Marrakech - Information technology is wonderful, but it can be scary. At times, you feel it is reading your mind. One year ago, day for day, December 14, 2014, I published a text on the International Marrakech Film Festival I had completely forgotten everything about.
Marrakech – Information technology is wonderful, but it can be scary. At times, you feel it is reading your mind. One year ago, day for day, December 14, 2014, I published a text on the International Marrakech Film Festival I had completely forgotten everything about.
Today, as I launched my machine to draft a text on this year’s festival early in the morning, I found Facebook had sent me a reminder of what it considers posts I would wish to remember from the past year. The text on the Marrakech Film Festival was the first of them. I read it not without some nostalgia, I must admit, and was thankful to Facebook it has saved me from re-writing the same text. In fact, the idea that was smoldering in my mind during the night was a clone of that same text.
I had to change gear and strategy and opted for addressing questions and comments a friend of mine had addressed me about the Festival echoing what he was given to imagine about it. I need at the onset to say that I have probably attended, if not all the editions of the Festival, at least most of them. I must also add that I did attend many of them as a somewhat remote insider having the flexibility of moving around relatively freely, being part of the most exciting events of the festival, screenings, press interviews with world leading film makers, directors and actors, Master Classes which I loved a lot.
The Festival has always been for me a rare opportunity to talk about film and cinema not to only professionals but also to people in the streets, on the lines waiting to be admitted in the screening theaters and after each screening. I must also add, and you will understand why I am insisting on my personal experience, that I have taken part in the organization of several national and international conferences and attended more than I can remember. Professional reasons. This is all to establish that I have some knowledge of what it takes to organize an event in terms of tough decisions, difficult choices, Intense thinking, imagination, funding, logistics, catering, safety and security, implementation strategies, managing human resources and coping with uncertainty including the reactions of people.
If there is one thing I have learnt from this all, it is you will never satisfy everyone. There is always going to be a smart person who will find fault with everything you do. The reasons are different but worth highlighting. There is of course, vested interest and competition that, whether loyal or not, may take quite a few to unwarranted behaviors, to say it politely. There is jealousy, a natural flaw in the make up of some of us humans and whose consequences I do not need to detail here. There is undue pride and lack of humility, the unredeemable sins! And there is ignorance, perhaps the worst of all as it blinds hearts and minds to simple facts and creates the impression of seeing where nothing is to be seen while missing to see the obvious and the self evident. I know, as I told my friend, many are going to hate me for this, but it had to be said.
My friend was told that the festival was a flop this year. The choice of the films, both those in competition and those out of competition was not up to expectations and to the standards of such an International festival. The overall organization was stilted and lame. The attitudes of the organizers towards different categories of participants were impartial and not fair. Logistics had failed on some occasions. The awards were not convincing. In short, for these people, their expectations were frustrated.
The assessment of anything, let alone judgement which is different from professional evaluation, presupposes a few simple principles. The subject or object of the assessment is clearly defined, its objectives are expressed in observable and measurable formulations, the resources to implement the assessment including data collected through valid, relevant and reliable instruments are available, implementation of the observation and data collection instruments is performed in compliance with professional criteria and the findings are analyzed and interpreted by skilled and highly experienced experts. Other than this, one would not be talking about evaluation but, at best, about impressions built upon an incomplete image of a reality thwarted to fit expectations, interests and objectives which may be not of that which is assessed.
As to judgment, it has to be evidence based, to comply with universally accepted procedures and assorted with reasons adduced for the verdict. Otherwise, at best, it is a mascarade, and no credit should be given it.
This being said, I did hear people complain that others, maybe did they mean themselves but were not bold enough to say it, deserved a treatment at least equal to that reserved to the President of the Jury, Mr. Francis Ford Coppola, but did not. I have heard some complaining that others, perhaps themselves, could have been invited to sit on the Jury, that the jury should be, if not all, made up of nationals, at least the majority of the jurors should be.
More Moroccan films, more African films, more Moroccans celebrated. I have heard a man practicing acting with a lady practicing the same profession complaining about why he had to be on a line, like everyone else, waiting to be screened by the security staff. “The film is starting in three minutes and they are making me wait here, I’m thinking, I swear to God, I will not come back again.”
Well, he did come back for the red carpet, several times, and posed, thumbs up, for pictures longer than most artists. What he did not accept is to be treated equally as all citizens or that the security people did not recognize him, or that they did but didn’t treat him with privileges. Being famous should have exonerated him from complying to security checks like everyone else !
I asked a man who was complaining about the absence of Moroccan films whether he or someone he knows had submitted a film for the competition or to be shown out of competition and it was rejected. He must have hated me for daring to ask. “We should be invited, they know of our production and they should invite us.” I asked the same question to members of the teams of some participating films, they had all gone through the normal public submission procedure.
The man was forgetting that he had actually been invited to the Festival in his quality of film maker and that he was attending all receptions on official invitations. Several of his colleagues had been celebrated in former editions of the Festival. I asked whether he had made connections with foreign producers or film makers. His answer was “They invite us just for the show. They put us in hotels and invite us to receptions but they do nothing to introduce us to other guests.” Obviously, the man has missed the meaning and objective of organizing receptions and inviting him to them!” This case may well be extreme, but extremes are good for benchmarking, aren’t they?”
