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Hollywood actress Jessica Chastain, chair of jury for Marrakech Film Festival, poses for photos on the red carpet, in Marrakech, Morocco, on Nov. 24, 2023. Image Credit: AP

Marrakech: Oscar-winning Hollywood actress Jessica Chastain threw open the relatively sombre 20th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival by urging everyone to use art to bring about social change.

This year’s festival saw muted red-carpet action and revelry, owing to geopolitical tensions around the world and the devastating earthquake that rocked Morocco in September.

“In the weeks leading up to the festival, we were not sure whether we would be able to be here. The world we share is shattered and divided … Grab a paintbrush, an instrument, a pen, or a camera. At this moment all around the world, we need art to speak truth to the power and uplift us all,” said Chastian as she threw open this year’s festival.

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The jury for the Marrakech International Film Festival. Image Credit: AP

Chastain is the president of the jury, which boasts six women and three men, tasked with awarding the Etoile d’Or to one of the 14 films by first or second-time directors in the festival’s international competition. Eight films out of the fourteen in competition are directed by women.

“Throughout history, art has been used as an accessible tool for communication raising awareness about social issues and affecting positive change. This exceptional journey is truly historic since this year’s jury consists of six women and three men … These remarkable artists used their vocation to raise awareness and contribute to their communities,” she added.

Chastain also reminded festival-goers, mostly dressed in dark colours, that art can be weaponised to bring about dialogue and resolve conflicts.

“The power of a little nudge can go a long way,” she said, to a room filled with stars like Tilda Swinton and Isabelle Hupert.

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Hollywood actress Tilda Swindon on the red carpet at the festival. Image Credit: AP

Her rallying cry to use art for change echoed throughout the room before director Richard Linklater’s ‘Hitman’ was screened to the discerning cinephiles.

“Films can influence behaviour by beginning to break down barriers and trigger important conversations about difficult topics such as racial justice, gender equality and other important cultural issues. We can sublimate that pain and suffering and give rise to a consciousness of healing and unification to create an equal protection for all … We must do our part by educating ourselves on the issues and create something through our individual art form,” she added.

The night also saw seasoned Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, whose credits include ‘Doctor Strange’, ‘Indian Jones and the Dial Of Destiny’, and ‘Fantastic Beasts’, being bestowed this year’s Lifetime Achievement honour. Actor Willem Dafoe had the kindest words for Mikkelsen’s command over his craft and humility.

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Mads Mikkelsen received the Lifetime Achievement honour. Image Credit: AP

“Marrakech has given me the chance to meet my heroes and share the stage with them,” said Mikkelsen, while accepting the award.

The Marrakech International Film Festival is one of the biggest festivals in Africa and this year’s event is doubly significant as Morocco is sprinting to recovery after the earthquake.

The festival is scheduled to run until December 2.