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Marrakech kicks off film festival

MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) — Film industry leaders in Marrakech attending one of the Arab world’s largest film festivals emphasised Friday the importance of elevating cinema and artistic expression amid a shadow cast by Israel’s war with Hamas and an earthquake that struck Morocco less than three months ago.

“In the weeks leading up to the festival, we were not sure that we would even be able to be here. The world we share is shattered and devoured,” said American actor Jessica Chastain, serving as the president of the festival’s jury, in a speech on the festival’s opening night.

“Throughout history, art has been used as an accessible tool for communication, raising awareness about social issues and affecting positive change,” she added.

Surrounded by red carpet crowds and flashing camera lights, others agreed.

“We know what’s happening and don’t forget it,” said Melita Toscan Du Plantier, director of the Marrakech International Film Festival. “But heart is important. Heart is a weapon against obscurity and against conflict. We’re here to talk about heart, show movies and talk about directors from this region.”

Organisers said they looked forward to showcasing cinema from Morocco, the Middle East and Africa. Throughout the week, they plan to honour Moroccan director Faouzi Bensaidi, and workshop films from throughout the region in a developmental program presided over by director Martin Scorsese.

The festival opened Friday with Richard Linklater’s action-comedy “Hit Man.” Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen was honoured with a career achievement award for his films including “Another Round,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Casino Royale,” in which he played a Bond villain.

The festival is expected to feature more than 70 additional films, including Michel Franco’s “Memory,” starring Chastain, and Matteo Garrone’s Italian immigration drama “Io Capitano.”

It’s one of Morocco’s most widely publicised international events and comes in the aftermath of an earthquake that wreaked particular havoc on the mountain communities surrounding Marrakech. Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid, who leads the foundation responsible for the festival, called it a “bastion of peace that brings people closer together.”

The prince said in a statement that the festival was an “invitation for discovery, empathy and sharing.”

The Marrakech International Film Festival, along with Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival that is scheduled to open next week, are taking place as protests sweep North Africa and the Middle East, including Morocco, over the war in Gaza. That’s in contrast to the Cairo International Film Festival and Tunisia’s Carthage Film Festival, both of which were cancelled due to the war.

The festival is scheduled to run through December 2.

US actress Jessica Chastain, chair of jury for Marrakech International Film Festival, attends the opening ceremony in Marrakech, Morocco on Friday. PHOTO: AP