The craftmanship of a film festival is intertwined with its city, its community, and its film industry, projecting the best international cinema in Macau and taking Macau to the world stage. That is in short the vision Mike Goodridge had for the International Film Festival and Awards (IFFAM) from day one.
IFFAM’s artistic director has further developed the concept he implemented last year, when he took the job, and has lined up a starlight film billboard – Green Book, Roma, Mandy, The Favourite, just to name a few. Also, Goodridge and his team continue to discover and bring us ‘little’ masterpieces made by promising debutant filmmakers for the competition section of the festival.
It is a way to relate to the similarly debutant Macau film industry that “can benefit from having these young filmmakers here,” Mike Goodridge told the Times in an exclusive interview.
“The visiting guests last year had an amazing time in Macau. And they’re talking to all their friends about Macau. I think it’s really positive in the film community. And this is an amazing city to visit. Not everybody has been to Macau, by the way.”
Except for those thirty odd millions per year, we teased.
In retrospective, films cast last year went on to having very successful careers, but Goodridge admits that there “will always be criticism of a festival because everybody wants it to be a certain way. But my job as an outsider really is to make it as international and as accessible as it can be, while retaining integrity as a program because we want to show great new films, great first films and second films in our competition section which you probably haven’t heard of before and you haven’t heard of the actors or the directors, but they’re really good.”
Most of the 40 films showing at IFFAM from December 8 to 14 will have their China or Asian premieres here. The great novelty this year is the new competitive section on New Chinese Cinema, where something “exciting and risky is happening.”
That is where the conversation with the Englishman in Macau started.
Macau Daily Times – You have a new section this year which is New Chinese Cinema. Is this “new cinema” the successors of the brilliant filmmakers of the Fifth Generation like Chen Kaige, who presides over the jury?
Mike Goodridge – I don’t know. That’s a good question because there was a Sixth Generation as well. There is a really exciting movement in China at the moment; filmmaking that I find incredibly daring and risk taking. Often telling stories in ways that we in the west aren’t familiar with; using images much more to tell the story than dialogue or traditional narrative.
MDT – Do they represent this New Cinema?
MG – Yes, certainly, the six films we’ve chosen. There are three from the mainland and two from Taiwan and one from Malaysia. So, it’s Chinese language, but they’re incredibly varied. One’s a documentary, one’s a sort of noir thriller. There are some human interest and family stories, very dramatic, but I think they do represent a new breed of filmmaker in China.
MDT – So there is a “nouvelle vague” in the Chinese cinema?
MG – Yes, I really think so, and I don’t think that’s getting enough play outside of China. So, this was our attempt to showcase six great [New Chinese Cinema] films for the foreign guests, for the Macau audiences, for all the neighbouring regions to see what’s going on in China.
MDT – In order to choose those six, how many did you screen?
MG – We screened a lot. I mean, I have a brilliant programmer called Giovanna Fulvi who is an Italian woman who programs for Toronto and Rome festivals as well. She speaks Mandarin, she’s an expert in the region. She was educated in Beijing actually and is fantastically knowledgeable about Chinese cinema, all Asian cinema actually, and it was a real challenge for her. At the beginning MGTO was a little worried there wouldn’t be enough for six, but we found that there were, you know, huge amounts of films.
MDT – What was the shortlist, before the six?
MG – Well, we were about down to ten, but we watched many, many films. Well over fifty.
MDT – Do you expect this to be a significant part of the festival?
MG – Yes. Look, we’re a Chinese festival and it is really important to show the best of what is happening in this region. Remember, we have a lot of [people from the] foreign industry here, a lot of foreign guests and I think it’s a great way for them to see the output of the region. You know, Macau isn’t terribly thick in terms of filmmaking yet and we are showing two Macau feature films.
MDT – Not in that section.
MG – No, because this is Macau so, we’re giving them a bigger section, but I’m really excited about this Chinese section.
MDT – What about Macau/Portugal’s production by Ivo Ferreira?
MDT – “Empire Hotel.” Obviously it’s a Macau production. It’s a Macau story. He makes it look incredible. It’s a really beautiful depiction of old Macau.
MDT – Ivo was once nominated for the foreign films at the Oscars. Do you think this one stands a chance?
MG – I don’t know what country it would represent. It’s about time Macau put forward a film, but is it Macau or Portugal? It should be Macau, but we’re really happy to be showing that. I’m a great admirer of Ivo as a filmmaker and it’s a really interesting, dark story set in a hotel and it’s about the changing fabric of society in Macau. So, I think for you and your readers, I think it’s really interesting and would really be personal. There’s a Chinese thriller, a mainland/Macau co-production called “Nobody Knows,” which is a Macau film as well, that we’re excited to be playing. It starts at the Eiffel Tower at The Parisian and it’s a thriller. There are [those] Macau feature films and the shorts that we play in Local View Power that are all images and visions of Macau that I hope local audiences will interact with.
