Marrakech Jury Discusses Films in Competition and the Red City

Jury members emphasise the quality of this year’s vintage

Marrakech Jury Discusses Films Competition and

MARRAKECH — At Saturday’s press conference, which took place at the 14th Marrakech Film Festival, the jury, presided over by Isabelle Huppert, discussed motives for attending the festival, their views on cinema, as well as their relationship with Marrakech.

Asked what led her to accept to be jury president, after other high-profile engagements, such as a similar role at the Cannes Festival in 2009, Huppert explained that she was particularly attracted by Marrakech’s emphasis on auteur cinema and the high number of films by new directors: Eight of the 15 films in the Official Selection are freshman outings.

“For any film worth being called a film of cinema, each work reflects the soul of the director, and the difference from one film to another reflects the different personal identity of the creator,” she explained.

Huppert stated that she thinks this year’s Official Selection is very rich, from five continents, including national cinemas that interest her. She’s keen to see works from countries that she’s unfamiliar with, such as Azerbaijan.

Romanian director Christian Mungiu, who won Cannes’ 2007 Palme d’Or for his biting drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” was asked whether his own personal style of raw personal dramas would influence the type of films he will prefer in Official Selection. He countered by saying that his early films were comedies and that he likes watching films that are different from his own style and approach. “I’m a spectator like anybody else. I’m looking for something coherent and original that I haven’t seen before. I’m not looking for a specific kind of film.”

French director Bertrand Bonello told Variety he was particularly delighted to serve on the Marrakech jury given his own link to the city as a regular visitor and also because he recently wrote, directed and produced “Saint Laurent,” including scenes about the experiences of Yves Saint Laurent in the city. However for his film, due to budgetary constraints, he was unable to shoot in Marrakech and had to re-create YSL’s luxurious private dwelling, known as a riad, in a Paris suburb, where they lensed during a chilly November shoot.

“Yves Saint Laurent’s connection to Marrakech was very sensorial based on the colors, aromas, the clothes and fabrics that reminded him of his own childhood,” Bonello explained. “I’ve visited the city on many occasions as a tourist, and when I read the writings by Saint Laurent about Marrakech, I immediately shared the same sensorial references, the sense of colors and light that can only be found here. Even though we had to shoot in Paris, I tried to convey that in the film.”

Moroccan director Moumem Smihi was asked about the link between Marrakech and cinema. He referred to the philosophers who lived in the city in the Middle Ages, who established a bridge between Roman and Greek ideas and Arabic philosophy at that time, were extremely open and universal and had a major influence on world culture. “One thousand years later it’s gratifying to see that Marrakech has become a cradle for film culture,” he said. “Some of the world’s greatest directors, such as Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Pasolini and Godard, have shot films here, and have filmed some of our key monuments such as the Koutoubia mosque, thus establishing an implicit link back to the enlightened thinkers of the Middle Ages.”

U.K. actor-director Alan Rickman was also asked about what it’s like to be in Marrakech. “Being here is a bit of strange country and a new experience for me,” he replied. “I was here many years ago as a student, when I had no money and slept on roofs. So I’m now returning in very different circumstances. I’m always open to new films and hope that they will invade my sensibilities.”

French actress Melanie Laurent looks forward to discussing the films with the other jury members. She also noted that this year three of the jury members are from France, which adds an additional cultural angle to the discussions.

Indian director Ritesh Batra was asked whether it was difficult to produce independent films in India that are more poignant and pungent, given that the dominant model is escapist Bollywood cinema.

He agreed that Bollywood cinema has become the visible face of Indian cinema but was surprised to see that his own films have enjoyed such widespread success both internationally and in his own country.

“Bollywood films are the soundtrack of my life. I grew up with them. But Indian culture is open to many different approaches. Our population is pushing toward 1 billion people, and I think there’s a sizable audience for global stories. I meet many young people who  have downloaded series such as ‘House of Cards’ and are familiar with many different cinematic approaches.”

Finally, Italian director Mario Martone, who previously served on the jury in Cannes in 2000 and Venice in 1995, explained that he accepted the invitation to come to Marrakech because of the emphasis on daring new films from young directors. “It’s a magnificent festival with films from the whole world,” he said. “It’s great to be able to see films that exude the magic of cinema and make it possible to break down barriers.  Films that enable us to dream and then return to reality.”

The jury’s final decisions, determining this year’s Golden Star awards, will be announced at the closing ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 13.

The 14th Marrakech Intl. Film Festival runs Dec. 5-13.