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At the end of nine days filled with screenings and discussions, the jury, led by American actress Jessica Chastain, unveiled the winners of the 20th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival. Fourteen films were showcased in the official competition. Rémi Bonhomme, the festival’s artistic director, reveals the backstage details of this edition and highlights the Atlas workshops.

The twentieth edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival lived up to its promises, despite challenging circumstances. This edition focused more than ever on cinema as a universal language for awakening consciousness and bringing people together. The festival audience had the opportunity to discover 75 films from 36 countries across various sections: the official competition, gala screenings, special sessions, the 11th continent, a panorama of Moroccan cinema, young audience screenings, and films shown in tribute. For the first time in the Marrakech Festival’s history, the Étoile d’Or has been awarded to a Moroccan film: The Mother of All Lies (La mère de tous les mensonges) by Asmae El Moudir.

Interview with Rémi Bonhomme, Artistic Director of the Festival:

With 800 films screened in a world plagued by natural and human disasters, how do you manage to disconnect to do your work?

The selection process was conducted in a completely different context before the earthquake. It typically starts in early April and concludes in early September. We are a team of four selecting the films, along with four advisors from around the world — Morocco, Hungary, Lebanon, Canada, etc. The programming of the 14 competing films results from our diverse selections and perspectives, enriching each other.

When it comes to “films that seek to disrupt,” do you protect yourself when watching a film, or do you fully immerse yourself in the movie?

It’s crucial not to shield oneself but to remain curious and let each film carry you away. What we look for in programming is to be surprised; to discover beautiful cinematic voices, unique storytelling methods, and different worldviews. The films in competition each surprised us in their own way. Some films touched us more than others. For instance, The Mother of All Lies by Asmae El Moudir, a film we supported from the Atlas workshops in post-production, is remarkably original as a narrative documentary made by Asmae with her family. It delves into a family story confronting unspoken truths, resonating with Morocco’s history. Bye Bye Tiberias by Lina Soualem is another family story, as the filmmaker traces the journey of her mother, actress Hyam Abbas, from Palestine to fulfill her dream of becoming an actress. These films are part of stories about women who have learned to leave everything behind, stories of chosen or forced exile that also resonate today. Beyond these films, we also select filmmakers to give them a chance for visibility.

How did the idea of the Atlas workshops come about?

The idea for the workshops emerged in 2018, their inaugural year. It seemed essential to have a platform at the Marrakech Festival to support not only Moroccan filmmakers but also those from the entire Arab region and Africa. The workshops aim to meet filmmakers’ needs for professional guidance and a platform for exposure and networking, reflecting the creativity of African and Arab cinema. This year, three Moroccan films made it to the Cannes Film Festival: Deserts by Fawzi Bensaïdi, The Packs (Les meutes) by Kamal Lazraq, and The Mother of All Lies by Asmae El Moudir. These films, along with a Jordanian film, Inshallah A Boy by Amjad Al-Rasheed, were truly remarkable. The 2023 Marrakech Festival selection included nine films that benefited from the Atlas workshops, four of which competed, including a world premiere from Madagascar: Disco Afrika: A Malagasy Story by Luck Razanajaona, a filmmaker trained at ESAV in Marrakech.

What makes the Atlas workshops successful?

The workshops are a real accelerator; within just four days, selected projects receive professional advice and support. Their success is also due to the abundance of talent in the Arab and African regions, which attracts the curiosity of global producers, festival directors, and audiences. The workshops fill a gap and catch up on years of delay by facilitating meaningful encounters.

Do the film choices follow specific thematic criteria for selection?

The Atlas workshops are not a production fund. We don’t select a country or a specific theme, but a filmmaker. The international visibility showcases the diversity of perspectives. For example, The Packs by Kamal Lazraq is a thriller, a genre that has been underdeveloped in the region. Filmmakers should bring stories that are deeply personal to them. Arab cinema is currently moving away from socially-themed films.

Marie-Christine Tayah

Instagram: @mariechristine.tayah

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