‘Very Big Shot’ wins Grand Prize – Mascaro bags Best Direction Prize at Marrakech

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Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya poses for photographers after winning the Jury Prize Grand Prize Award for the film ‘Very Big Shot’ during the closing ceremony of the 15th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival in Marrakech on Dec 12. (AFP)
Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya poses for photographers after winning the Jury Prize Grand Prize Award for the film ‘Very Big Shot’ during the closing ceremony of the 15th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival in Marrakech on Dec 12. (AFP)

MARRAKECH, Morocco, Dec 13, (Agencies): The Lebanese-Qatari crime thriller “Very Big Shot” has snatched the Golden Star Festival Grand Prize of 15th Marrakech Film Festival. Marrakech’s top plaudit, its Golden Star Festival Grand Prize, went to Beirut-set comedic crime thriller “Very Big Shot,” from Lebanon’s Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya.

One of the most commented-on debuts at Marrakech, which bowed at Toronto, “Very Big Shot” caught attention both for its “Argos”-echoes and, inevitably after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, violence set in an Arab world context, though “Very Big Shot” plays out for most of its length as a crime caper.

Gunnar Jonsson took best performance by an actor for “Virgin Mountain,” from Iceland’s Dagur Kuri; best actress went to Belgium’s Galatea Bellugi for “Keeper.” The cinecoles short film prize went to young Moroccan Director Reda Jai for role in the unknown girl movie.

The “Very Big Shot” movie plot centers on Ziad, a Beirut drug dealer; in a rough-hewn prologue that starts in medias res, his brother, Jad, takes the rap for him after a killing.

When Jad is released five years later, Ziad wants to leave behind their lifestyle to open a restaurant with him, an idea that has Jad less than enthused.

Meanwhile, a botched drug-transport run likely intended as a setup has left Ziad with a stash of the amphetamine Captagon. It would be enough to set them up comfortably, if only Ziad had a way of transporting it.

Inspiration arrives in the form of Charbel, a filmmaker who regularly buys cocaine from the family’s pizza-delivery joint.

In an early scene, Charbel complains that Lebanon’s movie industry has “many talents, but only few opportunities to explore.” Ziad catches a glimpse of Charbel’s latest documentary and, from it, learns of an Italian production company that purportedly attempted to smuggle drugs in film canisters. When Ziad gives it a shot, he discovers that he needs a permit to avoid a scan.

The prize for best direction went to Gabriel Mascaro’s “Neon Bull”, a drama about the Brazilian rodeo scene.

In a landmark decision that nevertheless caught the inclusive spirit of 2015’s 15th Marrakech Festival — if somewhat overshadowing other awards — a  Coppola-chaired jury gave its Jury Prize — and effective second biggest award — to all the 15 films in competition.

In what was termed a “special announcement,” on stage and visibly moved Coppola cited the competition titles and their merits in brief descriptions one by one, concluding “this year’s jury prize is for cinema itself.”


“These are times human beings can accomplish any goals by working together,” Coppola said. In that spirit, the jury had decided to give a collective plaudit, which was “new and fresh,” he argued, justifying the jury’s unusual decision.

The Coppola jury decision serves to highlight a competition that is purposefully diverse in the geographic origins of titles and forefronts talent to track that has caught attention during 2015. 12 of the 15 movies in competition, ranging from Jonas Cuaron’s “Desierto” to Brazilian Gabriel Mascaro’s singular “Neon Bull,” which won Best Direction, are first or second films.


Mascaro’s sensual “Neon Bull” turns on a cowpoke who’s a wannabe fashion designer, but is more an original — and sensual — social portrait than traditional aspiration drama.

Already praised for his “extraordinary performance” by Variety’s Ronnie Scheib, Jonsonn plays a gentle giant who falls in love in “Virgin Mountain.” In “Keeper,” “evincing huge potential” for helmer Senez, said Variety’s Andrew Barker, Bellugi plays a pregnant teen whose same-aged b.f. is determined to keep the child.

Marrakech’s 2015 competition took in eight feature debuts – Visar Morina’s Kosova-to-Germany emigration drama “Babai,” admired at Karlovy Vary, Stephen Dunn’s LGBT title “Closet Monster,” which was Toronto’s 2015 Best Canadian Feature, Sundance hit “Cop Car,” from Jon Watts, Senez’s “Keeper,” Sina Ataeian Dena’s ironically titled “Paradise,” about a young teacher embroiled in bureaucracy in Iran, Raam Reddy’s Indian village-set drama “Thithi” and Kazakh Zhassulum Poshanov’s “Toll Bar,” set against the background of the rich-poor divide in Almaty.

Also in the Marrakech competition mix were four second features: “Desierto,” an novel Mexico-US border immigration action thriller, “Neon Bull,” already a prizewinner at Venice Horizons and Rio, Moroccan Jawad Rhalib’s emigration drama “Rebellious Girl, “ and Busan-screening “Steel Punk,” about a young homeless, from South Korea’s Park Suk-young.

“Virgin Mountain,” Michael Noer’s “Key House Mirror” and coming-of-age drama “Lingering Memories,” from Japan’s Keiko Tsuruoka, completed the competition.

Coppola’s jury took in helmers Anton Corbijn (“Life”), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet”), Naomi Kawase (“Still the Water”), actor-director Sergio Castellitto (“You Can’t Save Yourself Alone”), actress-producer Olga Kurylenko (“Quantum of Solace”), and thesps Richa Chadda (“Gangs of Wasseypur”) and Amal Ayouch (“The Gospel of Mark”).

One of the biggest events in the Arab and Africa film world, the 15th Marrakech Festival ran Dec 4-12.


* Golden star festival grand prize: “Very Big Shot,” (Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, Lebanon, Qatar)

* Jury prize: All films in competition

* Best direction prize:  Gabriel Mascaro (“Neon Bull,” Brazil, Uruguay, Netherlands)

* Best performance by an actress: Galatea Bellugi (“Keeper,” Belgium, Switzerland, France)

* Best performance by an actor: Gunnar Jonsson (“Virgin Mountain”, Iceland, Denmark)

* Cinecoles short film prize: “La Jeune fille qui venait de nulle part” (Reda Jai, Morocco)

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