An Intelligent Commercial Film

TANJA WESSELS, JOÃO PEDRO LAU
Macau director Emily Chan premieres her second feature film "Our Seventeen"

“A commercial film with an artistic soul”, it’s “a first ray of hope for intelligent mainstream cinema in Macau", Marco Müller, the former director of the 1st International Film Festival and Awards Macao (IFFAM), wrote in his general appraisal, selecting Emily Chan's work for the official opening film of the festival, according to the filmmaker.

The proposal didn’t succeed and "Polina, danser as vie", a French film by Angelin Preljocaj Valérie Müller starring Juliette Binoche will open the festival. Emily Chan Nga Lei, is not concerned about the decision. On the contrary, the 28-year-old director is very happy that her film will be shown at the first major film festival organized in the territory, in the "Hidden Dragons" section, dedicated to young filmmakers.

The young Macau resident, who came to the territory from Fujian, China, at the age of five, hadn’t even considered taking part in the festival. It was only during the film’s editing phase in August that Marco Müller encouraged her to participate in the festival. After seeing "Our Seventeen", the former director of IFFAM wanted to see all her work, her short films, documentaries, and first feature film, Macau’s first box office success: "Timing".

"Macau has filmmakers after all, and movies are being made here, Emily is the example," Müller reportedly said before resigning in mid-November. In his appraisal of the film, the former director of the Rotterdam, Venice and Locarno festivals, says: " 'Our Seventeen' caught me completely off guard with its understanding of a coming of age period for its protagonists and for Macau and with its intelligence use of comedy and romance to talk about the differences between the city of today and earlier times. Emily Chan was already a well-known director on the low-budget realms and she has confirmed here her maturity".

Emily is eager to get the festival audience's feedback of the film. "Compared with other works participating, my film has the lowest budget," she explains.

Before being a feature film, "Our Seventeen" was a short, with the same title, released in 2014. Based on the good reaction of the public, the filmmaker decided to elaborate the script, spending another two years turning it into a feature film, based on a subject of great interest to her, adolescence.

"I wanted to make a film about teenagers, which is a very popular theme in Taiwan, and in the mainland, but I wanted to make something ours, from Macau," she explains.

For the feature version of "Our Seventeen", Emily didn’t have to go far for inspiration, she just listened to the tales of her own partner, artist, musician and vocalist of local band "Blademark", Fortes Pakeong Sequeira.

"Our Seventeen" is a "story of the memories of youth" lived in “flashback” by the protagonists who relive their adolescence, at a time when they formed a rock band. "When we were 17 we thought we were adults and we could make decisions about many things, we were anxious to grow up, but at the same time terrified of entering into adulthood," she says.

The artistic character, aesthetics and narrative that the director impresses on her cinematography are definitely "made in Macau", Chan emphasizes. The director distinguishes her film by explaining that in China, "this type of film, with young people of high school age, must always have wars and fights between rivals, the relations of love are very intense, there is a heavy and aggressive atmosphere."

But in Macau there is less drama and less exuberant behaviour: "We are calm, slow, we love, but not in such a strong and obsessive way." In aesthetic terms, Emily is also keen to make her mark: "In China everything is overworked and staged, but I prefer to show more raw and pure images, for example."

The film is commercial, this was always the filmmaker’s intention, wanting to show that it is possible to make mainstream films in Macau, attracting audiences and obtaining a return on investment with box office sales – as happened with "Timing".

The budget for this production is sponsored exclusively by private entities including Melco Crown Entertainment, which inaugurated Studio City last year, inspired by the world of cinema - while Beijing producers also invested a generous sum.

Chan has no doubt that making artistic films is important, but believes that can only survive in Macau if there is commercial film production that supports less mainstream options. "Without commercial films we can never develop a film industry in Macau," she says.

Chan is hoping that "Our Seventeen" can repeat or surpass the success of her first feature film and become an example to the local industry of "making it possible" to make films in Macau. "We can’t always be waiting for the support of the Government," she says. After the Macao premiere, "Our Seventeen" will screen in Hong Kong as the opening film at the "Asian Youth Film Festival".