Friday, December 14, 2007

Marrakesh film festival captivates crowds with quality cinema

"[...] The Marrakesh International Film Festival, which opened with an opulent ceremony at the Palais des Congres Friday night, comes too late in the year to host an onslaught of world premieres. It is too young - and geographically too far removed from the power centers that fuel the global movie business - to be a major player like Cannes.

"In terms of regional standing, it doesn't have the institutional status of Cairo, Damascus, Tangier or Carthage. It doesn't have the money to make a splash the size of the new film festivals in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. But it does have the chance to forge a reputation as a platform for discovery and a forum for film lovers. Judging from the primary lineup of more than 100 films and the secondary schedule of master classes and other related events, the festival in Marrakesh is taking full advantage of that opportunity.

"Of course, the opening reception on Friday night did radiate a considerable amount of celebrity heat. Martin Scorsese awarded a Golden Star statuette to Leonardo Di Caprio, who has been in Morocco for the past three months shooting "Body of Lies," Ridley Scott's forthcoming feature about the war in Iraq, in which the Hollywood heartthrob stars alongside Russell Crowe. [...]

"But otherwise, the festival seems concerned with content and craft over glitz and glamour. It is coursing through key moments of beauty, intrigue and intensity, much like the pacing of vivid scenes in a memorable film. One such moment was Sunday night's open-air screening of Ahmed al-Maanouni's "Transes" on Jemaa al-Fna, Marrakesh's enormous, jostling public square located at the mouth of the old city's labyrinthine souk.

" "Transes," titled "Al-Hal" in Arabic and "Trances" in English, is a 1981 documentary about Nass al-Ghiwane, a group of five musicians from the Hay al-Mohammadi neighborhood of Casablanca that formed in the 1960s and became legendary in the 1970s for their mesmerizing blend of Sufi chants, Gnawa beats, Aita intonations and Melhoun poetry. Maanouni's film catches up with Nass al-Ghiwane just after the death of one the group's founding members, Boujemaa Hagour, in 1974. Much more than a concert film, "Transes" pieces together a collage of wild performances, candid interviews, roaming street shots and deeply historical archival footage, all of which digs into the roots of the music. [...]"

The Marrakesh International Film Festival continues through December 15. For more information, please call +212 24 324 493 or check out