Marrakech hosts film festival in the shadow of war in the Middle East

International movie stars arrive in Morocco on Friday to kick off one of the Arab world’s largest film festivals amid a shadow cast by Israel’s latest war with Hamas and protests that have swept the region for almost two months.

  Directors Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater and actors Jessica Chastain and Mads Mikkelsen are expected in Marrakech for a festival that Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid called a bastion of peace that brings people closer together.

The prince, who leads the foundation responsible for the festival, said in a statement that the festival was an invitation for discovery, empathy and sharing, noting Morocco’s September earthquake and the catalog of Moroccan films and filmmakers scheduled to be showcased.

The Marrakech International Film Festival, along with Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival that is scheduled to open next week, are taking place despite 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 opens Friday with Linklater’s action-comedy Hit Man“. It will also feature more than 70 other films, including Michel Franco’s Memory, starring Chastain, and Matteo Garrone’s Italian immigration drama Io Capitano.

Mikkelsen, known for starring in Another Round and Casino Royale, will receive a career achievement award along with Moroccan actor-director Faouzi Bensaidi, whose film Deserts is also being shown at the festival.

Scorsese will preside over the festival’s Atlas Workshops¬† an initiative designed to screen films or films in progress by emerging Arab and Moroccan filmmakers.

The festival is scheduled to run through December 2.