Marrakech Film Festival’s nine-person jury, presided by British actor Tilda Swinton, held a press conference on Saturday morning, in which the jury members talked about their difficult task choosing the best film from the Official Competition of 12 first films and two second films. The Etoile d’Or will be announced during the closing ceremony on Saturday, December 7.

Swinton noted: “Art can never be a competition. This is more like a gathering. We all have the privilege to put on our psychic pajamas and sit together and perhaps find a gem and shed a little light on it. It’s not about saying that one film is better than the others.”

Given the global representativeness of the 14 films, which come from all around the world, the jury emphasized that the festival is about the interlinks between different cultures rather than vaunting an idea of national cinema.

Swinton said: “I am not a great believer in national cinema. We’re all here because we’re film fans. We wear psychic pajamas when we go to see a film, and that’s what we’ll be doing this week. But it’s also true that different parts of the world have different relationships with funding structures and with government support, and festivals can also shed light on some countries.”

Australian director David Michod echoed this idea saying that: “One of things I love about movies is the beautiful confluence of different art forms in one big soup. What I’m always looking for is movies that excite me, where I can feel a distinctive voice. The director is the person who gives the talent its singular voice. I get most excited when that voice is strong and singular.”

Michod nonetheless admitted that he welcomes Marrakech’s country tribute to Australian cinema. “One of the things that made me proud to see, in this extraordinary collection of Australian movies, is the diversity. Some are so brutal, others so camp, that all come from a strange desert island continent at the bottom of world. I particularly liked the fact that some of the older films were directed by people who weren’t Australian, like Canada’s Ted Kotcheff, who directed “Wake in Fright,” or the Brit Nic Roeg, who made “Walkabout.” I wish more of that happened, with people coming from other parts of the world and making films about Australia through foreign eyes. We now see the danger of bubbling nationalism rearing its head everywhere. It would be a wonderful thing if Australian cinema opened itself up to the world again.”

Another part of the world that came into focus during the press conference was Latin America. Swinton referred to her recent experience filming in Colombia, on “Memoria” by Palme d’Or-winning Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. “Until very recently my relationship with Latin America was primarily achieved through the cinema, like many people across the planet. It was a great honor to work in Colombia and I hope that this is just the beginning of a new personal relationship.”

Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho said that cinema can play an important role in Brazil, as he said that his country “seems to be retreating into the Middle Ages” as a result of the election of far right president Jair Bolsonaro: “Right now there is a culture in which artists are under attack in Brazil. It’s very sad. It’s a moment we have to go through. But I believe it’s a great opportunity to express ourselves. To write and make films. To go against the people in power and make them angry. It actually gives me a lot of energy. We should make them angry.”

He said that his recent film, “Bacurau,” which won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year, has been seen as a reaction to Bolsonaro’s election and an act of resistance, but was actually 10 years in the making. “We had already been paying attention to little bits of Brazilian society and the signs of the changes that were to come.”

Swinton added that one of the things she senses in the films in Official Selection is the “wide and eclectic choice of characters, and the willingness to take risks” which she identifies with in her own career as an actor. “People have talked to me before about my willingness to take risks. But what one person sees as risk for me is a comfort zone. I’m just following my nose. I personally don’t choose characters. I choose my comrades and this then leads to the choice of material.”

British director Andrea Arnold said that she was particularly keen to see the films at Marrakech because they are first and second films: “I love first films which often come from a place of passion. That’s what I’m hopeful for.”

Swinton rounded off the discussion with a rallying cry: “We’ve talked this morning about national identity, gender identity, and the differences between fiction and documentary. But I suggest we dissolve these divisions entirely. What interests us is the state of cinema. Entirely free and entirely subjective. This is a great opportunity from this wonderful festival dedicated to supporting cineastes’ visions. Let’s go for freedom here.”

Marrakech’s Official Competition
“Babyteeth” (Aus) dir. Shannon Murphy
“Mickey and the Bear” (U.S.) dir. Annabelle Attanasio
“Lynn + Lucy” (U.K.) dir. Fyzal Boulifa
“Bombay Rose” (India-Fra-U.K.-Qua) dir. Gitanjali Rao
“The Fever” (Bra-Fra-Ger) dir. Maya Da-Rin
“Tlamess” (Tun-Fra) dir. Ala Eddine Slim
“The Unknown Saint” (Mor-Fra) dir. Alaa Eddine Aljem
“Nafi’s Father” (Sen) dir. Mamadou Dia
“Last Visit” (Saudi Arabia) dir. Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan
“Mamonga” (Ser-Bos Herz-Mont) dir. Stefan Malešević
“Mosaic Portrait” (Chi) dir. Zhai Yixiang
“Sole” (Ita-Pol) dir. Carlo Sironi
“Valley of Souls” (Col-Bel-Bra-Fra) dir. Nicolás Rincón Gille
“Scattered Night” (S Kor) dir. Lee Jih-young, Kim Sol

Marrakech jury – Tilda Swinton (president), David Michod, Andrea Arnold, Chiara Mastroianni, Rebecca Zlotowski, Mikael Persbrandt, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Atiq Rahimi and Ali Essafi.