. I went through a severe depression, I dropped my studies, but art saved me. All the melancholy and pain I felt, I translated it into words. I wrote a script for a short movie in the same period and I really want to make it happen sooner or later.»

Bringing Morocco and Ukraine together

In Morocco, artists recognize that «we suffer from a serious artistic and cultural poverty», which affects the industry. With this mindset, Mehdi Ayouche learned a lot from Ukraine, the country he lived in for so many years.

«When I first went to Ukraine, I was shocked. I saw people reading books on the subway. I learned a lot from that and met with passionate people who appreciate the simplest things in life. I saw my nephrology teacher doing theater in a very natural way. However, Ukrainians do not live easily, but they do not consider culture as a luxury. It's a very dignified and very cultured country, that taught me a lot about love for art.»

In Kharkov, Mehdi Ayouche directed Four movies, a short film in which he staged Moroccan students in Ukraine, as well as local actors. It deals with the issue of the consumption of hard drugs in the varsity environment in the country. A phenomenon that particularly affects Moroccan students living there : «I made this film after seeing a very close friend sink into drugs and it destroyed his life. It's a personal inspiration.»

The movie was screened in the universities of medicine and architecture. The director hopes that his movie would reach a bigger audience. At the first screening of the film in Kharkov, he was happily surprised to see the crowded movie theater :

«The Moroccans I met after the screening were very demanding, curious and admiring. They asked me to hold more activities of this kind. Indeed, there are no major ties between Morocco and Ukraine. That gave me the idea to create the Moroccan Cinema Month in Kharkov last January.»

Through this event, he created a list of Moroccan films to watch for the Ukrainian audience, and which will bring together, at the same time, the Moroccan community established in Ukraine and said country :

«The first edition created a gateway. It is a way of adopting young Moroccan students who come to Ukraine, to accustom them to the seventh art as a cultural practice and to make them love art.»

While waiting to set up the second edition of the event, Mehdi Ayouche will participate in an American film project this summer, alongside the writing of new scenarios.

«I adapt my productions to the circumstances where I make films. It's a way of showing that with a small budget or a big one, a self-production or big producers, we can make movies that would raise awareness among the youth. Entertaining and having fun is good. But to bring to the screen topics that are important to us in the hope that it will awaken the audience is a great thing to do. I am at the beginning of my career. I just want everything I do to be like me and to be the same as I am.»

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