Macau Festival Directors on New Chinese Talent, Becoming a Meeting Point For East and West (Q&A)

Mike Goodridge, Lorna Tee Split - Getty - H 2018
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Sundance London; Patrick Riviere/Getty Images

As IFFAM opens its third edition, artistic director Mike Goodridge and head of festival management Lorna Tee see an opportunity for local filmmakers and a chance to put the city famed for its casinos on the cinematic map.

The third edition of the International Film Festival & Awards Macao (IFFAM) will open tomorrow in a typically glitzy ceremony that comes naturally to Macau, a city famed for high rollers and gargantuan casinos. 

Coming right at the end of the festival calendar, and based in a city where gambling dominates, IFFAM artistic director Mike Goodridge and head of festival management Lorna Tee face unique challenges in trying to attract local and international guests to a festival still in its infancy. Although star power goes a long way. 

IFFAM is not short of stellar talent attending the festival for screenings and master classes and those on the jury. Farewell My Concubine director Chen Kaige was previously announced as head of the international competition jury. The Chinese auteur will be joined on the panel by writer-director-producer Mabel Cheung, director-producer Paul Currie, actress Tillotama Shome and writer-director Danis Tanovic.

Nicolas Cage, who along with Hong Kong acting and music legend Aaron Kwok was named an IFFAM talent ambassador, will also be at the festival to take part in a master class session. The event also will screen his critically acclaimed horror thriller Mandy.  

The festival will also have a number of premieres, although Goodridge plays down that aspect of the program. Among the gala screenings will be the Asian premiere of Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots, Luca Guadagnino’s horror remake Suspiria, Gilles Lellouche’s French box-office phenomenon Sink or Swim, Choi Kook-hee’s Korean financial thriller Default, Edwin’s Indonesian culinary rom-com Aruna and Her Palate, Toby McDonald's Old Boys and Yorgos Lanthimos’ awards contender The Favourite. Local director Ivo Ferreira’s Macau-set drama Empire Hotel will also receive a special presentation.

Goodridge and Tee are particularly proud of The New Chinese Cinema strand, a new competitive element at IFFAM that will focus on six outstanding films from Chinese-speaking territories. The selection includes three films from China, two from Taiwan and one from Malaysia.

Before IFFAM's opening night, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Goodridge and Tee about the lessons they've learned from previous editions of the festival, the need to create something different and the challenge of creating a platform for local Macau-based filmmakers to reach a global audience. 

This is the third edition of the IFFAM. What's new for 2018? 

Mike Goodridge The new section is the Chinese cinema section. It's a way for us to really indulge the six best Chinese films of the year and show them to the Macau audiences and our international guests and tell them "these are the Chinese filmmakers that you should know about." They are so diverse. There's a Malaysian thriller that's something like Tarantino would have made.

Lorna Tee There's a Taiwanese film, Dear Ex, that's really moving too — it was the only Taiwanese film nominated at the Golden Horse awards. 

MG It allows us to show these films and showcase these filmmakers. We want our international guests to meet these filmmakers. That's something we had feedback from last year. People see this festival as a great opportunity to meet Chinese directors. 

It's still early days for IFFAM. In what ways has the mission of the festival stayed the same or evolved since the first edition? 

MG I think its growing, it's a changing mandate. I think we proved last year we can run a very efficient festival, and just getting a profile for this event. It takes a while for a festival to become entrenched in the calendar and we're right at the end of the year. We want to give people a really good time here. We want them to meet other people in a very relaxed setting, watch some amazing cinema. 

LT Informality is the key, we want people to have time to enjoy the films, the diverse range of films we have from blockbusters to delicate independent features. We want to give a whole range, which I feel is a little bit different from the other festivals. 

MG We're not a premiere festival, we have a few Asian and world premieres, but its not really about that. We have a project market, that's incredibly well-curated, brings a lot of industry people. We need to carry on doing this work and we carry on bringing the West and the Chinese here. That's the goal. 

LT It's a meeting point for the East and the West. And that happened organically, we had business taking place in an environment we created to be relaxed and not stressful like other festivals where you are running around like crazy. We found that last year our guests found it incredibly fruitful from a business perspective — some people closed deals that they have been trying to close for years. 

MG Exactly, we heard filmmakers were getting financing for their films last year after casual meetings. 

Starting a festival from scratch, especially in a place like Macau, is an enormous undertaking and not without its challenges. What lessons have you learned over the last few years? 

LT The biggest lesson for me has been learning what the audience wants here in Macau as well as catering to an international audience. We've found ways for local Macau filmmakers to use the festival as a platform for them to reach out and raise their profile. There's very little cinematic history here in Macau, people come and shoot here of course but beyond that, there isn't a great deal. We want to be that platform and help Macau have a vibrant film community. 

MG It's curious as it's one of the most cinematic places in the world. 

LT It's funny because what I always say about Macau is that "it's Asia, but not really." There's something really unique about Macau compared to Hong Kong and the rest of Asia. 

MG Hong Kong has this rich film history, and the best films about Macau have been made by Hong Kong filmmakers. I know the Macau government wants to change all that and the festival hopefully is part of that. 

This year's program is incredibly strong with the best films from festival circuit, awards contenders and some hidden gems. What really stands out for you both? 

MG It's so hard to choose, there are so many. There is tons of Asian cinema that needs to be seen by a wider audience. If I'm pushed, Mandy, which shows the renaissance of Nicolas Cage, and we're incredibly lucky he's going to be here with us. 

LT Buy Bust! And The Witch! It's really had to pick. We programmed the films we love and we think the Macau audience will love. Also, Buy Bust and Roma are Netflix films so it was great to show these films on a big screen. 

Looking ahead to next year and future editions of IFFAM, what do you hope will be the key feature of this festival in years to come? 

MG First of all, we are coming back next year. We want to establish audience loyalty. You look at festivals like Mumbai and Rotterdam and the audience there is insanely loyal, the attendance figures are crazy. We want to do something similar and I think we're on the right track.