Marrakech Opens with Career Tribute to Adel Imam

Friday’s opening ceremony of the 14th edition of the Marrakech international film festival, saw a bevy of international directors and actors, including Isabelle Huppert, Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons, walk the red carpet into the Palais des Congres.

Since its debut edition in 2001, the Marrakech fest has established itself as one of the leading cultural events in Africa and the Arab world.

Each year, the festival has succeeded in attracting high-profile names from throughout the world, with regular repeat guests who are enthusiastic to return to the Red City. This year’s edition is no exception.

The daily televised red carpet entrances and gala tributes, replete with television crews and press photographers, have ensured that Marrakech has become an important promotional platform for filmmakers from throughout the world.

The fest’s glamorous atmosphere is further reinforced by the fact that top guests stay in some of Marrakech’s most luxurious locations, including the recently restored La Mamounia hotel, a five-star palatial hotel with lavish art deco interiors and huge gardens.

The nine-person jury further reinforces the fest’s world cinema link.

Jury prexy Isabelle Huppert began her greetings to the fest in Arabic, stating how happy she is to be in Marrakech, which delighted the audience. She then said that she was thinking in particular about two dearly departed figures — Yves Saint Laurent, who was a great fan of Marrakech, and Daniel Toscan du Plantier, who founded the Marrakech fest in 2001.

The other jury members then joined Huppert on stage, including France’s Bertrand Bonello, India’s Ritesh Batra and U.K.’s Rickman. In line with the fest’s tradition, the jury members officially opened the fest in their own language.

The ceremony then progressed to the career tribute to one of Egypt’s most famous actors, Adel Imam.

Sixty-four-year-old Imam, who has starred in more than 100 films, is one of the best-known actors in the Arab world. He works above all in the field of comedy, but also addresses socio-political and religious issues in his work. He is a staunch defender of the refugee cause and was appointed U.N. Goodwill Ambassador in 2000.

Imam’s long list of films include “Hassan and Mark” by Rami Imam, “Alzheimer’s” by Amr Arafa, and the high-budget production “The Yacoubian Building” (2006) by director Marwan Hamed, who is also attending this year’s fest with his follow-up film, “The Blue Elephant,” which plays in Official Selection.

Former Moroccan Minister of Culture, Mme Touria Jabrane, introduced the career trib, stating that Adel Imam traces a “fine line between anger and sarcasm” and is an “actor who believes in life, in freedom, in challenges and thereby brings us a sense of optimism even in the darkest moments.”

Imam, who is famous throughout Morocco, was received with a standing ovation. Speaking to the audience in Arabic, he was received with laughter and applause. He was clearly delighted to receive the award and stated, “I come from a country of great art and a country of great culture, a country that is the mother of all Arab cinema.”

Egyptian cinema has indeed been a bedrock of Arab cinema, which makes it particularly important for the rising Moroccan film industry to establish strong links with Egypt.

Fest VP Nour-Eddine Sail, former head of the Moroccan Cinema Center (CCM), explained to Variety how important it is that this year’s fest includes both the career trib to Imam and an Egyptian film in Official Competition, given the strong cultural links between Morocco and Egypt, and the fact that they are now the two biggest film industries in the Arab world.

Marrakech’s high media profile has also enabled it to become a key promotional platform for the Moroccan film industry.

Since 2010, the festival has forged increasingly close ties with the domestic film industry and many of the country’s biggest national releases are now premiered at the fest. In 2012, Nabil Ayouch’s “Horses of God” screened at Marrakech where it caught the interest of American helmer Jonathan Demme, who subsequently negotiated the rights to officially present the film in the US market. Last year’s edition screened the films that have dominated the domestic box office this year, including “Behind Closed Doors” by Mohammed Ahed Bensouda and “Sara” by Said Naciri.

This year’s edition includes one Moroccan film in Official competition — “L’orchestre des aveugles,” by Mohamed Mouftakir — and a further five films in the Cinema at Heart sidebar.

Current CCM topper, Sarim Fassi Fihri, emphasized to Variety the importance that the Marrakech fest has gained as a key annual meeting place for the Moroccan film industry as a whole, not just for producers and distributors but also for exhibitors.

Fassi Fihri plans to meet with several business groups during the event, in order to negotiate plans to invest in new multiplexes, in the hope of reversing the recent slide in domestic admissions.

The Opening Ceremony also provided a sneak preview of the week’s forthcoming events.

On Tuesday, Japanese cinema will receive a country tribute, with a major delegation attending — including director Hirokazu Kore-Eda, who presides the delegation, and helmers such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takuya Misawa.

Between Monday and Wednesday, the fest also includes master-classes by directors Spain’s Alex de la Iglesias Denmark’s Bille August and France’s Benoit Jacquot. August thereby also provides continuation to the 2013 Marrakech country tribute to Danish cinema.

Other highlights of this year’s edition include career tribs to thesps Jeremy Irons on Saturday and Viggo Mortensen on Sunday, and to Moroccan producers Khadija Alami and Zakaria Alaoui on Thursday.

Finally, in order to further reinforce Marrakech’s industry ties, the fest will be hosting two professional meets — a two-day workshop with Europa Distribution, on Dec. 10-11, and the annual meeting of Europa International, the organization that reps European sales agents, on Dec. 11-12.

The opening film was James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything.”

The 14th edition of the Marrakech international film festival runs Dec. 5-13.

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