‘The Mother of All Lies’ Wins Top Prize at Marrakech in Historic Night for Moroccan Cinema

Asmae El Moudir’s “The Mother of All Lies” won top honors at the Marrakech Film Festival on Saturday, marking festival history as the first Moroccan film to claim the top trophy, while adding Marrakech’s Étoile d’Or to a list of accolades that also includes best director from Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and best film from the Sydney Film Festival.

El Moudir’s hybrid feature — which is also Morocco’s Oscar submission — finds the filmmaker and kin using dioramas and figurines to recreate and reenact painful memories set against the backdrop of the 1981 Casablanca Bread Riots, with the unsparing doc serving as art therapy exercise, family exposé and evocation of national trauma.

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“Every society has a truth that’s been buried, burned, redacted and erased,” said jury president Jessica Chastain upon announcing the top prize. “But by a collective remembrance, we preserve the stories that cannot be undone… In this courageous director hands, we don’t just discover the truth, we are made complicit in its resurrection in equal parts pain and healing.”

“This film creates its own genre and introduces a great new voice in cinema,” Chastain added.

Asmae El Moudir and Jessica Chastain
Asmae El Moudir and Jessica Chastain

Upon taking the stage, El Moudir was greeted with a standing ovation from the cheerful Moroccan audience and was visibly moved to receive this prize for such a personal film. She asked for a few minutes to recollect. “It took me ten years to make this film with my family,” she said, before making a fiery speech in Darija.

Furthering an already historic night for the Moroccan film industry, Kamal Lazraq’s local crime thriller “Hounds” shared Marrakech’s jury prize with Lina Soualem’s “Bye Bye Tiberias.” A kidnapping drama set over the course of a single, sweaty night on the mean streets of Casablanca, “Hounds” also claimed the Un Certain Regard jury prize earlier this year – making a 2023 a banner year Moroccan cinema on the international stage.

Sharing the jury prize, “Bye Bye Tiberias” premiered in Venice, won best documentary in London, and will represent Palestine at the Oscars. The multi-generation family portrait finds director Lina Soualem returning to her family’s ancestral home in Lower Galilee alongside her mother, actress Hiam Abbass. Earlier this week, Soualem and Abbass presented the film at a cathartic public screening that both festivalgoers and Marrakech organizers have cited as an emotional high point of this year’s edition.

Rounding out the night’s winners, Senegalese filmmaker Ramata-Toulaye Sy won best director for “Banel & Adama,” while acting prizes went to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Asja Zara Lagumdzija for her role in Una Gunjak’s “Excursion” and Turkey’s Doga Karakas for his turn in Nehir Tuna’s “Dormitory.”

Kamal Lazraq, Ramata-Toulaye Sy, Hiam Abbass, Asmae El Moudir, Asja Zara Lagumdzija, and Doga Karakas

Arriving two months after a devastating earthquake, and in light of the ever-more heart-wrenching news coming out of the Middle East, Marrakech opted to celebrate its 20th edition with a more sober outing, forgoing both the sparkling social events and the boisterous public screenings in the city’s historic Jemaa el-Fnaa main square that together have bolstered the festival’s international reputation over the past two decades.

Still, this year’s batch of winners — both in Marrakech, and across the festival circuit — gave festival organizers cause for celebration, as the three top titles all emerged from Marrakech’s Atlas Workshops industry development program.

“[These prizes] mark the culmination of many years’ work and effort,” said festival coordinator Ali Hajji. “We are so moved when the young auteurs that we’ve supported through the Atlas Workshops can win awards at the world’s biggest international festivals before coming to Marrakech to present their work to the public.”

“We really want to strengthen this strand, so that our workshops can support more and more projects,” Hajji continued. “[For the festival’s next 20 years] we will put as much effort as possible into developing these workshops for the long term.”

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