It was for the second time that NETPAC put up a jury at the 4th Edition of the Macau International Film Festival and Awards (IFFAM) was held from 05 – 10 December 2019. (Macau also known as Macao). As one of the last festivals in a calendar year, IFFAM can be considered as a ‘conclusion’ of the whole year. There were more than 50 films in different sections; including two core ones - International Competition and New Chinese Cinema. The other sections were GALA, World Panorama, ‘Flying Daggers’ (for genre film), Special Presentation, plus a retrospective section: Director’s Choice from the guest director (Cristian Mungiu and Anthony Chen this year), and short film sections.
There were ten films in NETPAC list, two from the International Competition, five from New Chinese Cinema Section, and three from the Macao Special Section. Given that IFFAM has an overall focus on new directors, especially from Greater China and Southern Asia - Pacific countries, I would say the selection was fairly good. At least it included the best Chinese language films of new directors in 2019.
I was the only NETPAC member in jury; the other two members (Ahmed Shawky, Artistic Director of Cairo IFF; and Lebanese/French director Soudade Kaadan, winner of the Best Debut Film award in Venice in 2018) were appointed by the festival. After an intense two-hour discussion, we agreed to award To Live to Sing by Johnny Ma (Canadian director born in mainland China), a China - France coproduction, and gave it the following citation: “For its beautiful usage of cinema aesthetics to celebrate a vanishing form of traditional arts.”
To Live to Sing premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes 2019. It is a film about a Sichuan Opera troupe where the manager tries to save a troupe of artistes when their theatre is about to be demolished. The film is a back stage story, featured with motifs from the Sichuan Opera - both the aria and the structure (and even with an Encore in the end). We jury members admired the metaphorical connection between the demolishing of the theatre and the dying art. Also, the leading actress was excellent (she was nominated for Best Actress in the 2019 Chinese Golden Rooster awards).
The other Chinese language films included Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, a debut film of GU Xiaogang, and a hit at the Cannes Critics’ Week with really creative film language; Wet Season, Anthony Chen’s second film, which was successful at the Toronto and Pingyao film festivals; Wisdom Tooth, a debut film by Liang Ming, awarded at Pingyao IFF (later selected for Rotterdam 2020); and Over the Sea, another debut work by Sun Aoqian, chosen for the New Currents at Busan 2019. These five films comprised nearly the whole section of New Chinese Cinema (seven in total). The two films from International Competition were: Bombay Rose, a very stylish animation, by Gitanjali Rao, the opening film of Critics’ Week at Venice 2019; and Homecoming, Adriyanto Dewo’s third feature and a world premiere.
However, I have to admit that the three Macao films were not quite up to the mark, and held meaning only for the very small local film industry. However, since this section was dedicated to the 20th Anniversary of Macau’s return to China, it was good to know that there are local films that present the Macau issue and identity.
Finally, a few words on the IFFAM programme as a whole. In the year’s festival calendar, IFFAM is indeed ‘the last stop’, and the curators really had chosen some well-reputed films from various festivals across the world, mainly from the parallel sections of Cannes, Berlinale and Venice and, indeed, Toronto. So, for a festival traveler it’s a place where you could catch up with films you may have missed during the year. And, with the collaboration with Variety, IFFAM became an attractive event for the international press. The only small drawback was the quality of the screening rooms. There were two large and fairy good screening halls in Macau Culture Center and one in Macau Tower, but the other two screening rooms did not quite qualify for the standard of an international film festival. Also, we needed transport to move from location to the other. I mainly focused on the film programme and did not participate in any other event. According to news reports, the market, pitching forum and masterclass were also successful.
To sum up: from NETPAC’s perspective, IFFAM shares the same objective regarding the discovery of new directors, and it could therefore become a quite important festival in our list.
-- WANG Yao -- edited by Latika Padgaonkar