Ali Hajji: “The Marrakech International Film Festival is back to last”

Media24: After two years of absence, how does the 19e edition of the FIFM differ from previous ones?

Ali Haji: It is an edition that has great symbolism, because it is the first post-pandemic. It was eagerly awaited by professionals, the media, moviegoers and the general public.

It is therefore the edition of the reunion with the public of Marrakech, for which access has been facilitated this year with the launch of a free electronic accreditation. An e-badge that allows you to attend all screenings and meetings with talent.

Why have it been brought forward to November instead of December?

– This is an exceptional edition, the organization of which started while the pandemic was still significantly present. The organization of an event of this magnitude must take into account several parameters including the availability of teams, professionals, funds, films as well as the different places and spaces that usually host the festival.

For this exceptional edition, this timing – close to the usual timing -, where all the conditions could be met, was the most opportune.

After eighteen years of existence, what other world-class festival is closest to the FIFM?

– Marrakech cannot be compared to any other festival; rather, it aims to cultivate its uniqueness and assert its own editorial line.

It is a festival that is distinguished by a competition dedicated to the discovery of new talents in world cinema. And, at the same time, it’s an event that welcomes the biggest names in cinema from all over the world.

We can say that what gives it its strength and uniqueness is precisely this encounter between the filmmakers in the making and the greatest personalities of world cinema.

This year, we notice the arrival of a new generation of Moroccan filmmakers

With 15 Moroccan films out of the 76 selected, is the programming of the FIFM also able to reveal great Moroccan directors and actors?

– It’s been a very good year for Moroccan cinema, with four films that have been selected for major international festivals: Cannes, Venice, Toronto, to name but a few.

What characterizes the presence of Moroccan cinema at the Marrakech Festival this year is precisely the arrival of a new generation of filmmakers. Among the fifteen Moroccan films that we offer, six are signed by filmmakers for whom this is their first or second feature film. One can cite, for example, queens, the first feature film by Yasmine Benkiran, which received a triumphant reception during its presentation at the festival. This is a film that has twice benefited from the support of the Ateliers de l’Atlas, the festival’s ‘industry’ programme. A first time in 2018, when it was at the script stage, then in 2021, in the post-production phase.

Since their creation in 2018, have the Ateliers de l’Atlas made it possible to sell or finance Moroccan productions?

– Since their creation, the Ateliers de l’Atlas have supported 48 Moroccan projects and films, several of which are included in the selection of the festival this year, such as The damned don’t cry by Fyzal Boulifa, Fragments from Heaven by Adnane Baraka or Goldfish by Abdeslam Kelai.

The workshops, in addition to the mentoring sessions and the grants awarded to certain winners, have enabled these projects to complete their funding and see the light of day.

– LIs the Netflix network a new partner of the FIFM?

– We have been collaborating with Netflix for several years. We opened this 19e edition with the projection of the very beautiful Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio produced by Netflix, an animated marvel that the Oscar-winning Mexican director co-directed with Mark Gustafson.

We will also show The Swimmers by Sally El Hosaini, produced by Netflix and inspired by a true story, that of two sisters who fled the war in Syria to participate in the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Which major specialist media are present, such as Trade papers ?

– Journalists from variety, Deadline and French film, among others, are present this year.

Has the festival suffered, qualitatively, from the fact that fewer films have been able to be shot due to the health crisis?

– The Festival’s selection committee viewed more than 800 films in total, to select 76 from 33 countries.

We haven’t noticed any decrease, neither quantitative nor qualitative, in the films that were shown to us. The films are of a very good standard this year again.

Knowing that there is no real film market in Morocco, can the FIFM fulfill this role?

– The mission of the festival is to celebrate and highlight global cinematographic creation in all its forms, to contribute to the discovery of new talents and to help, through the Ateliers de l’Atlas, to the development of the industry regional.

By bringing together all these energies from different backgrounds, the festival contributes to creating a real regional dynamic of production and distribution, which necessarily accelerates with the presence of platforms and the development of new technologies.

Can we imagine the eventual creation of an international film market on the sidelines of the festival?

– A number of large international markets already exist with which it is difficult to compete. In a regional context that is still under construction, we have to adapt and offer different, tailor-made formats.

Hence the creation in 2018 of the Ateliers de l’Atlas, which were designed to meet the needs of the region. The ‘industry’ platform of the Marrakech Festival welcomes 250 international professionals every year around a selection of projects in development and films in post-production, carried by a new generation of Moroccan, Arab and African filmmakers.

The workshops are now an unmissable event for international professionals who invest in regional production. In the space of four editions, the program has supported 88 projects and films, several of which have subsequently been selected or awarded at the biggest festivals around the world.

This is particularly the case of Feathers by the Egyptian Omar el Zohairy, the first Arab film to receive the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2020.

Today, is it Marrakech that offers an international showcase to the FIFM, or the reverse?

– We do not ask ourselves the question in these terms. Marrakech does as much good for the festival as it does for the city. Most of the festivals that have succeeded and distinguished themselves in the world are the result of a alchemy between a program and a place.

A festival is both a professional meeting, a meeting with the public and the opportunity to discover a territory and a culture, to highlight them more. The more this territory and its population adopt the event, the more the experience is exciting, of course.

Do you think this 19e edition will be able to surpass that of 2018 which had benefited from the prestigious presence of Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro?

– Each edition has its particularity. We are proud to be able to present such a wide selection of films from all over the world this year; very great personalities from world cinema are expected; the public was accredited en masse to be able to participate in the various activities offered by the festival.

We are happy to count among our guests this year great filmmakers and actors like Paolo Sorrentino, James Gray, Jim Jarmusch, Asghar Farhadi, Leos Carax, Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Irons and Isabelle Huppert, among others.

These are very big names in world cinema who come to converse and share with the public. It is a rare opportunity that is offered by the Marrakech Festival.

Can we say that the return of the FIFM promises to be final?

– Coming back after the pandemic is a great feat that reassures about the resilience and relevance of the event.

So yes, the Marrakech Festival is here to stay, because it is part of a dynamic of support and development of a sector that brings wealth, jobs and influence for our country.

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