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MARRAKECH — Fresh off his lifetime achievement award at the European Film Awards on Saturday, Roman Polanski returned to the 6th Marrakech Film Festival to give a press conference Monday and head the jury of a fest whose first stretch has proved strong on stars — Susan Sarandon, Laurence Fishburne, Martin Sheen — good in early competish quality and had some of its thunder stolen by one Ahmed Benkirane.

Polanski was in fine fettle, fielding sometimes bizarre questions from the Moroccan press with patience and precision, and joking he hoped that the lifetime achievement award at Warsaw wasn’t a sign that people wanted him to halt making films.

At Marrakech to present “Bobby” and “Matrix,” Fishburne went down a storm on Saturday, quite literally: His presence at a Saturday night three part “Matrix” marathon packed out Marrakech’s Jamaa El Fna square, only for the open-air to screening to be cancelled due to a rain downpour. The marathon ran successfully Sunday, playing to some 7,000 spectators.

Sharing a “Bobby” press conference with Fishburne, Sheen had to stop talking, tears welling, as he remem-bered how his son Emilio Estevez, then a child, told him that Robert Kennedy had died.

Sarandon charmed the Moroccan press with her use of irony, often directed gently at herself and her activism. Why are you so committed, she was asked. ” ‘Committed’ as, like to a mental institution?” she replied.

All three thesps underscored the value of film and the Marrakech fest, set in one of the most liberal of Arab states, as a form of culture bridging.

“When you can put faces on people it becomes more difficult” to drop bombs on them, said Sarandon, adding that she hoped that her presence at the festival “made the image of Americans more complicated.”

The Hollywood stars and competish directors confirmed upcoming projects:

— Sarandon, for example, that she will play opposite Tommy Lee Jones in Paul Haggis’ “In the Valley of Elah.”

— Brazilian director Andrucha Waddington, whose “House of Sand” was one of the best received of week-end competish players, confirmed that he was ready to start on his Spanish-lingo “Conquistador” but the project was on hold until producer Gianni Nunnari finished packaging the finance. Meanwhile, he was continuing to develop “Os penetras” (Party Crashers), a Rio-set buddy movie for Brazil-ian production company Conspiracao, in which he’s a partner, and had another project, “Brazilians,” in very early development, set up at Focus Features.

But, despite stars and auteurs, the Moroccan press was awash over the weekend with Bemkirane.

The former vice president of Morocco’s CGEM Business Conferederation looks set to go public on a huge film movie studio-leisure project, Morocco Film City, budgeted at $1 billion-$1.3 billion, and sited just outside Marrakech.

Big studio projects have been trumpeted in Marrakech before, never to see the light of day. The last to get off the ground was the CLA Studios, owned by Dino de Laurentiis, Cinecitta and Morocco partner Sanam Holding, which opened two soundstages in Ouarzazate in January 2005.

Benkirane and Brit actor-director David Lowe have been moving Morocco Film City for at least two years, however.

Backing for the project, according to press reports, comes from a mix of investment funds such as the U.K.’s Mel Morris and the U.S. Tritel Management Group, plus private financiers marshaled by Benkirane.

Internet-posted documentation describes the film studio complex as the Film City’s “backbone.” But no information is available about the number of soundstages envisaged. The Film City’s theme park includes a movie-themed commercial center.

At $1 billion, the Film City will have to look to turn a profit from real estate and tourism, offering a mix of golf course and lakeside villas, Kasbah-set apartments, plus a five star hotel. The film studios will add glamour and grab headlines.