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Tilda Swinton, Naomi Watts Laud Cinema at Marrakech Film Festival Opening

The Marrakech Film Festival kicked off Friday with a bevy of filmmaking talent on the red carpet and an inspiring speech by the jury president Tilda Swinton.

Ever since its launch in 2001, the festival has used Morocco’s strategic and historic position as a crossroads between different world cultures, to bring together different filmmaking talents from the four corners of the world, and movies ranging from Hollywood blockbusters to ambitious art movies.

This spirit was highlighted in the opening ceremony on Friday evening, in which clips from the 14 films screening in Official Competition offered glimpses of the different voices and visions on show, including 12 first films and two second films.

Before Swinton took the stage, clips were shown from her films that underline the breadth of roles and film genres she has embraced in her career, including films as different as “Orlando,” “Snowpiercer,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “I am Love,” “Okja” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Swinton received a standing ovation as she entered the stage and was clearly moved, stating that it was her first time at the festival but is a “profound honor and mighty joy.”

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“The Marrakech Film Festival is a legend,” she added. “It’s a beacon for cineastes around the world who come from all stretches of our planet to meet under the African sky, which gives its blessing on all us. It’s a privilege to be here.”

Swinton said that having grown up in a “cinema-less part of Scotland” her first visit to a film festival, the Berlin Film Festival in 1985, which she attended with her first film – Derek Jarman’s “Caravaggio” – was a life-changing experience. “It opened my eyes, mind and heart to a new world, in a way that has never stopped.”

She added that Marrakech has a similar capacity to vaunt the “magic carpet of cinema.”

“This empathy machine invites us to walk in the shoes and the lives of other people and is good for us all. Its all-embracing nature holds up the best of our dreams and dispels our fears, so that we can share our wildest imaginations in the healthiest way possible. Cinema is our chance to suspend time and space and everything that divides us. It immerses us and transports us. To unbuckle, listen and celebrate our differences and also our similarities.”

She heaped praise on her fellow jury members, who joined her on the stage – David Michôd, Andrea Arnold, Chiara Mastroianni, Rebecca Zlotowski, Mikael Persbrandt, Kleber Mendonça Filho, Atiq Rahimi and Ali Essafi.

Swinton then received emphatic applause from the audience as she concluded: “We are up for enchantment, to celebrate the fellowship of film forever. Vive le Festival du Film de Marrakech! Vive le difference!”

The festival was then officially declared open by Australian actor Naomi Watts who is attending the festival as part of this year’s country tribute to Australian cinema.

Watts highlighted the ”exceptional gathering of my fellow actors, directors and friends and delighted festival goers. This year offers us the opportunity to discover the extraordinary breadth and diversity of Australian cinema.”

She concluded by stating that she is “honored and thrilled to declare the 18th edition of the Festival du Film de Marrakech officially open.”

The ceremony was then followed by the screening of the opening film, Rian Johnson’s murder mystery “Knives Out.”

The Marrakech Intl. Film Festival runs Nov. 29 to Dec. 7.

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