'Autumn Ball' takes Marrakech by storm


PARIS -- Estonian writer-director Veiko Ounpuu was crowned with the Marrakech International Film Festival's top prize for his first feature, "Autumn Ball," as the glamorous fest wrapped in the Moroccan city Saturday night.

The dark comedy about a group of people during the transition period after the collapse of the Soviet Union has been a festival favorite, having previously won the Horizons Award at the Venice Film Festival and earning a spot in the AFI Fest's competition section in the fall. Ounpuu also won the director's prize at the Thessaloniki Film Fest just weeks before.

Produced by Kuukulgur Film, the movie beat out the 14 other international feature films in competition for the fest's prestigious Golden Star grand prize.

Gallic superstar Catherine Deneuve handed the trophy to the film's producer Katrine Kissa, who told the crowd: "We don't speak the same language, but we share the same language: that of humanism."

The Jury Prize went to both Brillante Ma. Mendoza's "Slingshot" from the Philippines and Alexey Mizgirev's "The Hard-Hearted" from Russia. "We claim to be neither objective nor fair, but the most important thing is to be honest," jury president Milos Forman said.

The Czech director's jury featured an international potpourri of talent including Russian director Pavel Lounguine, Spanish actress Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, French director Claude Miller, Indian actor-director Shekhar Kapur, British thesp John Hurt, Moroccan director-producer Hamid Benani, Gallic actress Aissa Maiga and American actress Parker Posey.

The best female performance award went to South Korean actress Yu Yun-Mi for Jeong Soo-il's "With a Girl of Black Soil" and Tommi Korpela took the award for Best Male Performance for Aleksi Salmenpera's "Man's Job" from Finland.

The festival also celebrated 100 years of Egyptian cinema and paid homage to Leonardo DiCaprio, Abel Ferrara, Japanese director Shinji Aoyama and Moroccan filmmaker Mustapha Derkaoui during its nine-day run.