“It takes years for a festival to take off”

Photo by Eduardo Martins
The artistic director of the International Film Festival & Awards Macau (IFFAM), Mike Goodridge

The artistic director of the International Film Festival & Awards Macau (IFFAM), Mike Goodridge, has one main goal for its second edition: to build on audiences and make the programme as successful as possible in terms of the public.

What’s your vision for this second edition of IFFAM?

Mike Goodridge – Because last year was quite complicated, I think the idea this year is to have a very effective, efficient second edition, where we present an outstanding programme and focus on the audience. That’s one of my biggest ambitions, to develop the audience. I’ve introduced this Competition section that is for first and second films, and the cash prize is quite significant, US$60,000 for the best film. That’s quite meaningful, first of all to attract films to come and play here, but secondly to bring filmmakers and continue that conversation around young talent, which is also kind of what my ambition is, because I think Macau and the filmmaking culture here is so young, I don’t know why. Hong Kong has had this developed filmmaking industry for 50 years, whereas Macau never seems to. And yet, look at the city – this is a movie city.

So, the decision to change the Competition to first and second films, is mainly with the intention of focusing on emerging talents?

Look, we have films by great filmmakers, as well as classic films, but I think this competition suits Macau, because Macau has some bright young filmmakers and I think the idea is to sort of focus on what makes a great first film. There are some amazing films in the competition, such as a film called Foxtrot, by Samuel Maoz. It’s his second feature and he’s not a young guy. It took him 20 years to make his first feature and it’s taking six years to make the second one, and it’s really an amazing film. So that’s of a world class level, it won prizes and I think it will probably get an Oscar nomination. Then there are a lot of first films to go with that.

Can you tell us about some of the other nine films in competition?

There’s another film that was in Venice and that we all fell in love with called Custody. It’s French and it is an extension of a short film by a first time filmmaker, Xavier Legrand. It’s this impressive film about domestic terrorism, about a husband trying to get back into his ex-wife’s life, and he’s a sociopath, violent, controlling, and gets back into her life by winning joint custody of their son. It plays like a thriller and by the end you’re literally on the edge of your seat.

There’s Beast, a British film by a first-time filmmaker called Michael Pearce, he has a big pedigree in short films. It’s set on the island of Jersey, off the south coast of England and it has an incredible history in the war, I think the Nazis actually occupied it. The film is loosely based on a serial killer from the 80’s who is called The Beast of Jersey, and about a slightly damaged young woman who falls in love with the guy who might be a serial killer. It’s a psychological thriller, very effective, and again it shows incredible assuredness for a first-timer. All these films are impressive because you’re like ‘how did they do that?’.

And there also Chinese films in Competition, such as Wrath of Silence.

Yes, it’s really good film by Xin Yukun. This is his second feature and it’s like a Cohen brother’s movie set in Northern Mongolia. Both of the Chinese films are quite subversive, really. The other one is Angels Wear White, which got a lot of publicity in Venice. The filmmaker [Vivian Qu] just won the Golden Horse Award for Best Director. These are proper independent Chinese films, telling bold stories about society. I really recommend both of them.

On top of all that, what does it mean to have Laurent Canté as the President of the Jury for this years’ Competition?

I love Laurent Canté. He’s a great humanist filmmaker. His new film is playing as well, it’s called The Workshop and it’s one of his best, a really daring film about a young man who is kind of swayed by right wing propaganda and he’s kind of a bit lost. It’s great to have Laurent and also Jessica Hausner, an Austrian filmmaker and one of my favourites; Joan Chen, who is a great actress and a filmmaker; Royston Tan, who’s in Singapore and makes a new film every two weeks or so, apparently; and then the novelist Lawrence Osborne – I’ve read Ballads of a Small Player and to me it’s a really beautiful book about Macau, although I actually think it’s more about an Englishman than it is about Macau, but it shows the wonder of Macau being a place where you can lose yourself.

You have this pool of people coming to town and I believe it’s important for a young festival like this to bring in big names –  directors, actresses and actors. Are you satisfied with the guests that are coming?

There’s always a conflict in festivals between the purity and integrity of your programme, and that other side. And that’s why Paddington 2 is so great as the opening film. It’s one of the best family films I’ve seen since E.T.

You describe it as a crowed-pleasing kind of film. Is that the main reason to chose it for the opening? It’s a surprising choice in a way.

Well, if you look at Cannes, they play films like that. Cannes had Shrek 2, they played the last Indiana Jones

As the opening film?

No, but they play big films in the opening. And for us especially this is just the perfect film. It’s a way for people to realize that film comes in many different shapes, so you can have a big blockbuster like Paddington 2 next to a competition line-up of first and second films, and The Shape of Water. Or very talked about American films like Call Me By Your Name or The Florida Project in the same programme as Angels Wear White or Sweet Country, from Australia, which is brilliant by the way. It’s a way of showing variety and I think it’s important for the opening night, because it’s a night with a lot of people from the city, and sponsors and all that, and it’s also such a delight of a film.

Regarding the local cinema scene, I believe this is the first time you’ll be showing the winner of the Local View Power programme. What’s the meaning of including these local films in the festival?

