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Marrakech honours Bill Murray – Coppola leads talk at jury’s presser

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Indian actress Madhuri Dixit holds her award for her contribution to acting, during the 15th Marrakech International Film Festival in Marrakech, Morocco, Dec 5. The festival runs from Dec 4-12. (AP)
Indian actress Madhuri Dixit holds her award for her contribution to acting, during the 15th Marrakech International Film Festival in Marrakech, Morocco, Dec 5. The festival runs from Dec 4-12. (AP)

MARRAKECH, Morocco, Dec 6, (AFP): US actor Bill Murray said as he received a lifetime achievement award at the 15th Marrakech Film Festival that he had a “heavy heart” because of the deadly attacks in France and California.

The star of “Groundhog Day” and “Lost in Translation” said Friday he was “honoured to be honoured”, but that the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris last month and left 14 dead in San Bernardino on Wednesday had put a damper on the tribute.

“My heart is heavy because of the events in Paris,” Murray, an onscreen funnyman, said at the Moroccan festival’s opening ceremony. “My heart is heavy because of the events in San Bernardino.”

Fifteen feature films are running in the official competition this year, with award-winning American filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola heading the jury.

The director of “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” and his team will pick the best film among a selection including Mexican migration thriller “Desierto” and Canadian coming-of-age story “Closet Monster”.

A total of 93 films from some 30 countries are screening at this year’s edition of the festival which runs until next Saturday.

Talented

Murray stars in the festival’s opening film “Rock the Kasbah” as a music promoter in war-torn Kabul, who discovers a talented teenager who dreams of becoming the first woman to compete in Afghanistan’s version of “American Idol.”

The non-competing film is helmed by Barry Levinson, the Oscar-winning director of “Rain Man” and political satire “Wag the Dog”.

The festival this year is shining a spotlight on Canadian cinema and honouring Canadian auteur filmmaker Atom Egoyan whose “Captives” competed in Cannes last year.

The Canadian line-up includes directing prodigy Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy”, which last year picked up Cannes’ Jury Prize.

Coppola and fellow jury members addressed the recent Paris attacks, their presence in Morocco and the role of filmmakers in tumultuous times during the opening press conference.

Coppola, who attended the press conference with Anton Corbijn (“Life”), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet”), Naomi Kawase (“Still the Water”), Sergio Castellitto (“You Can’t Save Yourself Alone”), Olga Kurylenko (“A Perfect Day”), Richa Chadda (“Gangs of Wasseypur”) and Amal Ayouch (“The Gospel of Mark”), talked about the obstacles that filmmakers must overcome to make personal movies that can change the world.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because art has the power to change the world that the artists are in charge of their art — because they’re not. Today, if you want to know who’s running the world, look at who is the major employer of artists of the world — it’s the various corporations who are employing them,” said Coppola.

“The language of cinema was invented at the turn of the last century by pioneers who were free to experiment but today you can’t dare to experiment. People who control the motion pictures want to make (profitable films). Now we’re at a turning point: As artists we can change the world but to do that we need to be free to experiment,” added Coppola.

Coppola also addressed the Arab world crisis. “What’s happening right now to Islam is heartbreaking — If you know the Quran, you know that the very first words say ‘God, the gracious and the merciful;’ these words are the roots of that beautiful religion which is being misunderstood,” said Coppola.

Hesitant

Castellitto admitted that he was initially hesitant to come to Marrakech in light of the Paris terror attacks but felt that coming to Morocco and be part of the jury was “an act of resistance, a political gesture.” “It’s crucial that we continue doing our job and keep being optimistic about the future,” pointed out Castellitto.

Jeunet, meanwhile, said that the terror attacks over the last year have made him fearful. “30 years ago I worked at Charlie Hebdo with Cabu and Wolinski (two of the cartoonists who were killed in the Jan 7 attack) but today if my co-screenwriter proposed me to make a film showing images of who you know (alluding to Mahomet) I wouldn’t do it. Sadly, I think a Kalashnikov has more power than a camera today.”

Meanwhile, Saul Dibb’s “Sand and Blood,” starring Russell Crowe will be one of the main shoots in Morocco next year. Produced by The Independent Film Company, it is line produced by leading Moroccan outfit Zak Alaoui’s Zak Productions.

During 2015, twenty-one long features and sixteen TV skeins were shot in Morocco through Nov 30, per Ouarzazate Film Commission sources. Total features should reach 23-24 by year-end.

Foreign shoot numbers in Morocco has edged down vs. 2014 (27 features and 12 TV skeins); in terms of spend, the amount reaches $40 million, vs. 2014’s $110 million.

However, Sarim Fassi Fihri, the new head of the Moroccan Cinema Center (CCM) head, the nation’s film agency, pointed out to Variety that real investment could be level since, due to new accounting regulation, producers must provide a bank certificates regarding spend associated with projects at the end of the shoot. In terms of titles, 2014 was an especially good with shoots such as Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert,” Christopher McQuarrie’s “Mission Impossible 5,” and Tom Tykwer’s “A Hologram for the King.”

Led by comedies, Morocco saw four US shoots: Todd Philips’ black comedy “Arms and the Dudes,” starring Jonah Hill and Ana de Armas, Larry Charles’ comedy “Army of One,” with Nicolas Cage and Wendi McLendon-Covey, Alexandre Moors’ Iraq War drama “The Yellow Bird,” toplining Will Poulter, Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston and Ian Olds’ drama “The Fixer,” with Melissa Leo, James Franco.

“2015 was not as good as 2014 but Morocco still hosted very interesting projects specially in Marrakech and Ouarzazate. And 2016 will be as good if not better than 2014,” said Amine Tazi, a producer at CLA Studios, who cannot announce several big projects for reasons of confidentiality.

Morocco still offers exuberant landscapes, competitive prices and a highly rated know-how from technical crews. Add the enthusiasm from locals and their understanding about possible complications caused by shoots, and a movies loving King and you have noteworthy assets for a consolidated servicing option.

Abderrazzak Zitouny, topper of the Ouarzazate Film Commission, lists more advantages: “Foreign crews are exempt from paying VAT (20%), and all materials and services used in the filming of foreign films in Morocco are VAT exempt; facilitatation of the import of technical equipment and machinery needed for filming; the intervention of some state agencies, the Royal Armed Forces of the Royal Gendarmerie and National Security, and others, to provide the necessary facilities for teams’ photography; and the simplification of administrative procedures regarding the granting of licenses of shoots.”

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