MDT – Where would you place the influence of local young filmmakers? More like Chinese, Hong Kong, the West…?
MDT – No, I think they’re unique. It’s something unique because they’re a bit of all. And they’re in the shadow of gaming, which comes across in a lot of stories.
MDT – You can’t escape that.
MG – Well, you can’t, can you. It’s also such a massive tourism city. There are different nationalities in all these films.
MDT – This is a very transient place.
MG – Yes, transient, but there is a local population that want to tell their own stories.
MDT – Do you feel any concerns in terms of freedom of expression while working on the movies’ selection?
MG – No. I haven’t encountered that. All the films have to go through censorship. I mean, there’re things that we have to be aware of, obviously.
MDT – “Seven Years in Tibet” would be a no-go…
MG – “Seven Years in Tibet,” films about Taiwanese independence. Do you know what I mean?
MDT – That kind of common sense is self-censorship of a kind.
MG – I suppose so. It’s like saying that Cannes wouldn’t play a film that was very anti-French, you know what I mean? It doesn’t make sense because they probably wouldn’t. They could, but they probably wouldn’t, you know, because it defeats the purpose.
MDT – As you know, in China there’re a lot of persecutions in films, literature…
MG – Cinema is obviously something that the government takes very seriously. All the Chinese films that we play have to have the “Dragon Seal” from mainland China, but then we show here lots of films that wouldn’t ever play in China.
MDT – Let’s get to this year’s competition. Without screening the films yet, just looking at reviews and trailers, two key words – ‘isolation’ / ‘desolation’ – comes to mind, also because guilt and suffering is a very lonely place. Would you say this is a theme?
MG – All the films are about guilt and suffering, indeed. But I don’t think so [that there is a theme]. I mean, maybe there was some sort of subconscious thematic programming mechanism to it, but there’s a great range. There’s an Indian film called “The Man Who Feels No Pain,” which is a big action comedy and it’s quite daring of us to put it in the competition, but I’ll have to brief the jury fully, to say you’ve got to look at these films for what they are because you’ll be looking at this action comedy from India or this horror film from France – “School’s Out” – in the same terms as these beautiful arthouse films. So, you have to judge them by their own standards. I haven’t actually thought about what brings… what unites all the films. But yes, come to think of it, it’s pertinent: isolation is there [in the selection].
[However] I look at them stylistically, rather than thematically. So “The Guilty” is an incredible thriller set in one room with one man … Then we have female topics. Strangely there’s a film called “All Good,” which is, I think, one of the most intelligent films on [sexual harassment]. About a woman who is raped, but she refuses to define herself as a victim. She refuses to see it as an act that’s going to slow her down, but inevitably it does and it’s a really beautiful film.
MDT – Again, isolation and desolation…
MG – True actually. Maybe you’re right. I’m trying to think… and “Suburban Birds” is all about isolation. Yes, you’re right.
MDT – Also, the geography is very diverse in terms of plots and origin of productions.
MG – That wasn’t particularly deliberate. We go for what we think is best. These are all Asian premieres as well. The only exception is that some of the Asian films, we allow them to play in their home territory.
MDT – All those in the competition are Asian premieres?
MG – Yes, apart from the Asian films like “Clean Up” the Korean film, played in Busan, “Jesus”, a Japanese production, played in Japan, and “Suburban Birds”, the Chinese film. But everything else [8 out of 11] is an Asian premiere.
MDT – The opening film, “Green Book,” seems like a different choice from last year’s Paddington sequel, but again, it is a big studio production. What’s your take on this film?
MG – Well, you think you know what it is. It looks like a sweet, sentimental tale about the deep south and racial intolerance and it’s about a schlumpy Italian-
American from New York, driving a black musician around the deep south in 1962 and encountering all the intolerance and racism that there was, but it’s actually a friendship story and nothing is as it seems. So, it’s very well written, it’s expertly made … It’s a road movie, but it’s just a story of this friendship, but it’s so lovely and so intelligent and the performances are spectacular. So, all of us loved it.
MDT – Will it also be a premiere here? For Macau it is.
MG – Yes, it’s a China premiere … It certainly hasn’t played here so, we just wanted the best. Look, it’s being talked about for the Oscars: it won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto, which is the most prestigious award before [the] Oscars that you can get. So, I think that it’s going to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It’s phenomenal.
MDT – There’s no love like the first love, so they say, and you did well with your selection last year. “Shape of Water” won the Oscar for Best Picture and others also went on to having very successful careers. Do you expect that level of success this year?
