The Marrakech International Film Festival 2014 began on Friday 5 December. As well as the main competition category, the festival also features tribute categories. This year’s personal homages are to actors Jeremy Irons (UK), Viggo Mortensen (US) and Adel Iman (Egypt) plus two of Morocco’s most prolific producers, Khadija Alami and Zakaria Alaoui.
Morocco is a sought-after location for films. The Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzarzate are one of the world’s largest. The combined filmography of these two producers includes almost every movie ever made in Morocco. Between them, they have worked on dozens of TV and feature film productions including movie series such as James Bond, Mission Impossible and Jason Bourne. The new James Bond film, Spectre, will be filmed here in 2015.
I am a big film fan and I love to get my annual dose of big screen entertainment at the Marrakech International Film Festival. 2014 will be my 3rd year. Read my reviews of films in 2012 and 2013 on the maroc-o-phile blog.
For a preview of the Festival, read my post for Travel Exploration here. And for top tips on caffeine breaks and pit stops between films, see my cafe guide here.
The Marrakech International Film Festival is now in its 14th year. In 2014, it will run from 5-13 December. Although not as high-profile as some of the European film festivals such as Cannes or the Berlinale, Marrakech offers a great opportunity to catch new international and art house films as well as retrospectives and back catalogues. This year, expect to see L’Orchestre des Aveugles, a Moroccan feature, in the competition. Also showing are the drama about Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything and A Most Violent Year, J.C. Chandor’s film about crime and corruption in New York City. The open air screen on Place Jmaa el Fna will show the latest Shah Rukh Khan Bollywood epic, Happy New Year and there will also be homages to Japanese cinema, Moroccan producers, Jeremy Irons and Viggo Mortensen. The jury is presided this year by French actress, Isabelle Huppert. Entry to the films is free with a public pass available in advance via the festival website. Read my preview of the 2014 festival here.
So, there is no shortage of big screen entertainment. But what about between films? Where are the best places for chilling out, posting your snaps of stars on social media, reading reviews and grabbing a coffee on the go? Fortunately, the Palais de Congrès is right in the middle of a hub of café culture in Marrakech’s Hivernage district.
Yesterday was my first visit to the Marrakech Biennale. Founded by Vanessa Branson, it’s a month-long festival of arts in all their diversity.
There is so much to choose from in the programme, but the first weekend is the time for openings, launches, vernissages, receptions and parties. The theme of my day yesterday was exposed.
On the final day of the 13th Marrakech International Film Festival, I saw two films with womens’ stories at their centre: Two Women on the Road (Deux Femmes sur la route) and Behind Closed Doors. Although they had this one commonality, they could hardly have been more different. Where one was set in the cut and thrust of Casablanca, the other took place in sleepy towns and villages of the Rif. Where one was pacy and full of suspense, the other limped along like the waddling gait of it’s older protagonist.
Hicham Ayouch at the Marrakech Film Festival 2014
The Ayouch brothers are great filmakers. I am more familiar with Nabil’s work than that of Hicham, but after seeing Fevers, I am keen to seek out his earlier work. Unlike many works by contemporary Moroccan directors, the film does not revolve around immigration, exile or gender roles, although these are present in the background. Rather, Hicham Ayouch’s latest film tackles issues of family bonds, marginalisation and mental health head-on.
Benjamin is a 13 year old boy who has known only violence and care homes. When his mother is sent to prison, the Moroccan immigrant family of his father – whom he has not previously known – try to do the right thing by the boy, by taking him into their Parisian high-rise home. Benjamin is played by Didier Michon, already seen in Ayouch’s previous film, Fissures. His performance – as the disturbed, nihilistic and manipulative teenager – is incredible. He has a permanent semi-scowl and mocking smile etched on his face in defiance of the world. He embodies a seething hatred many more experienced actors would find challenging.
This year, I have chosen only to see Moroccan films in the Marrakech Film Festival. I have made Morocco my home and so enjoy seeing its culture, relationships, politics and society through the lens of the movie camera. I also enjoy wondering why the Moroccan audience laughs at scenes I do not find at all amusing – there are clearly some cultural nuances that I still have to fathom!
Samira’s Garden begins with images of the art nouveau buildings of Casablanca that I so recently photographed myself. These big city scenes serve to underscore the distance – in kilometers but also in lifestyle – that Samira, the main character, is obliged to travel. Once Samira arrives at her destination, she begins her real journey. She has been married off to an older relative, a tomato farmer on an isolated estate some distance even from the nearest village.
maroc-o-phile at the Marrakech Film Festival
As I have now been living in Morocco full-time for three months, I was keen to attend the 12th Marrakech International Film Festival (30 Nov-8 Dec), in particular to see a selection of Moroccan movies, both in the competition and in the other categories. I wasn’t alone: all the Moroccan films were sell-outs, not only in the prestigious first screenings at the Palais des Congres, but also for the re-runs in the Cinema Colisée.
Malak (in the Coup de Coeur section of the festival) is the story of a teenage Moroccan girl who falls pregnant and her attempts to find a solution to her situation. That’s the plotline, but Malak is really a film about the marginalised in society; about the diversity of modern Moroccan society and the taboos that people face when they depart from socially acceptable behaviour.
crowds await celebs on the red carpet
On 16 May 2003, 12 suicide bombers detonated bombs in 5 sites in Casablanca, killing themselves and 33 others and injuring more than 100 others. They were the most lethal terrorist attacks in Morocco’s history. Last night, I attended the first showing of Nabil Ayouch’s Horses of God – about the Casablanca bombings – to a Moroccan general public.