Q&A | Marco Müller film veteran

Macau to serve as a ‘switch’ in bridging filmmakers from Europe and Asia

Veteran film festival curator and director, Marco Müller, is set to launch a new festival in Macau in January, aiming to connect filmmakers and producers from Europe, Asia and Macau. 

The Asia-Europe International Youth Film Festival will provide opportunities for young, emerging filmmakers to engage with the production and sales industries behind arthouse cinema in Europe and various parts of Asia.

Scheduled from Jan. 5 to Jan. 11, Müller regards the festival in Macau as an open door for fostering exchanges within the city’s thriving film industry. In an exclusive interview with the Times, the film veteran described the festival’s aim to be  an “international switch” for different regions to collaborate on producing and promoting film productions by young filmmakers. 

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – Welcome back to Macau! It has been few years since Macau has hosted a large-scale film festival. Could you tell us how you came up with this idea? 

Marco Müller (MM) – I really could not afford to lose touch with what is happening in terms of new filmmakers because that is quite exciting about Macau. There is a fresh wave of new filmmakers who are reconnected with China and very often they support each other. 

I have a long history with Macau. The first time I came to Macau to discuss the possibility of creating a large-scale international event was back in 1994. The Portuguese governor had invited the then former director of the film institute to bring a small team to Macau to organize a festival. In that sense, it has been an ongoing project, and that is why I devised another project for Macau.

MDT – What is the directive for this project?

MM – We have a new idea of creating a film festival centered on young cinema, focusing solely on Asia and Europe. 

It made a lot of sense to avoid creating another huge global event, and instead to do some serious groundwork to create a festival of emerging cinema. In Macau, there are still a lot of new filmmakers. No matter which angle you look from, Macau continues to be a cosmopolitan place. I think Macau has really confirmed its place as a unique platform for international exchanges. That was the idea for me – even back in 1994 – that Macau is a very special, hospitable environment and boasts a tradition of bridging different cultures between China, Asia and Europe. That is why we decided to focus on Chinese, Asian, and European filmmakers.

MDT – What can we expect from the festival’s inauguration?

MM – We are planning a so-called ‘edition zero’ as a pilot phase to understand what it means to bring some of the top contemporary filmmakers to Macau. We have to understand how big the audience will be. We very much cherish the young Macau audience, but we should also gauge whether there will be interest from viewers from Hong Kong and mainland China. The festival will be really exciting if filmmakers can feel the pulse of young viewers.

MDT – You are a film veteran and a prestigious film director. How will you differentiate this festival from the many festivals you have previously directed?

MM – The main insight I have gained from 40 years of experience is that every period in film production and creation is unique. I aspire to create something that can act as a tool to understand what is evolving and changing in film. That is why we have to focus on young and emerging directors.

MDT – What is your take on the city’s local talent in young and emerging directors?

MM – Short film showcases reveal that most short filmmakers have yet to graduate, so I think this has proven that there are multiple generations of new Macau filmmakers. There are probably at least two generations of new Macau filmmakers and that is a very good sign. Because most of them are working not only in the Macau industry, which is very small, but they also have very strong connections with the Hong Kong and mainland film industries.  

Again, that shows me that Macau is an essential piece in connecting the different parts of Greater China cinema.

MDT – With the integration and expansion of the GBA, and borders being fully opened, what lies ahead for the local sector?

MM – Macau’s local film industry cannot be compared to the solidity of the Hong Kong film industry, even in terms of the different production centers. Guangzhou, Canton, is again another big attraction center for film production and industry. Macau needs to become the switch so all these parts can tap into the market. Even in the GBA project – a place like Macau is needed. Guangzhou and Canton will always stay in their own individual markets. However, Macau, historically, has had cinema for several decades but is now at an exciting phase that started six or seven years ago because young mainland filmmakers have begun working for television and started making short films and documentaries. 

It is a place where you can foster film culture, but does that mean there is a local audience for a festival? We have yet to determine the local audience’s appetite and that is why we need a zero edition.

MDT – So the purpose of this is to understand the market?

MM – The market angle is a completely different story. In a sense, that was always my intention from the beginning. That Macau should really be the meeting place where industry from Greater China can meet with the industry from non-Chinese regions. In that respect, it is very important to focus on China-Asia and Europe and to be able to foster that connection. Not much has happened in recent years in terms of production. I think through Macau, you can really create a new platform for continuous exchange.  

