Macao Festival Director Mike Goodridge on Adding to the Region's 20th Anniversary Celebrations

Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Sundance London
Mike Goodridge

As the former Portuguese colony marks two decades of its return to China, the International Film Festival and Awards Macao will throw the spotlight on an expanded section of local films while Oscar winning actress Juliette Binoche will add international star power to the event's fourth edition.

The International Film Festival and Awards Macao gets underway Thursday, and in its fourth year, the event is looking at building on its past editions as a cross-cultural platform in a bid to carve out its own identity in the busy festival calendar. IFFAM, which runs Dec. 5-10, also adds to Macao's 20th anniversary celebrations this month, marking the casino capital's return to China from Portuguese rule.

The fest opens with Taika Waititi's Toronto winner Jojo Rabbit while Hong Kong director Hing Fan Wong's debut feature I'm Livin' It will be the closing film, reflecting IFFAM's diverse mix of international and Asian offerings in its program of 50 titles.

This year's international jury is headed by Hong Kong director Peter Chan Ho-sun (The Warlords) with jury members including British actor Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey), U.S. producer Ellen Eliasoph, Indonesian actress Dian Sastrowardoyo (Aruna and her Palate) and director Midi Z from Myanmar (The Road to Mandalay).

Continuing its tradition of inviting talent ambassadors in a bid to add some star power (such as Nicolas Cage), this year's invitees include Oscar winning actress Juliette Binoche (The English Patient), who will also address a master class, Hong Kong actress Carina Lau (Curiosity Kills the Cat) and K-Pop star Junmyeon Kim, better known by his stage name Suho.

The programming lineup again sees an eclectic section on Chinese-language cinema and includes Derek Kwok-cheung Tsang's Better Days, which bowed at Berlin; Sun Aoqian's Over the Sea, which premiered at Busan; Liang Ming's Wisdom Tooth, which won multiple honors at Pingyao; Sasie Sealy's Lucky Grandma, which unfurled at Tribeca; Xiaogang Gu's Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, which was the closing film for the Critics’ Week at Cannes; Johnny Ma's To Live to Sing, which premiered at Cannes; and Anthony Chen's latest, Wet Season, following his 2013 debut Ilo Ilo, which bagged him a Camera D'Or at the Croisette.

The New Chinese Cinema jury has also been expanded to five members (from three last year) and includes director Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days), consultant and former San Francisco festival executive director Noah Cowan, Qiu Yang (A Gentle Night), Kirsten Tan (Pop Aye) and director of BFI Festivals Tricia Tuttle.

Ahead of the festival's opening, IFFAM artistic director Mike Goodridge spoke with The Hollywood Reporter and shared how the event has shaped up over the years and why it aims to be a "boutique" festival.

How far do you think the festival has come in its fourth year?

We have come a long way. A festival has a grace period with the local audience since you have to prove to them that you mean business, and secondly, the film industry is also eager to see if you are in it for the long term. So that's been my challenge in making sure local the population is engaged and making sure the industry realizes that we are serious.

This year we have expanded our Chinese-language competition section, the New Chinese Cinema section, which has seven films [compared to six last year]. We have a five-member jury who will hand out prizes for best film, director, actor, actress and screenplay. Earlier we had a three-person jury to give one prize, so we have now expanded that and put the section on the same level as the international competition section.

The already busy international festival calendar got a new addition in the Hainan International Film Festival, which overlaps Macao. Any concerns about that?

Its their second edition and they suddenly appeared on the calendar last year, which was rather charming. We are an international festival and while we are quite small with 50 titles, we have a high quality of films and guests and we want to stay boutique, small and exclusive. I can't speak for Hainan as they have ambitions to be a much bigger festival. So we are two completely separate events. We are in Macao and we can play an unedited menu of films from around the world.

Past editions of Macao have also put the spotlight on Indian talent. Bollywood producer Karan Johar was earlier announced as a talent ambassador for this year but now he is not attending. Any reasons for that?

Karan Johar couldn't make it for personal reasons. I am a great fan of his and I thought he could have been a real inspiration to our young filmmakers. Part of the mandate for Macao is to help the burgeoning local industry and I was hoping that Karan, with his years of experience in the Indian industry, could inspire us, but I think we will have to wait for another year.

How do you see Macao as a platform for Indian cinema?

We have animation film Bombay Rose in the international competition section. I love Indian cinema, to be honest, so it's a question of timing the right films for our program. We are quite a small program of 50 films, so its highly curated. But we hope to find the right films for our audience.

What is special about this year between the Asian and international offerings?

We are perfectly timed to pick a few of the post festival [such as Cannes, Venice, Toronto] prestige English-language titles such as Jojo Rabbit, Dark Waters, Judy and The Lighthouse. We really want our audiences to have the first chance to see these films that are already being talked about in awards terms. Last year, we had Green Book as the opening film and before that we had The Shape of Water. We love sort of being a gateway into this market for those films. The Chinese films are really impressive and a stunning array, and not just in the New Chinese Cinema section. We are playing five local Macao films to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Macao's return to China from Portuguese rule. Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be here later in December for the celebrations. So we are kicking off the month of celebrations and we have these five Macao-made films, which will tie into that. Macao doesn't make many films but we have had a couple films in the past and we play as much as we can. We are here to support local filmmakers.

Last year in an interview with THR you had said that Macao wants to establish audience loyalty as seen in festivals like Mumbai and Rotterdam. How far do you think you have managed to achieve that?

We have. I mean, I said when I took over the job that if there is no local audience for the films then there is no point in doing a festival. Our ticket sales have been great this year and we should have full houses. I was looking at some relatively new [international] festivals such as Dubai and Zurich that managed to make a name for themselves, though Dubai no longer sadly, after its 12-year run, but they were a committed festival and Zurich is the same. I look at these festivals and feel that you got to put in the years and win over audiences. And it will pay off in the long term. A festival is not a short-term game. Every festival takes a while and that's the challenge and the fun of it.