Marrakech on express track to fest success

'C.R.A.Z.Y.,' 'Cart,' 'Golpes' among event faves

MARRAKECH, Morocco — The fifth Marrakech Intl. Film Festival may not be remembered for many jaw-dropping film discoveries. But it will mark another step forward for an event which aims, says fest VP Nour-eddine Sail, to emerge as the most important international meet in Africa.

Canadian Oscar submission “C.R.A.Z.Y.” from Jean-Marc Vallee, was one of the competition favorites. “Man Push Cart,” by Ramin Bahrani and Dane Henrik Ruben Genz’s “Chinaman” also curried critical favor, although most new pics in competition underwhelmed. Best-received through mid-fest was Juan Vicente Cordoba’s “A golpes,” a femme friendship film set in Madrid turning on boxing, cocaine, discos, energetic sex and jewelry heists.

Moroccan Khalil Benkirane impressed with docu debut “The White Thread.” Pic tracks Algerian-born San Francisco deejay Cheb Sabah as he hunts down century-old Maghrebi songs. Scenes, such as where a group of drum-thumping, caftaned ancient grandmas cut a track in a studio, their glee instantly comprehensible, drew applause at a sneak preview outside the fest.

Marrakech’s competitish, says Sail, attempts to mix new, little-known and high-quality, if better-known, pics. Trailing Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian, snagging standout preems won’t be easy. But the Marrakech event has other agendas besides snaring top competition titles.

These days, Marrakech looks like a boom town. New red-brick office blocks and hotels flank wide avenues that stretch out toward the snow-capped mountains. Marrakech’s outskirts are pockmarked by construction sites, swanky villas and condos.

At a time when Morocco is courting foreign investment to hike a healthy growth rate, Marrakech acts as a “shop window,” as Sail puts it, showcasing a country modern enough to run an international event. The opening ceremony’s red carpet parade of French stars, led by Catherine Deneuve and Sandrine Bonnaire, gets French media coverage.

Fest tributes were determinedly eclectic: Martin Scorsese, Moroccan vet thesp Hamidou, Spanish cinema, Bollywood helmer-producer Yash Chopra and Iran’s Abbas Kiarostami all had homages.

“The festival’s philosophy is to reach out to other cultures, not only through eclectic programming, but also a new way to approach cross-cultural exchange, linking with the Tribeca Film Institute,” says festival veep Faical Laraichi.

The Tribeca Film Institute-Marrakech Film Festival exchange program ran a festival workshop, toplined by master classes from Scorsese and Kiarostami, mixing eight New York and eight Moroccan students.

“The extra-cinematographic goal of the Tribeca-Marrakech exchange,” says Tribeca Festival exec director Peter Scarlet, “is for the students to get to know each other and each others’ cultures.” Kiarostami separated students into pairs to shoot DV shorts revolving around cell phones.

Fest is enthusiastically backed by film buff King Mohammed VI. Running Nov. 11-19, this year’s edition boasted nearly twice as many films (124) over nine days, as opposed to last year’s week-long event.

Laraichi says the fest plans to co-finance a Media Film Development course, backed by EU coin and aimed at 10 south Mediterranean countries. Fest is also studying a minimart.

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