In a landmark decision that nevertheless caught the inclusive spirit of 2015’s 15th Marrakech Festival – if somewhat overshadowing other awards – a Francis Ford Coppola-chaired jury gave its Jury Prize – and effective second biggest award – to all the 15 films in competition.
In what was termed a “special announcement,” on stage and visibly moved Coppola cited the competition titles and their merits in brief descriptions one by one, concluding “this year’s jury prize is for cinema itself.”
“These are times human beings can accomplish any goals by working together,” Coppola said. In that spirit, the jury had decided to give a collective plaudit, which was “new and fresh,” he argued, justifying the jury’s unusual decision.
The Coppola jury decision serves to highlight a competition that is purposefully diverse in the geographic origins of titles and forefronts talent to track that has caught attention during 2015. 12 of the 15 movies in competition, ranging from Jonas Cuaron’s “Desierto” to Brazilian Gabriel Mascaro’s singular “Neon Bull,” which won Best Direction, are first or second films.
Marrakech’s top plaudit, its Golden Star Festival Grand Prize, went to Beirut-set comedic crime thriller “Very Big Shot,” from Lebanon’s Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya. One of the most commented-on debuts at Marrakech, which bowed at Toronto, “Very Big Shot” caught attention both for its “Argos”-echoes and, inevitably after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, violence set in an Arab world context, though “Very Big Shot” plays out for most of its length as a crime caper.
Gunnar Jonsson took best performance by an actor for “Virgin Mountain,” from Iceland’s Dagur Kuri; best actress went to Belgium’s Galatea Bellugi for “Keeper,” another talked up first feature – like “Very Big Shot” – directed by Guillaume Senez.
Mascaro’s sensual “Neon Bull” turns on a cowpoke who’s a wannabe fashion designer, but is more an original – and sexed-up and sensual – social portrait than traditional aspiration drama.
Already praised for his “extraordinary performance” by Variety’s Ronnie Scheib, Jonsonn plays a gentle giant who falls in love in “Virgin Mountain.” In “Keeper,” “evincing huge potential” for helmer Senez, said Variety’s Andrew Barker, Bellugi plays a pregnant teen whose same-aged b.f. is determined to keep the child.
Marrakech’s 2015 competition took in eight feature debuts – Visar Morina’s Kosova-to-Germany emigration drama “Babai,” admired at Karlovy Vary, Stephen Dunn’s LGBT title “Closet Monster,” which was Toronto’s 2015 Best Canadian Feature, Sundance hit “Cop Car,” from Jon Watts, Senez’s “Keeper,” Sina Ataeian Dena’s ironically titled “Paradise,” about a young teacher embroiled in bureaucracy in Iran, Raam Reddy’s Indian village-set drama “Thithi” and Kazakh Zhassulum Poshanov’s “Toll Bar,” set against the background of the rich-poor divide in Almaty.
Also in the Marrakech competition mix were four second features: “Desierto,” an novel Mexico-U.S. border immigration action thriller, “Neon Bull,” already a prizewinner at Venice Horizons and Rio, Moroccan Jawad Rhalib’s emigration drama “Rebellious Girl, “ and Busan-screening “Steel Flower,” about a young homeless, from South Korea’s Park Suk-young.
“Virgin Mountain,” Michael Noer’s “Key House Mirror” and coming-of-age drama “Lingering Memories,” from Japan’s Keiko Tsuruoka, completed the competition.
Coppola’s jury took in helmers Anton Corbijn (“Life”), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet”), Naomi Kawase (“Still the Water”), actor-director Sergio Castellitto (“You Can’t Save Yourself Alone”), actress-producer Olga Kurylenko (“Quantum of Solace”), and thesps Richa Chadda (“Gangs of Wasseypur”) and Amal Ayouch (“The Gospel of Mark”).
One of the biggest events in the Arab and Africa film world, the 15th Marrakech Festival ran Dec. 4-12.
Elsa Keslassy contributed to this report
15TH MARRAKECH INTL. FILM FESTIVAL. DEC. 4-12, 2015
GOLDEN STAR FESTIVAL GRAND PRIZE
“Very Big Shot,” (Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, Lebanon, Qatar)
All films in competition
BEST DIRECTION PRIZE
Gabriel Mascaro (“Neon Bull,” Brazil, Uruguay, Netherlands)
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS
Galatea Bellugi (“Keeper,” Belgium, Switzerland, France)
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR
Gunnar Jonsson (“Virgin Mountain, Iceland, Denmark)
CINECOLES SHORT FILM PRIZE
“La Jeune fille qui venait de nulle part” (Reda Jai, Morocco)