Eighth Marrakech Film Festival
Marrakech, mysterious and captivating, emerged once again from the sinuous streets of its ancient medina into the limelight. From the 14- 22 of November 2008, the eighth Marrakech Film Festival impregnated the arid air, and the tawny city reverberated with an ardor for the seventh art. The typical sounds of Jamaa el Fnaa were interrupted as it rocked to another rhythm through Martin Scorsese’s documentary "Shine a Light" about the legendary Rolling Stones, as an edition ever so promising opened up with this tribute to local cinema lovers.
At the head of this year’s festival stood a jury presided by American scriptwriter, director and producer Barry Levinson, holder of four Oscars. Other prestigious members composed the jury, namely German actor Sebastian Koch, Moroccan psychiatrist-psychoanalyst and writer Ghita El Khayat, English scriptwriter, director and producer Hugh Hudson, Guinean-Senegalese lawyer and writer Mariama Barry, Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida, Spanish scriptwriter and director Agusti Villaronga, Italian actress Caterina Murino, and Belgian actress Natacha Régnier.
Once more, the fifteen films from fourteen countries chosen to participate in the official competition seem to be a vivid representation of world cinema. According to M. Bruno Barde, artistic director of the festival, these films “deserve being there” and their choice was lead by, “a preoccupation for quality and not nationality”.
This year’s Etoile d’Or went to Russian director Mikhail Kalatozishvili’s film Wild Field. It is the story of a young doctor who chooses to work in the seemingly deserted steppe, and whose villagers eventually turn to him not only for professional advice but also to share their daily problems. The jury prize went to Chinese film The Shaft, directed by Zhang Chi, in which three stories tell the life of a mining family in the mountains of west China. A girl wants to start a new life but must choose between love and making true her dreams, her brother wants to become a singer rather than a minor, and her recently retired father tries to find his missing wife. Melissa Leo received the best actress award for her role in American director Courtney Hunt’s film Frozen River, while Eero Aho won the best actor award in Finnish film Tears of April, directed by de Aku Louhimies.
Britain, Russia, Morocco, and Egypt were particularly honored at this festival. “The Best of Youssef Chahine” offered a retrospective of the recently deceased Egyptian cinema icon’s best films, displaying a rich repertoire going from melodrama to comedy. Through another homage, “40 years of British cinema” presented the audience with forty six British films. Among the great directors revisited were Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick et Joseph Losey, with emblematic films such as "Stage Fright", "the Birds" and "Frenzy" by Hitchcock, "The Mechanical Orange", "Barry Lindon" and "Sunshine" directed by Kubrick and "The Servant" and "The Go Between" by Losey. “Andrei Konchalovsky’s Russia” was a vivid tribute to the Russian director’s work, who explains that it illustrates “the trajectory of my Russia, as I conceive it in my films, which retrace the main stages of its history.” The IMFF provided the perfect stage for Moroccan cinema to celebrate its 50th anniversary. For this occasion, the first film in the history of Moroccan cinema, directed and produced in 1958 by Mohammed Osfour, “The Cursed Son”, was projected. Jérôme Cohen-Olivar’s feature "Kandisha", Mohamed Zineddaine’s “Do You Remember Adil?”, and Aziz Salmy’s “Veiled Love Stories” were screened, giving a glimpse into the effervescence of the country’s film industry.
True to its glamorous image, the IMFF welcomed two actresses of international renown. American actress Sigourney Weaver and Asian actress Michele Yeoh colored the festival with an additional tint of glitz. However, backing the glam lays a genuine artistic talent proven over the years. Michele Yeoh, highly reputed for her action-filled roles, her ease in choreography and her mastery of martial arts, received the Etoile d’Or in a special tribute, and made a wish to shoot a film soon in Morocco and be able to “run on the roofs of Marrakech”. For Sigourney Weaver, delighted to be in the country for the event, “Morocco is among the most beautiful and most important filming locations in the world.”
However, although worldly recognized as a magnificent shooting location, Morocco refuses to remain mainly a plastering décor and is striving to fully develop its own cinema industry. The country has drawn a record investment of more than 100 million dollars this year from international productions, partly injected into national cinema. Nour-Eddine Saïl, general director for the Moroccan Cinematographic Centre, considers that the goal is to make Morocco, “one of the most important countries in terms of production, at least on an Arab and African scale.” In addition to this, Morocco aims at saving its disappearing cinemas and constructing new ones, with the goal of creating 150 new sites by 2012. Since its launch in 2001, the IMFF has gone hand in hand with cinematographic development and has shown its avant-garde nature.
This year’s festival has proved exceptional in its desire to make cinema accessible to everybody. An unprecedented project in Morocco to make it possible for blind or ill-sighted people enjoy films was put in place, and a wide array of adapted films were screened to the delight of this new audience.
Eight years after its launch, the International Marrakech Film Festival has undeniably confirmed again that it has made a name for itself at a worldwide level. More than 650 media representatives, both national and international, have covered this year’s event, which inscribes itself as a reference point for cinema in Africa. Placing itself in less than a decade into the demanding agenda of important cinematographic meetings, IMFF gives an additional push to the country’s swiftly evolving national cinema. This year’s festival, true to its standards, gives way to a promising 9th edition from the 4th to the 12th of December 2009.