I heard a man criticizing the choice of films. I asked him why he thought they were not so good. “They are not celebrities, we have never heard about them, this is an International Festival and they should bring the best.” I found out the man had not seen most of the films screened in the competition. I mentioned a film to him which I knew had been nominated in major film festivals and won a few prizes, he had not seen it, he had other commitments. I wonder which priorities one may have in a Film Festival if not to watch the films in competition, at least those ones!
I heard people complain that too much investment went into receptions, too much F&B and that not all have benefitted equally from it all. I asked a lady who seemed to be enjoying a reception but complained about the too high investment that goes into them whether she knew how that event was funded. Her answer was “it is the Festival, it is taxpayers money”. When I drew her attention that that specific reception was a car maker who has sponsored it and that taxpayers’ money had nothing to do with it, she had the pretty comment “Now I understand why cars are so expensive!” We all giggled it away.
Another person complained that many guests spent the time painting the town red. “That cannot be blamed on the Festival, can it, Marrakech is already red and does not need to be punted that color!” I commented. “We are talking about adults, it seems to me” I added. “They are supposed to be free and responsible. The Festival is not expected to a provide babysitting service, too, is it? Besides, does anyone make anyone else go to places or do things against their will?” A person may accept of turn down an invitation. In many cases, no one would even notice, so why bother and make it an issue. We had a laugh about it and decided yes, after all, we are talking about grown ups in a free land, a land of difference, diversity and tolerance.
The Festival provides social opportunities to facilitate business, professional and cultural relationships to be established. Everyone should be able to use the opportunities for their own professional and personal development, to network, to market projects and to seal contracts. One may not find everything they need in the same place, but unless they try, they will not find anything. In the various events I have attended during this Festival and previous ones, I saw people approaching others they had never seen or met before. They would introduce themselves, exchange business cards, take for a while and take leave for each other and politely as as they had met and would move to renew the experience with others. On one orphan case, has this happened to from a countryman.
One orphan case. As I am a kind of intruder, I did not reach out for many others easily, either, I must admit. I did, however, do it whenever I happens to identify a person of interest to me from a question they asked or a comment they made in a press conference or a Master Class. I mentioned this to several countrymen, “It is not part of our culture, we need to be introduced, one does not go bout telling people who they are, what they do and asking them about themselves, this is just not our culture.” It so happens, however, that this is the culture of business receptions. They are social events specifically designed and organized to promote exchange among people who may otherwise never meet!”
It seems that whoever looks for something will find it.
I suggested to my friend to a set of questions to ask people who complain so that he makes up his own mind about how much currency their opinion is worth. The list includes but is not limited to the following:
How many of the over ninety films have you seen and how many academic conferences and talks have you attended?
How many new professional contacts did you make during the various events of the Festival?
What have been your own contributions to the festival?
How many of the hundreds of foreign guests have you talked about your country’s most critical National Issue?
How many projects did you come to the Festival with, how many contracts have you sealed about them?
How many professional guests have you invited to your own festivals, professional events or to your home?
Have you made any professional suggestions to the organizers of the Festival which they have not listened to, which?
Is there anyone in the Jury you would rather not have because of lack of professionalism, experience and notoriety?
Which of your own productions deserve to have been included in the competition and have not and why do you think they have not?
What is this Festival about?
Do you have an idea of the logistics behind it all? If no, what do you think of over 1225 participants transported to and from the Festival venue every day, the number does not include staff? What do you think of over 600 plane tickets that had to be coordinated with participants, purchased, the participants met at airports and driven to hotels that had also been reserved, confirmed and paid? What do you think of the tons of equipment that has to be transported in and out of the country? The number of films the had to be secured in and out of the country?
Do you have an idea of the pressure under which the security services were working and you simply have an idea of how much skill, expertise and staff it took to secure the venues of the conference, the hotels and the conference sites?
Do you know that the Festival organizers have provided for the artists, Moroccan and foreign, a loan clothing service for their convenience?
Do you know that special provisions have been made for students in the various audiovisual arts?
Do you know what exactly and how much was done for the media to make their job easy and their stay in Marrakech productive?
Do you know what the contribution of partners and sponsors to the organization and funding of the festival has been?
Do you have an idea about what returns the country collects from such a Festival?
The success or failure of a Film Festival depends on what one means by successful or not but also on what the Festival intends itself to be. According to my own definition and understanding of what the International Marrakech Film Festival is, the event has fulfilled its mission and met both its own objectives and those of the vast majority of professionals. I have seen beautiful films, some of which powerful and overwhelming. I have met interesting people, many of whom I would have never met had it not been of the opportunities the festival has made available. I have learnt a lot from the conferences I attended. I have enjoyed being and talking with the public on the lines in the soothing warmth of the Marrakech sun. I have appreciated that the theaters have always been full by viewers of all ages, all genders, many nationalities and all social categories. I have also appreciated that any person could have access to the theaters provided they took it in themselves to get the right documents. I have also appreciated the professionalism, the understanding and the support of the security services and personnel.
I had to miss two days of the conference, I wish I had not although I was able to catch up with the films I had missed. Thank you International Marrakech Film Festival.
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