From the outset, the Marrakech Film Festival has been structured as a celebration of world cinema, organized from a French-Moroccan axis, jointly inspired by the founding vision of fest president, Prince Moulay Rachid and by the late French producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, who passed away in 2003.
The fest’s director Melita Toscan du Plantier and artistic director, Bruno Barde, gave an interview to Variety, in order to weigh up the results of this year’s 13th edition and outline the plans for future editions.
“What sets us apart from other top festivals is that we offer the chance to relax and talk about cinema,” suggests Toscan du Plantier.
“People come here once and then ask to come back – that’s happened on so many occasions, including directors such as Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, James Gray and Abel Ferrara. People tell me, if Martin keeps coming back it must have something special – because he hates flying.”
The fest makes a point of not paying anyone to attend, which the organisers believe is essential in order to maintain its artistic credibility.
Since 2001, Toscan du Plantier has developed an expanding network of festival friends, which she views as a growing family and with whom she maintains contacts throughout the year.
“It really feels like a family,” she suggests. “Inclusively when it comes to the country tributes, back home in the respective film capitals, filmmakers often don’t talk to each other. But when they come to Marrakech, they converse and a special bond’s created. They’ve often told me they find a new sense of identity and community while at the fest – that’s something unique to Marrakech.”
Both Barde and Toscan du Plantier aim to develop the link to industry professionals at Marrakech, but on the basis of professional encounters rather than trying to establish a film market, which they believe is unfeasible.
This year’s Europa International meeting and the industry contacts facilitated by the 44-person Scandinavian delegation are steps in that direction.
“People don’t go to Cannes for pleasure,” suggests Bruno Barde. “We want to develop a stronger relationship with industry professionals, but by taking advantage of the sense of calm that people find in Morocco in order to focus on long-term strategies rather than making short-term deals.”
This year, under jury prexy Martin Scorsese, the organisers believe that it has been possible to stage the strongest edition to date – that began with a breathtaking moment when the jury members arrived on the first day.
One of the distinctive features of the festival’s opening ceremony is that each jury member officially opens the festival in their own language and the organisers take special care to ensure that all the different continents of world cinema are present at the fest.
Another key aspect of the fest is the fact that it’s grown in tandem with the Moroccan film industry and with cultural coverage in the local media.
“When we began in 2001, Morocco only made around 5 films a year and the journalists attending the fest were generalists who covered the event as a simple news item,” explains Toscan du Plantier. “Today, Moroccan cinema produces around 25 features a year, we get in-depth reviews of our films in the Moroccan media and all our screenings are packed – that’s extremely rewarding.”
For the forthcoming editions, the fest plans to maintain its essential structure, with a dedication to fresh voices from world cinema and a mixture of master-classes and career tributes.
In terms of country tributes, potential candidates include Japan, China, Brazil and Argentina.
“The only world cinema that we could never organize a tribute to is American cinema,” explains Barde. “Because America is the heart of cinema. It would be too big – and who would present and receive the award?”
In terms of career tributes, candidates include Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Robert de Niro.
“People who visit Marrakech become the ambassadors for our festival,” explains Toscan du Plantier. “There’s nothing quite like it in the film world. Our guests are surprised by the reception they receive from the public here, and they help spread the word.”The 14th edition of the Marrakech film festival runs early December, 2014.