MG – We’re very fortunate that we’re playing “Green Book.” We’re very fortunate we’re playing “The Favourite,” which is one of our two U.K. galas. “The Favourite” is just a spectacular piece of filmmaking. A British film directed by a Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Olivia Colman as Queen Anne and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as the two courtiers who are trying to gain her influence and it’s one of the most delicious, comic, tragic stories you’ll ever see. It’s really spectacular. The writing, the performance. It’s hilarious. I think that’s going to get a Best Picture nomination too. Olivia Colman is astonishing.
Then we have “Roma,” which is Alfonso Cuarón’s new film, which was made for Netflix and it’s on Netflix on December 14th, which is the last day of our festival. However, this film played in Venice and won the Golden Lion. It’s being considered the best film of the year by many people. It’s a huge talking point in Hollywood at the moment because it should be seen on the big screen. It’s one of the most exquisitely beautiful films you’ve ever seen. It has to be seen on the big screen. It’s in black and white and it’s Alfonso Cuarón’s own story of growing up with both a mother and a housekeeper. It’s a very Mexican scenario.
MDT – Do you think this recognition of the movies that have screened here has an impact on the image of the festival here and abroad?
MG – Yes, I think so. Look, we work very hard to get these films to play here and it’s not easy to get the right’s holders to agree or the studios to agree, but you know, they obviously want exposure for these films. They’re very sensitive about them. “Roma” and “The Favourite” were in Venice and had huge, huge successful response there, in Venice. “Green Book” was in Toronto and won the People’s Choice Award. So, they know now that the films will be well received. I think they want to know how they’ll be received here. We’re actually going to film some of the audience coming out of some of them to feedback to the studio.
MDT – In relation to local audiences, do you think the festival is reaching out?
MG – These films that we’re talking about, these American films, will be shown here, but a festival always wants to give you a first look at something, a sneak peek. It was great that we had “The Shape of Water” here because that was the first time it had played in this region and so it was fantastic for people to say “I saw it in Macau.” I think we had much improved audiences last year than in the first year and I want them to be even better this year.
MDT – Let’s end with a bang. So, Nick Cage ‘threatens’ every day on TV that he’ll be here.
MG – “See you there!” [Smiles] Yes, he’s going to be here.
MDT – He’s probably the most well-known Hollywood star in China. Was that the play?
MG – Western star, yes, he’s hugely popular in China, and in Asia. Yes, because we wanted a big name to come, who would be meaningful here and who has a lot to say about the art of film. I mean, look at that career, it’s massive and we’ve got an amazing new film that he’s in called “Mandy,” which is one of the most talked about films of the year. It’s getting a huge following and it’s another of those intense, crazy Nicolas Cage performances. Although, it’s probably one of his best in years. He’s this guy who’s reinvented himself over and over and over again and I just think there’s something fascinating about him and meaningful to audiences.
MDT – He’s going to be at the opening?
MG – He’s going to be at the opening night. He’s doing a lot of press for us on the day of the opening. There’s a press conference on the Saturday morning [Dec 8], and on Sunday afternoon [Dec 9] I’m doing a Q&A with him, a masterclass, where we’ll talk more about his craft and his career.
MDT – Tell me something I don’t know about the festival.
MG – You’ve got to see “Diamantino,” which is the best, most fun Portuguese film for years. It is just a delicious, crazy, whacked out comedy with a message about a footballer who’s absolutely the most stupid man alive, but he’s a big star footballer called Diamantino and he is about to get involved with this crazy scheme to pull Portugal out of the EU. It’s hilarious, it’s just hilarious. The director(s) should be here as well.
What critics say about director’s picks for MDT
“Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt rustle up one of the year’s most singular debuts with this winningly bizarre, genre-melding political satire.”
“Ivo Ferreira’s thriller is a nocturnal odyssey set in the slums of Macao about the disappearance of Portuguese identity and gentrification.”
“[Cuaron’s] ‘Roma’ [is] a hypnotic, neorealist masterpiece about a middle class family living in Mexico City in the 1970s that’s inspired by the filmmaker’s own youth. But this is a different kind of autobiography.
“[Viggo] Mortensen and [Mahershala] Ali are a joy to watch, but ‘Green Book’ is just a warm bath of clichés.”
BBC Culture (Full review inside Extra)
“With its spurts of violence, splashes of blood and cynical sexual encounters, ‘The Favourite’ is, oddly enough, about love.”
Associated Press (Full review inside Extra)
“Cage is on magnificent, mind-boggling form as a chainsaw-wielding lumberjack hunting the gang who invaded his home.”
“Almost entirely held in monotones, [Zhang’s] drama features one of the most lauded fight scenes in recent times, showcasing a battalion of armored umbrellas. It recently swept four awards at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards…”
The Hollywood Reporter (Closing film)
Note: MDT asked Mike Goodridge for picks among non-competition movies only.