April 16, 2024

This year’s Marrakech International Film Festival opened with a testament to art.

Two months after a devastating earthquake, and in light of the ever-more heart-wrenching news coming out of the Middle East, the film showcase kicked off with a humanist rallying cry voiced by jury president Jessica Chastain.

“In the weeks leading up to the festival, we were not sure that we would even be able to be here,” Chastain said at the Marrakech opening ceremony on Friday. “The world we share is shattered and divided. And so I have immense gratitude… [that] throughout history, art has been used as an accessible tool for communication, raising awareness about social issues and affecting positive change.”

Indeed, now celebrating its 20th edition, the Moroccan event has always sought to shine a celebratory light, emphasizing art and international communion, especially in dark times. Upon taking the stage on Friday, Chastain echoed those overarching sentiments.

“[Cinema can] break down barriers and start important conversations about difficult topics,” said Chastain. “We can sublimate pain and suffering and give rise to a consciousness of healing and unification, to create a deeper protection for all.”

Flanked by fellow jurors Dee Rees, Joanna Hogg, and Alexander Skarsgård, Chastain also noted the principally female makeup of this year’s jury, which also includes actors Joel Edgerton, Camille Cottin and Zahra Amir, alongside filmmaker Tarik Saleh and novelist Leila Slimani. Together they will oversee a 14-film competition that boasts eight titles directed by women.

“The power of a little nudge can go a long way,” Chastain added.

With festivities officially launched, and just before the festival’s opening night screening of Richard Linklater’s “Hit Man,” Willem Dafoe next emerged to introduce this year’s career achievement honoree Mads Mikkelsen. Dafoe touted the Danish star for his ambidextrous filmography, equally versed in European auteur fare like Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round” and Nikolaj Arcel’s recent “The Promised Land” as well as big ticket franchise outings with “Doctor Strange,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and the “Fantastic Beasts” series.

But most of all, Dafoe praised Mikkelsen for his “humility and generosity,” speaking in glowing terms about a single scene they shared – shot over the course of single day – in Julian Schnabel’s Vincent Van Gogh biopic “At Eternity’s Gate.”

Claiming his honor before a tony crowd filled with the likes of Isabelle Huppert, Tilda Swinton and Venice director Alberto Barbera, Mikkelsen returned the kind words, reflecting on a formative experience seeing Dafoe perform onstage, while extending similar reverence to 2018 Marrakech honoree Robert De Niro and to festival patron Martin Scorsese – whom Mikkelsen had met for the first time at this very festival.

Though originally slated to attend to act as artistic godfather for Marrakech’s Atlas Workshop — an industry program that fosters rising talent in MENA world — Martin Scorsese had to withdraw at the last minute citing personal reasons. The “Killers of the Flower Moon” director promised to return, in person, for a subsequent edition.

“Marrakech has given me the chance to meet my heroes and to share a stage with them,” said Mikkelsen. “But I am all the more grateful to now be in the same book.”

FIFM

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