Marrakech mixes politics, celebrities

Film festival balances hot-button issues, Hollywood stars

MARRAKECH, Morocco — Situated between the Mideast and Europe, the Marrakech Film Fest has become a prime spot for filmmakers and films bridging cultures and politics.

Fest managed to balance hot-button political themes by Israeli and Arab filmmakers with celeb appearances from Roman Polanski, Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen and Lawrence Fishburne. (This last presented a “Matrix” marathon to 7,000 Moroccans in Jamaa El Fna Square.)

The 6th edition of the fest, which wrapped Dec. 9, excelled in offering visions of often ordinary people in turbulent times to lively local audiences.

Local critics buzzed about Songos Sugmakanan’s atmospheric Thai boarding school chiller “Dorm” and Robert Favreau’s time-jumping account of Rwanda’s 1994 massacres, “A Sunday in Kigali.”

International journos were impressed with the sweep of Andrucha Waddington’s “The House of Sand,” the full-on perfs in “Bobby,” and the understated, docu-feel of Romanian Radu Muntean’s “Paper.”

Buzz also turned on the two Moroccan competish entries: Faouzi Bensaidi’s witty modernist manifesto “WWW — What a Wonderful World” and Narjiss Nejjar’s stridently patriotic, soccer-themed “Wake Up Morocco,” a world preem. They offered an intriguing contrast: “WWW” is a manifesto of modernity — for Morocco and its movies; “Wake Up” suggests Morocco is just not modern enough.

Auds greeted a suggestively homosexual scene in Egypt’s controversial “The Yacoubian Building” with raucous laughter. Moroccan cinema has yet to tackle same-sex romance.

As “Wake-Up Morocco” suggests, the country is still far from being modern in the western sense. But the Marrakech fest’s ample selection of political and cultural voices is one way to open the channels of communication.

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