12/01/2013 08:41 am ET | Updated Jan 31, 2014

Stars at the Marrakech International Film Festival: from Juliette Binoche and Charlotte Rampling to Nicolas Winding Refn and Abbas Kiarostami

It's exciting to walk through the old center of Marrakech and see a Western movie high on a screen in the plaza, with a minaret glowing in the background, and hundreds of Moroccans enjoying this film treat from the Marrakech International Film Festival.


The Marrakech Film Festival, now in its 13th year, is one of the most important in the world, with stars and directors coming from all over the world to attend: Juliette Binoche, Claudia Cardinale, Atiq Rahimi, Sharon Stone, Charlotte Rampling, Martin Scorsese and Hirozaku Kore-eda etc. As artistic director Bruno Barde told me: "It is also a unique festival in that it is the only one in the Arab world which has no censorship." Morocco, he reminded me with enthusiasm, has an open and passionate relationship with the arts. "There are festivals in every town. Music festivals, art festivals, film festivals. The King of Morocco traditionally has the role to protect all beliefs: to protect art and culture."

His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid, the brother of the King, is the president of the festival. Today the street in front of the cinema palace was closed because the Princess was arriving. Soldiers in white uniforms lined up next to the palm trees in the dusk. I shared a taxi with a famous Moroccan actress here to attend the Princess's party that evening, en route to Dubai to screen her first directed film.

A co-production between His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid's film foundation and the French publicity firm, Public Système, the festival is not only open to the public, it is impressively well-run, chock-full with events for cinephiles, and shuttles running between Marrakech's best hotels to take guests from one venue to the other. The 8 day festival features, along with the competition films, a tribute to Scandinavian film, tributes to renowned actors, such as Binoche, and master-classes from four different directors in the seventh art, and one philosopher.

"I chose these five because each has a different approach," explained Bruno Barde. "Bruno Dumont is known for the rigor of the shot; James Gray for his classic construction, Nicolas Winding Refn for his archetypes, Abbas Kiarostami for his intimate contemplations, and philosopher Régis Debray for his theory of the transcendence of the image."

The 15 Competition films range from a Lithuanian offering about a doctor who bets on life ("The Gambler") to the Italian-US-Mexican film "Medeas", about an alienated family in the countryside. "I saw over 400 films to make this selection," Barde shared. "I choose a film because of the point of view and how it is told. The nationality is not important. Cinema is an art in diaspora. It's hard to say where a film is from these days, if the director is from one country, the actors from another, the producer from another, etc."

This afternoon, actress Claudia Cardinale shared a similar view as we sat together in the plush gardens of the famed Mamounia Hotel. "I speak all these languages--French, English, Italian, Spanish--because that is the nature of the industry. I am always going from one country to another!" she laughed.


The one common theme that Barde sees in all the competition films this year: "They are interrogating the environment about them. They are trying to come up with solutions."

The winning film receives 50,000 euros and is sold to Moroccan television.