This year, to kick off their newly revamped and ultra revised and reshaped 17th edition — after a year off which left journalists and films aficionados hungry for more — the Marrakech International Film Festival is bringing Robert De Niro to the desert city in Morocco. You know, the favorite home of world renowned fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and one of the most beautiful cities on earth, complete with oasis, luxury and camels, is going to host the wondrous movie star himself! Now that got me thinking about this shot I took above.
But more on that a bit later…
Robert De Niro is no stranger to festivals, having founded the Tribeca Film Festival right after the events of 9/11 to revitalize Tribeca and bring much needed traffic back to his beloved Downtown Manhattan. He was also the first non-Arab celebrity to truly get Arab cinema, with his support of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival. So now, his coming to Marrakech in December seems like the perfect closure to the ring that is formed by his cinematic passion and the city’s elegant love of cinema. Marrakech always was a different kind of festival and the announcements that will keep trickling in, one after the other, until the festival kicks off on November 30th are going to prove it. Mark. My. Words.
Now back to Mr. De Niro. My own tales of what Robert De Niro means in my personal life range from having learned about acting and professionalism at his masterclass in Brooklyn, organized and moderated by Spike Lee back in the nineties. My love of acting certainly grew while watching his incredible performances in classics like ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Cape Fear’ and ‘Mean Streets’. Never to be outdone, De Niro is also beloved, by yours truly, for his comedic turn in the ‘Meet the Parents’ series of films of course.
But mostly as a downtown New Yorker, I spent as much time as possible at the Tribeca Film Festival and every spring, downtown Manhattan came alive with stars, red carpets and film screening that meant I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my city to view splendid cinema. Through the days of TFF, De Niro would participate at events like the Tribeca All Access luncheon where filmmakers with works in process would be awarded special grants and rewards by the Tribeca Film Institute to help them in making or finishing their films.
It was in fact at one of those events that the above shot was captured. The typically serious and camera-shy De Niro took one look at this out-of-place woman smushed amidst the burly professional photographers with their multiple cameras hanging from their strong, tattooed shoulders. Me, with my small digital Olympus camera, at a stance there, serious and intent on capturing the perfect Robert De Niro shot. I giggle at that image.
Once De Niro stepped in front of us, the photographers’ cameras started a frenzy while the actor hurried, wanting to get past them and inside the hall, down to business. But for a second, he caught a glimpse of this little woman, and cracked a smile! That smile, all blurry in my photo because my camera was too slow to capture the moment and me, well too emotional to click it properly, is what you see above. De Niro’s kindness and sense of humor shining right through it.
After he passed by the ropes that separated us from him, the two photographers on either side of me, turned to say thank you, as if in stereo. To me, the one who had made Robert De Niro smile.
That’s my own, ever remembered and often told De Niro story and I know Marrakech will offer more reasons to love an actor I already adore, one who is never afraid of being a true human being.
Marrakech International Film Festival runs from November 30th to December 8th, 2018.