Golden Star ‘Go’-es to Yukisada pic

Film's star Kobozuka nabs best actor prize

MARRAKESH, Morocco –Japanese director Isao Yukisada’s “Go” won the Golden Star Sunday night at the second annual Marrakech Intl. Film Festival. The top fest honor was presented by Gallic thesp Emmanuelle Beart at the closing night ceremony held within the ruins of the spectacular 16th century Palais El Badii.

Best actor prize went to the film’s star, Yusuke Kobozuka, who portrays a teenager of Korean ancestry growing up in Japan. Clara Khoury copped best actress honors for her performance in Palestinian pic “Rana’s Wedding.”

Brazilian helmer Fernando Mereilles won the directing award for “Cidade de Deus.” Screenplay prize went to Bangladesh’s Catherine and Tareque Masud for “The Clay Bird,” which screened in the Directors Fortnight at the 2002 Cannes Film Fest, where it took the Fipresci Award.

Special jury prize went to Gurinder Chadha’s “Bend It Like Beckham,” which also picked up audience awards this year at Locarno and Toronto fests.

Jeanne Moreau, who presided over the fest’s international jury, announced the prize winners.

Presenters included actors Irene Jacob, Anne Parillaud and Samy Naceri, Indian actor-producer Aamir Khan and director Costa-Gavras.

Director Ramon Mez de Guzman won the award for short film for Philippine entry, “Batang Trapo,” with Sweden’s Baker Karim winning a special jury prize for his short “Malcolm.”

The TV5 Cinemas du Sud prize went to Algerian director Yamina Bachir for “Rachida.”

Fest honored Francis Ford Coppola, David Lynch, French producer Samuel Hazdida and Moroccan actor-producer Mohamed Hassan El Joundi for their bodies of work.

“This second edition of the festival represents a major breakthrough for our national industry,” said Andre Azoulay, King Mohammed VI’s adviser and vice chairman of the fest foundation. “This encounter assumes a greater significance taking place as it does in the heart of a Muslim country.”

During the five-day fest, plans to build a major movie studio and film school in Marrakech were unveiled, and the BMCE Bank announced its creation of a $100 million film finance fund. The studio will be financed by Universal, Fox and Dino Di Laurentiis.

Fest participants included Catherine Deneuve, Matt Dillon (whose directorial debut “City of Ghosts” premiered at the fest), Chris and Paul Weitz, Johnny Hallyday, Patrice Leconte, Callie Khoury, Bonnie Bruckheimer, Carole Bouquet, Mathieu Kassovitz, Amos Gitai, Elia Suleiman and Jamel Debbouze.

From the rhetoric spouted by everyone from King Mohammed VI’s economic adviser to the hotel guide who was an extra in “The Man Who Would Be King,” the fest’s subtext was the marketing of Morocco as the next best film location.

The fest’s hiring of Daniel Toscan de Plantier, the indefatigable Unifrance topper, to run the show again this year means the government has its fingers crossed he will do for filmmaking in Morocco what he has already done for French film promotion around the world.

Baz Luhrmann, a partner in the new studio, located in Ouarzazate in southern Morocco, is one of several filmmakers already sold on the location; he will shoot “Alexander the Great” there at the end of 2003.

“Sixty million dollars of the film’s $150 million budget will be invested in the country,” Souheil Ben Barka, head of the Moroccan Film Center, told Daily Variety. Ben Barka added that $15 million of the $60 million De Laurentiis production “The Last Legend” will also be spent in Morocco.

“The light in Morocco is spectacular,” said L.A.-based Italian Vogue photographer Michel Haddi, a Moroccan. “New Yorkers shoot in Miami. Europeans shoot in Morocco.”

But it’s not only the light — which when filtered by the sand rising from the desert floor makes for dazzling cinematography — that’s drawn the crews of “Gladiator,” “Black Hawk Down” and other productions that have poured $200 million into the economy of this poor nation since 2000.

Ben Barka said other incentives to shoot in Morocco include an exoneration of the 20% Euro VAT tax on all goods and services, use of the Royal military and National Police, same-day custom clearance for equipment and 300 rain-free days a year.

All 1,500 of Morocco’s below-the-line film technicians work constantly, though preferably on foreign pics on which they earn five to six times more than on Moroccan productions, which now number a dozen a year.

“We’ve had a renaissance of national cinema,” said Andre Azoulay, the King’s economic adviser and veep of the Marrakech Fest Foundation.