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Meet Rémi Bonhomme: The Mastermind Behind the Marrakech Film Festival and the Atlas Workshops


Rémi Bonhomme
The Marrakech International Film Festival stands out among the plethora of global film festivals, offering a distinctive and captivating cinematic experience that is uniquely tied to its cultural and geographical context. Nestled against the backdrop of Morocco's vibrant city of Marrakech, this festival is more than just a celebration of cinema; it is a convergence of art, culture, and innovation. With a profound commitment to showcasing films that bridge diverse cultural perspectives, bringing together filmmakers and audiences from various corners of the globe. The festival's emphasis on world cinema, coupled with its location in the heart of North Africa, creates a dynamic platform for storytelling that transcends borders and enriches the cinematic landscape.

The festival’s artistic director and founder of The Atlas Workshops, Rémi Bonhomme, is keen on making of Marrakech a melting pot of creativity, fostering an atmosphere where traditional and contemporary cinematic expressions converge and making it a truly unique and enriching experience for both filmmakers and cinephiles alike.

AM: How did your career in the film industry start?
RB: I have lived in Lebanon for almost a decade and produced films there. I then became the programming manager of the Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival, a section in Cannes dedicated for the discovery of filmmakers. We also initiated a workshop called Next Step that follows filmmakers from short films to feature films.

When I got offered a position in Marrakesh, it was a way for me to reunite my interests and passion for the discovery of filmmakers. At the same time, I was already working here in the region side-by-side with filmmakers from the Middle East and North Africa. I know very well the whole African continent, so it was a perfect mix of both worlds for me.

AM: And what makes the Marrakesh Film Festival different?
RB: Everyone says the same thing that it's genuine and real. First, I think it's quite a unique place where we have the opportunity to create encounters between young talents from all over the world, from Morocco, the Arab region, and Africa at our Atlas Workshops. They get to meet the most renowned and prestigious filmmakers and actors who come to Morocco. It is due to the relationship of trust that the festival has built with those prestigious personalities. This does not happen in big festivals where they don't get the chance to talk.

And then it's the audience. We have a very young audience engaged during the screenings, the competition and the series of conversations. It's a mix of audience, from cinephiles to people who just come here to discover cinema or who have their first experience at a film festival.

AM: You mentioned a fruitful project that happened in Marrakesh with actress Vanessa Kirby…
RB: Last year British actress Vanessa Kirby was part of the jury and fell in love with the work of one of the participating filmmakers. She decided to jump on board of the film that was presented in the competition which is called Thunder by Carmen Jacquier, and is the Swiss entry for the Oscars. This is exactly the kind of result that can happen from creating a space of encounter between young talents and big names in the industry.

AM: As an artistic director of the festival, what does your role entail?  
RB: First of all, to select all the films that will be part of the program. I have a selection committee composed of different profiles from all over the world; from Morocco, Lebanon, Hungary, Canada, Switzerland, and more. We have watched over 800 films to select 72, so it's a long process. It takes months to watch those films, meet producers, distributors, to make the selection, define an editorial line, and also to find out how we can address the audience here.

So that's why we have several sections. Each section has its own identity, where the audience can come for different interests. We have the Panorama of Moroccan Cinema that is really dedicated to the national cinema. The gala screenings are addressed to a wider audience, and the 11th Continent films are for cinephiles.  

AM: Tell us more about the Atlas Workshops…
RB: I initiated the Atlas Workshops in 2018 because there was a need for Arab and African directors to have a platform with a high-quality selection of projects. To introduce our talents to producers, distributors and festival directors from all over the world. The idea of the workshops, which take place throughout four days, allows the selected projects to be pitched to industry representatives. This year we had 450 individual meetings organized and received 800 submissions of which we selected 24 projects. We support them from the script to post-production, and it's a real boost for the projects. The meetings and the aid facilitate the acceleration of the process of financing and the distribution of the film.

Since the very first year a lot of our films have been supported and earned international recognition in Cannes, Berlin, Sundance and Venice. Nine films this year were supported by our workshops including Hounds by Kamal Lazraq, The Mother of All Lies by Asmae El Moudir, Bye Bye Tiberias by Lina Soualem and a film from Madagascar called Disco Afrika. This year we also have a new initiative that supports the distribution of our films here in the region. We are in talks with distributors to showcase the Arab and African films being selected at the festival for theatrical releases in Morocco, the Arab region, and the entire African continent.

AM: What would you say is your proudest achievement in Marrakesh?
RB: It has to be initiating the Atlas Workshops and art directing the whole festival since 2020. Also, the growth of audience that we witness every year, the recognition from the international community, the attention of the press, both regionally and internationally, and the fact that the festival became a very important platform for regional films are all proud achievements. We're not in Europe or America, but on the African continent and in the Arab region, so it's very important to have this presence on the international festival circuit

AM: Finally, what were your thoughts about the jury committee this year?
RB: They really enjoyed spending time together. They liked the selection and were surprised to discover new voices in cinema. And it's also a new experience for them to watch Arab and African cinema as they don’t often have the opportunity to do so.