The Marrakech film festival, which was held from November 29 to December 7, had Gitanjali Rao’s hand-painted animated film Bombay Rose vying for the festival's top prize, the Golden Star.
For decades, cinema-loving Moroccans knew exactly what to watch if they were looking for a three-hour roller-coaster ride of emotions inside a movie hall — the newest romantic or action flick from Bollywood. In its 18th edition this year, the Marrakech International Film Festival could still vouch for that strong bond between Bollywood and Morocco built in reels. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani was part of the the festival’s open air screening at the famous Jamâa El Fena square in Marrakech’s old quarters this year along with Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish 3.
The Marrakech film festival, which was held from November 29 to December 7, had Gitanjali Rao’s hand-painted animated film Bombay Rose vying for the festival’s top prize, the Golden Star. Continuing its tradition of honouring major Indian film personalities, the festival paid its tribute to Priyanka Chopra Jonas this year. In the tribute section, Chopra was in the company of such celebrated personalities as American actor-director Robert Redford, French film-maker Bertrand Tavernier and Moroccan actor Mouna Fettou. Three films of Chopra — Bajirao Mastani, Krrish 3 and The Sky is Pink — were screened during the festival.
The tribute to Chopra is considered unique by the festival. According to the festival, “for the first time in the festival’s history a tribute was paid on the mythical Jamâa El Fena square, where Bollywood icon Priyanka Chopra received a tribute before the people of Marrakech”. Chopra said she was “thrilled to be returning to Marrakech, after attending the festival in 2012”. “It is such an honour to be recognised this year with a tribute on Jamâa El Fena square before the Moroccan public, who have always showed so much love and support throughout my career,” said the actor, whose two-decade-long career has spanned both Bollywood and Hollywood.
In the prestigious competition section of Marrakech, Bombay Rose was joined by such films as Babyteeth by Australian director Shannon Murphy, Chinese director Zhai Yixiang’s Mosaic Portrait, Scattered Night by South Korean directors Lee Jih-young and Kim Sol, and The Unknown Saint by Moroccan film-maker Alaa Eddine Aljem. The competition jury was headed this year by Oscar-winning Scottish actor Tilda Swinton with Afghan author and film-maker Atiq Rahimi, British actor Andrea Arnold and French actor Chiara Mastroianni as members.
Born in the beginning of the new millennium, the Marrakech International Film Festival is aimed at bringing together the best of cinema from around the world and inspiring a new generation of film-makers in Africa and the Middle East. Eighteen editions later, the much-loved festival in the central Moroccan city lying in the foothills of the majestic Atlas mountains is doing just that. Going by the number of debut directors from Africa and the Middle East — three out of four entries from the region — the ambition to build a bright future for cinema in Africa and the Middle East is working.
This year, the festival’s support for film-makers from the region to make their first and second feature films was backed by the streaming platform Netflix. The Atlas Workshops is Marrakech festival’s industry programme named after the Atlas mountains, running through North-western Africa. In its second edition this year, Atlas Workshops had 28 projects in development and post-production stages, selected from 130 submissions, representing the depth of ambition in film-making in Africa and the Middle East.
Daniel Craig and Jamie-Lee Curtis-starrer Knives Out, a murder mystery by Stars Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, opened the fest, which had a line-up that included US director Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven and American Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. The Marrakech festival’s In Conversation With programme this year include Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Robert Redford, Oscar-winning French actor Marion Cotillard, Elia Suleiman, Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani and American actor Harvey Keitel.
With all its star power and diversity of films, the Marrakech festival’s spotlight remains on the region’s cinema, backed this year by several debutant directors.
One such film-maker, Mehdi M Barsaoui from Tunisia, sets his film, A Son, between the fall of Tunisian president Ben Ali in January 2011 and the death of Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi in October the same year. Barsaoui handles the upheavals in Arab society through a couple caught in a crossfire between Islamic radicals and police while grappling with revelations of adultery. Another first-time director Maryam Touzani from Morocco deals with stigmatisation of an unwed mother in Adam, part of the gala screenings this year. Set in Casablanca, Adam portrays the courage of a widow to give shelter to a young pregnant woman abandoned by her lover.
The writer is a freelancer