MDT – The government has also been committed to boosting non-gaming elements and economic diversification. With Macau being able to allocate a good amount of resources, do these provide enough advantages to meet the festival’s objectives?

MM – The resources are important to make sure that we can invite key players in the Asian and European market to come to Macau each year and meet with their Chinese counterparts. This is something that cannot happen at the Shanghai or Beijing film festival.

The main reason for that is simply that they are huge events. Shanghai shows almost 400 films, and Beijing shows over 200 films. When you have a more focused environment, as is the case here, you can capitalize on a concentrated environment where people will not be distracted by many events happening concurrently. 

I really think that the birth of the new festival in Macau and the birth of an international festival will also mean that this can become a permanent series of events, with workshops and exchanges fostered with China, Asia, and Europe. 

MDT – There was a long pause in having film festival, attributed to the pandemic. Do you foresee a significant comeback for film festivals? I know the festival is intended to test the waters, but do you think it is possible to boost the interest of the market when the festival commences? 

MM – It can be a balancing act. We need to continue walking the thin line between industry and art, commerce and pure creation. In that sense, we have to respect the fact that there will be an interest from the Asian and European film industry. 

We are not just focusing on films, but we are also trying to bring about quality commercial cinema.

MDT – How has the direction of young and emerging filmmakers evolved? 

MM – When I started watching the first batch of films from Macau filmmakers, I was surprised by the diversity. In a way, that reflects the diversity of film creation by young Chinese filmmakers in all territories. They are not just going in one direction. They are exploring different directions. I know it’s a paradoxical statement, but they are moving forward in a 360-degree way. Some of them are going in a very precise arthouse direction but others are trying to reinvent their work. The current cinema cannot be compared to cinema pre-pandemic period, because it has to be more exciting and has to compete with original works. 

In the post-pandemic era, all Chinese territories will soon become the largest global market in terms of box office productions.

MDT – Tell us more details about the festival.

MM – We are thinking of two different parts: on one hand we need high visibility. We have already invited nearly 20 top contemporary filmmakers to Macau. Nobody says no when Macau is the destination.

MDT – Why do you think so?

MM – They still consider Macau to be an exotic place. If the festival is successful, we will have to think of how to cater to the new people once they’ve done the trip to Macau. We have invited filmmakers to deliver masterclasses and bring forth new ideas on filmmaking. That is the best basis for continuous exchange with the young viewers. 

MDT – Can you give us some names of people who will be in attendance?

MM – One person who definitely wants to come is Japanese film director and screenwriter Ryusuke Hamaguchi. The second person is an old friend, Luca Guadagnino, director of Call Me By Your Name. They are huge names in the Chinese language territories and are regarded as icons in contemporary cinema. The fact that they have accepted invitations to deliver masterclasses and meet with young filmmakers is a very strong starting point. 

MDT – So the idea is that this ‘zero edition’ can enhance Macau’s base as a cultural platform?

MM – We are enhancing Macau’s role as an international switch, surpassing the idea of merely being a platform. That is why even in the GBA, while all the other parts are larger than Macau, their connections are facilitated by Macau. 

MDT – How confident are you about Macau’s young filmmakers?

MM – A perfect example is the Macau director who recently won Best New Director nomination at Golden Horse Awards in Taipei. This confirms our belief in nurturing new directors.

MDT – Are we talking about betting big?

MM – Yes. That really falls within the tradition of Macau. 

MDT – Tell us how the buyer-meet-filmmakers interaction work?

MM – We want to understand if it is possible for companies from China, Asia and Europe to meet with mainland China buyers in Macau. It is important that we offer them a very special, focused environment so Chinese buyers can purchase the new films. The ‘work in progress lab’ is something that I devised to allow potential partners and agents to evaluate the unfinished film, a rough cut, or at least some edited scenes. They can then decide if they want to invest in the film or present the film. That is a key element in the internationalization of Chinese cinema. We are inviting directors and delegates of all important film festivals in Europe and Asia to observe these future avenues, including works of the new generation of Chinese filmmakers. 

MDT – So this festival opens doors?

MM – Absolutely. 

MDT – What is your perspective on the current landscape of the film industry in Macau?

MM – What is really important is that young filmmakers have learned to work with Hong Kong and the mainland industry, and have become their own embryonic film industry.

It is important to create an international event that will also feature industry players, as local producers need investors from outside Macau. 

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