Tracy Choi’s passion for cinema emerged with the realization that the visual arts could be a perfect way of sharing her inner thoughts. “I’ve got a lot of things on my mind that I want to share, but I am not a person who can easily communicate just by using words. In a film, it’s easier to tell a story,” she said.
Tracy is one of four Macau filmmakers, alongside Ivo M. Ferreira, Ho Fei, and Chan Ka Keong, who won the Cultural Affairs Bureau subsidy to produce a feature film. IC launched the Support Program for the Production of Feature Films last year, granting up to MOP1.5 million to each recipient.
This year four young film directors were awarded the subsidy. They recently received the prize during the Macau International Trade and Investment Fair (MIF), where the Cultural Affairs Bureau set up its pavilion, which was dedicated this year to Macau’s music industry.
Tracy Choi’s film, “Sweet Home,” takes us back to the 1990s, to learn about the story of a “massage girl” living in Macau.
“She worked in a massage establishment, but she would later marry someone from Taiwan. She moved there and didn’t visit Macau for about 10 or 15 years, until one day, she learns that a dear friend had died in Macau, and she comes back for her funeral,” Tracy revealed.
As the main character returns to Macau, an old friendship grows stronger when she realizes that one of her friends who lives there is the most important person in her life.
Tracy Choi acknowledged that the IC subsidy was particularly effective in bringing in professionals from Hong Kong, with whom they were able to discuss their feature films. In addition to a MOP1.5 million grant, IC’s program featured opportunities for Macau filmmakers to gain insights from foreign experts about film marketing and production.
“The subsidy is very important, because as a young director I do not have a broad experience in feature films, only documentaries and short films. So it’s hard to find people who wish to invest in our projects,” she said.
Currently re-writing the script, Tracy is hoping to attract further interest from Hong Kong to start shooting by next spring.
With a Bachelor’s degree in film studies from Taiwan and Master’s degree in film production from Hong Kong, Tracy worked in Macau’s television industry for a year, before shifting to freelance work as a film director and teacher.
But as is the case with any freelance film director, Tracy and her peers still face hurdles when it comes to finding professional actresses and actors, as well as technicians.
“The main problem here is that the film production industry isn’t large enough, so it’s hard to earn a living just by doing films. We don’t have enough actresses or actors, and technicians aren’t sufficient either. If production rises, the whole industry can get better,” she explained.
Chan Ka Keong, another film director granted the IC subsidy, agrees that finding performance actors in Macau can be quite a tough task. “It’s also difficult to find the rest of the crew, even people working behind the camera, for photography, or technicians,” he said.
The filmmaker acknowledged that most people trained in production in Macau, in fact, work for the television industry and are only available part-time.
Chan Ka Keong is currently working on his film “Passing Rain,” for which he won the subsidy. His movie is all about Macau’s rainy and humid weather. Well, it’s really about a metaphor, he clarified, stating: “I used this title as a metaphor about life, as [with rain], there is always something that comes and leaves suddenly, without you even expecting it.”
The film features six shot stories, in which the characters are all unknown to each other, “but as the city is so small, somehow they clash with each other, and some plots will be connected,” he added.
The film director thinks the IC subsidy is an incentive from an official department, which also helps them in pre-production arrangements, and in seeking to hire professional technicians from other regions.
But now they still need to seek further investment, mainly outside Macau. With the script having been completed, finding the cast is his next step – one that has already proven quite hard. “I have to find six actors but I did two rounds of open calls and couldn’t find people in Macau, so I am thinking of looking in Taiwan and Guangzhou,” he added.
Chan Ka Keong graduated from the Macau Polytechnic Institute, where he studied Graphic Design. He has always been interested in the visual arts and in producing short videos.
Chan likes stories, he said. He appreciates the “clash” between storytelling and other forms of art. This has influenced his decision to turn feature films into his career. “I think cinema is a miniature of life. It’s a mixture of arts. As I like music, visual arts, and storytelling, films are a way to bring them together in one platform,” he said.
Portuguese film director Ivo M. Ferreira was also awarded an IC subsidy to produce “Cliché.” The film revolves around the idea of erosion, particularly about urban erosion and a growing concern people express over the development of Macau.
“The film is about an old hotel, which was closed, but some people remain and have been living there for a long time (…) The two main characters are siblings who own the hotel and have not seen each other for about 20 years. Together they will decide whether or not the hotel will be torn down,” Ivo said.
The script is completed but Ivo is still looking to attain further funding in Europe. “We’re trying to get more than MOP5 million,” he added. The film has also been selected for the Shanghai Film Festival.
Ivo Ferreira acknowledged the importance of the IC subsidy, as there has not been any public tender for cinema subsidies before. Still, he confirmed that filmmakers in Macau need to seek further funding to complete their films.
Fei Ho, another local filmmaker, was awarded the IC subsidy to produce “The Island of Heart,” a dark movie revolving around a love story. As the script is still being perfected, Fei Ho hopes to start shooting his film by Chinese New Year.
The IC subsidy, he said, was crucial since it provided them with money to be invested into production, as well as enabling them to get advice from Hong Kong-based professionals.
Fei Ho studied Communication at the University of Macau but has since developed an interest in filmmaking. “I like cinema because I can say what’s going on my mind. I can translate my thoughts into a movie,” he said.
Ung Vai Meng: subsidy to continue
The Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC) president, Ung Vai Meng, stressed that the subsidies aim to recognize filmmakers’ efforts and contribute to the development of the cultural and creative industries. He told reporters that professionals from Taiwan and Hong Kong were invited as panel judges to select the top filmmakers. “We are happy that they will be producing these films in Macau, marketing them, and showing Macau’s culture abroad,” he said.
He hinted that the subsidy program is due to be improved in the coming years, as more film genres are added, such as animation.