We’re showing two features, Love is Cold and Passing Rain, and we partnered with Local View Power to show their selection of films this year. We have an authentic desire to have Macau spotlighted in the programme. If you go to the Tokyo Film Festival, there’s a big Japanese section; if you go to Busan, there’s a big Korean section; in Cannes they favour the French. A festival has to act on a sort of local level and it can be a real force to improve infrastructure, and to improve conversation around training and education. I’ve met Álvaro Barbosa [from the University of Saint Joseph], he’s launching a film programme next year, and there are a bunch of these film courses that are starting, not to mention Zhuhai and Hong Kong, which you can sort of tap in to as a festival, and help. We’re also trying to have filmmakers coming to Macau throughout the year, that’s something we’d like to do.

The Portuguese speaking connection was mentioned last year as something the Festival wanted to have, by showing films from Portugal, Brazil and elsewhere. Is this an orientation you want to keep?

Definitely. I’ve watched a lot of Portuguese films this year. We’re playing The Nothing Factory, by Pedro Pinho, it’s kind of fabulous, it’s unlike anything else. And we’re showing a film from Brazil, called Good Manners. I want to build on that, especially because of the obvious Portuguese connection, but there wasn’t great cinema out of Portugal this year, to be honest. At the same I’m trying to play films that aren’t too challenging. The Nothing Factory is actually pretty challenging. But you want to play films that have an audience. I think I’ll have to go to Portugal to better figure out how to partner.

Regarding the local cinema scene, I believe this is the first time you’ll be showing the winner of the Local View Power programme. Why did you decide to include these local films in the festival?

We’re showing two features, Love is Cold and Passing Rain, and we partnered with Local View Power to show their selection of films this year. We have an authentic desire to have Macau spotlighted in the programme. If you go to the Tokyo Film Festival, there’s a big Japanese section; if you go to Busan, there’s a big Korean section; in Cannes they favour the French. A festival has to act on a sort of local level and it can be a real force to improve infrastructure, and to improve the conversation around training and education.

You spent many years covering the film industry as a journalist and a critic, then you’ve moved to production and sales, and now to becoming a festival director. How do you feel in these new shoes?

Good. I mean, a lot of this is common sense, is good taste. I feel that I brought that to [the production company] Protagonist. There was a steep learning curve when I went there from being a trade journalist and a critic to being a chief executive of a company, but it’s also about what your film taste is and about saying ‘this is going to work’ or ‘I respect this director’. (…) It’s about putting things together and taking a risk on them. I think Macau is the same to me. When you’re sitting in rainy London, Macau sounds like this exotic world, you just think of Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum, or 2046. And when you come here you realize there’s work to be done in terms of audience development, and lots of other work to be done. Being here is great, because you can actually feel the city and see how it works, you can go to movies and see who’s there. I’m sort of applying that kind of logic and all my experience in all these fields. When I was running [the publication] Screen, it was about catering to your audience and that’s what I want to do. I’m absolutely committed to making sure that people are coming to see these films, and that’s why I wish I’d had more time.

Was there a time issue here? Because you just joined the festival not so many months ago.

Absolutely, and I’m still nervous about some of the screenings. Some films won’t be full, for sure, but if we can year-on-year build an audience and get the audience into a habit of ‘Oh, there’s the film festival in December, they’ll have some great films I want to see’, that’s really exciting. It takes years for a festival to take off. It’s funny when people say ‘but there’s Cannes, there’s Venice’ – these festivals are 70 years old. First you have to earn people’s respect and you have to show a serious festival. That takes a while.

You’ve been in this job for some months. What kind of potential do you see for this festival?

I see a lot of potential. Macau is unique. If you look at the festivals that people go to a lot, Cannes is a little seaside resort; Venice is actually not Venice, it’s Lido, a holiday destination. These are places that people want to go to and they watch films in these environments. Sundance is a resort in the middle of the mountains. So, Macau is a place people want to come to, it’s not like you’re having a festival in some industrial city in the middle of China. I think that’s half of your work done and plus it’s just this extraordinary place, a blend of cultures and sensibilities. I think it’s a place people will be fascinated by, and at the same time it is literary on China’s doorstep. So, I think part of my job is to get the Chinese film industry to take the festival seriously as a place to show their films and for them to come. If I can actually get the Chinese industry in a dialogue with the rest of the world here, in a very informal way, that would be a goal.

Last year, as you mentioned, things were difficult. The artistic director, Marco Muller, quit his job before the festival started, in apparent divergence with the organizing committee. How has your experience been so far, working with this organization and these Macau institutions?

It’s been really good, actually. There has been no interference on the creative side. If anything it’s about me discovering how Macau works and how the government works here. There’s a system that I have to get my head around, and I think they’ve learned an incredible amount from last year, in terms of infrastructure and organization.

I can tell by your speech that you see yourself doing this festival for a number of years. Am I right?

Yes, I’m excited. There’s no film commission here and there should be, and there should be more educational opportunities. The festival can help with all those things and I think that’s exciting for me. I don’t think there has been a great voice to come out of Macau yet. Ivo M. Ferreira is the closest you get to that, and I can’t wait to see his new film. But there are voices here. Hong Kong created people like John Woo and Johnnie To, with vision, with real technical fluency combined with this great sense of what cinema is. I find that thrilling and there has to be that here in Macau, because look at the place – it’s boiling with excitement, and underneath the surface there’s a lot going on. But I think that has to be encouraged and the festival can play a part, can contribute to that.