Under his stewardship in various roles, the Festival has grown from an event which dazzled with its ability to attract the big names of New Hollywood and way beyond to one which also captures the fast-rising tide of high-caliber new filmmaking talent across the African continent and Arab world. Their joint presence – inspirational big names, inspired newer filmmakers, as Laraïchi says – now lies at the heart of the Marrakech Festival, born out by its high-quality first and second film main competition, Moroccan Panorama, vibrant Atlas Workshops and other sections.
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Variety caught up with Laraïchi on the eve of this year’s 19th Festival.
How have your goals entwined with the festival’s larger sweep?
I’ve been administrator for the festival since its creation, and had the honor and privilege to be appointed deputy Vice President of the Marrakech International Film Festival Foundation in 2004. For the past 20 years, under the guidance of our president, His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid, we have strived to renew this cultural event, which is very important for Morocco, to make it permanent and to make it more meaningful and influential each year. For some time now, Morocco has helped write the history of cinema. Our country has hosted some of the biggest film shoots of the last century, and we are convinced that cinema is both a lever of economic development and a powerful promotional tool. We welcome professionals from around the world, inviting them to see our country up close.
How has the festival evolved over the course of two decades?
Since its creation, the Marrakech International Film Festival has come a long way, making it one of the most important film events in the region and undoubtedly one of the most enduring. Over the years, we have refined our editorial voice and reinforced our commitment to discovering new talent by centering our official competition on first and second features. The festival has also enriched itself with several events such as the “In Conversation With…” series, which allows the public to meet the most fascinating personalities of the film industry as they discuss their vision and advice. We’ve also introduced the “11th Continent,” a section dedicated to avant-garde cinema, the “Moroccan Panorama,” which aims to present the best of recent national production and the “Young Audience” section, which trains tomorrow’s cinephiles.
Marrakech went on pause in 2020 and 21. Did that invite reflection about the festival’s wider mission?
Our mission never changed: We want to celebrate and showcase film creation in all its forms, to contribute to the discovery of new talent from around the world, and to help the development of the regional industry. In fact, the Marrakech International Film Festival never completely stopped. Even during the two years of the pandemic, the festival maintained our flagship Atlas Workshops programs in the digital format. This event allowed professionals from all over the world to meet online and to advance multiple projects.
What are some recent success stories from the workshop?
In the space of four editions, the program has supported 88 projects and films, several of which have been selected or awarded in the most important festivals. This is the case of Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy’s “Feathers,” which was the first Arab film to receive the Grand Prix at Cannes’ Critics’ Week. This year, many prestigious festivals selected films that received our support. Those include “Queens” from Morocco’s Yasmine Benkiran, presented at the Venice Critics’ Week; Fyzal Boulifa’s “The Damned Don’t Cry,” also programmed at the Venice Film Festival in the Venice Days section; and Adnane Baraka’s documentary “Fragments from Heaven,” which had its world premiere in Locarno.
How might the Atlas Workshop evolve going forward?
With our return to in-person events, we’ll maintain many of the evolutions that were put in place for our two online editions, keeping the expanded number of artistic consultations and allow for more moments of exchange around questions related to casting, sound, production and archival work. In terms of future plans, we want to maintain the quality of the selection, to be as close as possible to the concerns of professionals from the Arab world and the African continent, and to continue dealing with major industry themes through panels dedicated to writing and the challenges of film distribution and broadcasting. We also want to strengthen our support for Moroccan professionals by highlighting specific occupations. This year, we are highlighting scriptwriters, and through our inaugural Indaba program, to strengthen the skills of African producers.
With Tahar Rahim, Paolo Sorrentino, and Vanessa Kirby, among many others, the festival has certainly put together a starry jury this year.
The Festival has always welcomed prestigious juries, which is one of our strong points and a sign of credibility in the world film industry. In order to help a competition dedicated to discovery, and to highlight the emerging filmmakers within, we invite the scrutiny of a most prestigious jury, this year chaired by Paolo Sorrentino. We are very proud to include Martin Scorsese, Abbas Kiarostami, Francis Ford Coppola, Milos Forman, Yousry Nasrallah, Isabelle Huppert, John Malkovich, Jessica Chastain, Andrea Arnold and Naomi Kawase among our past presidents and jury members.
Star-power has always sort of been part of the festival’s mission, has it not?
From the very start, we’ve celebrated world cinema with country (and regional) tributes to Spain, Italy, Egypt, the U.K., South Korea, France, Mexico, India, Japan, Canada, Russia, Australia, Morocco and Scandinavia, while welcoming some of the biggest names from every continent. From the Americas, we’ve welcomed Robert Redford, Robert de Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu; from Europe we’ve had Sean Connery, Ridley Scott, Catherine Deneuve, Béla Tarr, Paul Verhoeven, Lynne Ramsay and Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; from Asia we’ve seen Shah Rukh Khan, Kore-Eda Hirokazu, Park Chan Wook, Jia Zhangke; and from the Middle East and Africa, Youssef Chahine, Abbas Kiarostami, Elia Suleiman, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Abderrahmane Sissako.
This 19th edition is particularly symbolic as it is the first to be organized after the pandemic and is eagerly awaited by professionals, the media, film lovers and the general public. It is an edition that should allow the Festival to reconnect with its audience and to celebrate, once again, the world’s cinematographic creation in all its splendor.
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