‘Wake up’ leads local hopes

Marrakech champions tyro talent and draws vets from around the globe

As the evening light sharpens over Marrakech, hardening the Atlas mountains into the skyline, cinemagoers at the sixth Marrakech Film Festival can enjoy another spectacle on display: the range of filmmaking worldwide.

“Marrakech is really about discovering talent from cinemas around the world,” says Faical Laraichi, prexy of pubcasters SNRT and 2M as well as a fest VP.

After five years, however, the hallmarks of Marrakech, one of the biggest events in the Arab film world, are emerging.

“It takes time for a festival to acquire an identity,” says fellow fest VP Nour-eddine Sail says.

Running Dec. 1-9, and bookended by Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and Patrice Leconte’s reflective buddy movie “My Best Friend,” Marrakech is determinedly eclectic in terms of the lineup’s nationalities. Its 15-pic competish taps 14 countries, from Iran to Romania and Malaysia.

Morocco competes with two films. That reflects less on their origin than their strength.

“Wake-Up Morocco,” from Narjiss Nejjar (“Cry No More”), world preems at Marrakech. It’s highly anticipated among the local intelligentsia, partly for its reportedly controversial suggestion that Morocco didn’t snag the 2010 soccer World Cup because it has to modernize further.

Seen at Venice, Faouzi Bensaidi’s “WWW-What a Wonderful World,” is, for Morocco, a pioneering genre piece, a playful contract killer thriller spangled with visual artifice.

Marrakech boasts a second world preem: just-out-of-the-lab “Il a suffi que maman s’en aille” from Rene Feret, who helmed the admired 2001 “Rue du retrait.”

“Marrakech aims to showcase films that are very interesting, which haven’t been to festivals because they weren’t ready or which haven’t been sufficiently appreciated,” Sail says.

Among lesser-known titles are “Gradually,” from Iran’s Maziar Miri, chronicling a man’s desperate search for his deranged wife; Malaysian James Lee’s love-triangle study “Before We Fall in Love Again”; Rwanda genocide chronicle “A Sunday in Kigali”; Swiss adoption drama “My Brother’s Getting Married” from Jean-Stephane Bron; and Songyos Sugmakanan’s “Dorm,” an affecting boarding school chiller.

Many of these films revolve around children. “My priority is to find very good films, sometimes not very well known. I didn’t go out and say, ‘Let’s find films about childhood.’ But it’s interesting how many (are repped),” fest artistic director Bruno Barde says.

Competish screeners turning on the Western world’s psychological, social or political malaise include Francesca Comencini’s Milanese corruption pic “Our Country,” Antonio Chavarrias’ noirish murder investigation “Celia’s Lives” and Emilio Estevez’s “Bobby.”

“All the films represent their national cultures,” Barde says. This is most obvious perhaps in Radu Muntean’s docudramaish “The Paper Will Be Blue,” which sports typical Romanian hangdog humor, charting a confusing night for militia men just after Ceausescu’s fall; and Dominik Graf’s “The Red Cockatoo,” a tale of rock ‘n’ roll and repression in ’60s East Germany.

The competition is rounded out by two films that have been playing to good reviews on the festival circuit: Brazilian Andrucha Waddington’s “The House of Sand,” an enthralling three-generation femme drama; and Dane Ole Christian Madsen’s admired marriage-breakdown drama “Prague.”

Marrakech is famed for its hamman-decor hotels, winter sun, celebrity pull — Francis Ford Coppola and Matt Dillon (2002), Colin Farrell (2003), Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne and Oliver Stone (2004), Martin Scorsese (2005) — and a Sunday dinner, hosted by royalty, thrown at a castle under a baseball field-size marquee, meat roasting on spits behind diners.

This year’s guests include Susan Sarandon, who receives a tribute; Fishburne, for a “Matrix” marathon; and jury prexy Roman Polanski.

A year ago, Scorsese, typically, wasn’t in town for a tribute only: With Abbas Kiarostami, he headed a workshop — a Festival Foundation/Tribeca Fest initiative — tutoring young U.S. and Moroccan filmmakers who teamed to make microshorts.

The emphasis on training continues. Meda Films Development, a Euromed program co-financed by the EU and the Fest Foundation, holds its third session. Targeting the film industry in Mediterranean rim countries, the Euromed initiatives will tubthump their training, promotion, development and distribution activities at a press conference Dec. 6.

The Fest Foundation will create a year-round training facility. Per Laraichi, it is setting up a permanent HQ with classrooms, recording, mixing and editing suites.

“The biggest challenge facing Morocco is not production levels, it’s quality,” he says.

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