"A festival is not only about money."
Mélita Toscan Du Plantier Interview
With her blue eyes, bright red lipstick and the cigarette dangling from her lips, the widow of the big-time French producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier resembles a Fifties’ film star. At ease in the gardens of the Mamounia Hotel, the tall blonde is light-years away from her media image of a cold and inaccessible woman. Mélita Toscan du Plantier can let go, and has no qualms about telling stories about the FIFM, about her friendships with Martin Scorsese and Abel Ferrara, or about the films not to be missed during the festival.
Mélita Toscan du Plantier
Meryem Saadi: You assisted at the FIFM’s birth with your deceased husband. What do you think about its evolution thirteen years after its first edition?
Mélita Toscan du Plantier: The development of the FIFM has been very surprising. Everything happened sooner than we imagined. The first year was difficult, because it took place just days after 9/11. But from the second year, we were joined by major American filmmakers who were delighted to come, like David Lynch or Francis Ford Coppola. Since then, many have become regulars, like Susan Sarandon, Emir Kusturica and Martin Scorsese. If they return, it’s because they see the festival as a quality event. Otherwise, they would never associate their image.
Is Mohammed VI as involved as ever in the festival?
Even if he is no longer physically present every year, he is aware of everything, sees everything, and I think he is pleased with the evolution of the festival he created. And sometimes he shows up unannounced, as he did in 2010. He was in Marrakech and he often came to lunch at the Mamounia. I reported to him and told him how things were going. He’s the festival’s guardian angel.
Do you see the Dubai International Film Festival as a competitor of the FIFM?
I never considered it as such. At the outset, we spoke to align our dates to avoid any overlap. But I sincerely think that our position is very different. We are considered abroad like a major festival known for its seriousness and its cinephilia that happens to invite big names in the film world. For our opening in 2010, for example, we had 102 actors and directors from all over the world. A few days later in Dubai, there were two or three stars, including John Malkovich via video, because he was with us in Marrakech. It’s not the money that determines the quality of a festival. Needless to say, we don’t pretend to compete with Cannes. That would be wishful thinking and absurd. Above all because we are not a film market, unlike Cannes or Toronto.
Has the Arab Spring had an effect on the FIFM?
Yes, and also the bombing in Marrakech in April 2011. That year was very difficult for us, because we were unable to secure all the American stars we wanted. It’s worth remembering that it’s very difficult to have direct access to American stars , to speak with them and to reassure them. They are surrounded by an army of press agents, managers and assistants. And at that time, their insurance agents who indiscriminately lump Morocco in with Afghanistan and Pakistan barred them from coming. As a result, that year we invited some Indian stars, and fortunately for us, Shah Rukh Khan was able to come. It was one of the highlights of the FIFM to date.
On what level?
The audience reaction was amazing. I saw people cry and pass out in front of him on the Jamaâ El Fna Square. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another so star so adulated by Moroccans. His appearance that evening made thousands of people happy. He’s a very generous actor and he didn’t hesitate to embrace his fans and sign autographs for them.
One of the FIFM’s goals is also to promote Morocco as a destination for international films. Have you felt a real impact on this level?
Morocco didn’t wait for the arrival of the festival in order to welcome foreign film shoots. But it’s true that during the Arab Spring, the fact that we were still in operation and had no problems encouraged producers to continue coming here. Many were anxious, above all during the first demonstrations of the 20th February Youth Movement. A few days later, I saw Ridley Scott over a dinner in Hollywood who told me that his producers were worried. He was reassured after we spoke for an hour.
From its inception, the festival has had a bling-bling image, even though it’s a showcase for independent film. How do you explain this?
We are a little at the mercy of the city of Marrakech, associated with luxury, glitz and show. It’s a pity because we emphasize independent cinema in our programming. It would be difficult to organize a festival of such magnitude in another city [here in Morocco]. Marrakech boasts a wealth of hotels and cinemas, unlike Ouarzazate, for example. Every year, I’m at odds with the international media who want to talk about the festival in the context of high-end luxury in the ochre city.
Is that why you banned Nabila this year from the red carpet?
We’ve never invited tele-reality starlets who show up partially nude to be photographed and were not going to start now. But sometimes, they receive invitations from sponsors. When that happens, we cannot ask them to leave. This sort of thing happens frequently in film festivals, and the organizers are beside themselves because they can do nothing.
Martin Scorsese, Marion Cotillard and Fatih Akin are on the jury this year. How did you manage to attract them?
First of all, Martin Scorsese and Marion Cotillard were very enthusiastic from the beginning. And I like to point that in order to come, Scorsese had to work day and night right before coming in order to finish editing his new film. The bosses at Paramount and his producers were incredulous! Because for them, the FIFM is a little festival, since there is no financial gain for them. Once we had his confirmation, it was easy to convince everyone else; I won’t deny it! [Laughs]
Published in Tel Quel (Morocco), no. 597, 6–12 December 2013: 44-45.
 Reference to the deadly bombing at the Argana Café, a popular tourist spot, on the Jmaâ El Fna Square on April 28, 2011 that killed seventeen people, mostly tourists, and injured twenty others. See the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Marrakesh_bombing
 Inspired by the uprisings in neighboring North African countries during the Arab Spring, the 20th February Youth Movement in Morocco also reflects the ongoing social, economic and political inequalities since the country achieved independence in 1956. See the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011%E2%80%9312_Moroccan_protests