Q&A | Joel Brandão, Filmmaker: ‘I am a passionate about cinema and about documentaries’

Joel Brandão, 23, is a young Portuguese filmmaker whose current project is attempting to document the relationship between Macau’s different communities. His work is part of an internship which would finalize his Masters degree in Cinema and Audiovisual from Catholic University Oporto (UCP). Interviewed by the Times, Brandão talks about his fascination with Macau and the documentary he made here.

Macau Daily Times (MDT) – Why Macau? What brought you here?

Joel Brandão (JB) – I chose Macau because I had been here before, in September last year, through an exchange program named InFLUXUS, organized by non-profit cultural organization “Babel,” [based in Macau]. At that time I came here together with students from my Masters degree and it was very interesting because it included an exchange with Beijing students, Macau students, and also students from Portugal.

For me, the work was very interesting and enriching as there was a real exchange of knowledge, cultures, people and ideas. When I first arrived in Macau [back in September 2016]. I looked to the city, to the streets, to the buildings and I was enchanted with what I saw. I felt like I was home.

And when I left, I did so having in mind to “come back another day.”

In order to finish the Masters degree, we need to have an internship of at least six weeks and that was when the opportunity arose for me to propose something different from the usual internship in a [production] company. With this in mind, I proposed to the Faculty to return to Macau. I made use of previous contacts to reach [out to] some people here, namely the university of Saint Joseph and Professor José Manuel Simões. Because the institution and the professor accepted to receive me and to guide my work and since I was bearing all the costs, there was not much space really for the UCP to refuse, and here I am.

MDT – And why did you choose to show the city and its people in a documentary approach?

JB – I am a passionate about cinema and documentaries and that idea came up almost immediately and began to take shape as I started reading, researching and asking people, who had lived here for a long period, what were the special features of the region for them. That’s when the final topic came up as “Macau – Connection points between different communities.” I’m doing this from a perspective on the relations between people in their daily activities.

MDT – What were the most challenging aspects you found in your task?

JB – The language is an issue, for me, and also one of the things mentioned many times in the documentary. I’ve chosen to portray the Portuguese and Chinese communities (for obvious reasons) and the Filipino community as it is a large and deep-rooted community and also easy to speak with.

My first challenges were to find in a short time interviewees and people who were the right ones to represent the community, the – “ideal character.” Then, of course, the work of filming and getting an image bank to compose the whole thing. I only had two months to perform all the work so it was very challenging. After the first interview, what I did was to follow each of these “characters” for one day, experiencing the regular day of their lives.

MDT – What was the most unexpected thing you found?

JB – Well, I can tell you that for example, the character I choose within the Chinese community was a gentleman called William Chan, who owns a family-style food business in between Camões Garden and Kiang Wu Hospital. I immediately thought of him as I was flying here since it was a place where I used to go almost every day to have breakfast when I was here for the first time. He was always very nice and open-minded.

He works with his wife and daughter in the coffee shop and they live right above the shop and I found their relation with us [Portuguese] interesting when we were there to eat. They had a different way of approaching us when compared to other places in town. Then he eventually told me that, as local people, they have always had an idea of the Portuguese either as middle to high class tourists, or as people that live in Macau and occupy important positions within the government or private companies. The idea comes from the old days of the Portuguese administration when the Portuguese were always in the higher positions and well-connected people.

MDT – You told us before that you like to do things in a unique way. What is different in your work?

JB – Yes, that is true. Well, I would say that there is something I decided: to be personal in my way of filming and documenting. I like the “big picture”, I like “wide plans” to show some more and give some context to the story. I don’t like to focus just on one person’s detail like an eye expression or the hands right from the start. I would say that I film from an outside character. I don’t “jump” immediately inside the character. It’s much more about an observation, like if it were on the “other side of the street”, not immediately an “intimate” thing. I like to give context.

MDT – Are you leaving Macau with a different feeling this time?

JB – Definitely, I would say that I’m almost Macanese now. I learned a lot more. I learned much more especially from the Chinese community side. I understood that it takes time to have them speaking openly. There is work to be done on gaining trust from both parties.

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