Arabian nights

Stars shine at 7th Marrakech fest

The king of the world met the King of Morocco as the Marrakech International Film Festival rolled out its red carpets in the "Red City" for the seventh annual celebration of global cinema. Under the patronage of King Mohammed VI, the fest kicked off Dec. 7 with homages to Leonardo DiCaprio and Moroccan director Mustapha Derkaoui, followed by a royal screening of "Elizabeth: The Golden Age."

Director Martin Scorcese made his way to the mean streets of Marrakech to honor his star actor during a lavish ceremony at the city's Palais des Congres. "When I come back to Marrakech, I feel like I'm coming home," Scorsese told the crowd. The director also gave a master class the following day for public and professional cinephiles.

"Cinema for me is the great modern art form. It allows us for limited moments to escape ourselves and be transported to alternative circumstances," DiCaprio said in accepting the Golden Star Award. Festivalgoers too were able to escape to sunny Morocco as the laid-back atmosphere provided a welcome change from the awards season frenzy elsewhere.

Many stars were out under the Arabian night sky, from American actor Matt Dillon to French actresses Marie-Jose Croze and Marina Hands, as well as Milos Forman's high-profile eight-strong jury including John Hurt, Parker Posey and French director Claude Miller.

Dior held a lavish dinner during opening weekend, while Canal Plus Cinema held daily poolside directors lunches and Dessange made sure everyone was well-coiffed. And what glamorous film festival would be complete without a visit from Catherine Deneuve?

Yet behind all of the glitz, festival organizers were sure to cast the spotlight on its panorama of global film. Egyptian cinema blew out its 100th birthday candles, and a retrospective of the Moroccan films of 2007 screened as a sidebar to the diverse competition lineup with titles from 23 countries, including Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's "Actresses" from France and Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages" from the U.S. James Mangold's "3:10 to Yuma" and Florent Emilio Siri's Algerian War drama "Intimate Enemies" screened out of competition.

"The festival is really growing year after year. Even the Festival de Cannes wasn't as big as us after seven years," the festival's artistic director, Bruno Barde, says.

Theaters were packed throughout the week and crowds filled the Place Jemma El-Fna for a series of open-air screenings, including "The Aviator," for which Scorcese and DiCaprio came to the city's large bustling marketplace center to present the film.

"Marrakech is a unique opportunity to meet directors and authors from the Maghreb region. It's a bridge between Morocco and France," Manuel Alduy, Canal Plus' director of acquisitions of French films, says.

Barde agrees. "Marrakech isn't a market for buyers and sellers. It's an economic platform where people meet each other and talk about movies," he says.