Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, acting director, speaks at IFFAM's opening ceremony. Photo: IFFAM
Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, acting director, speaks at IFFAM's opening ceremony. Photo: IFFAM

Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, acting director of the International Film Festival and Awards Macao, spoke to Asia Times about the inaugural event, the abrupt departure of her full-time predecessor Marc Mueller and the film industry in the former Portuguese enclave more generally.

Fatima Valente: Macau is a rich city but its film industry is just taking baby steps. How can this be explained?

In Macau we have lot of different elements. We have integrated resorts, we have world heritage sites, we are also trying to apply to UNESCO next year to be included in their creative cities networks in terms of gastronomy. So, we have a lot of different things in Macau, but on the cultural creative side, we are not yet very strong so I guess this kind of event can help build the cultural creative industries. This is quite an ambitious project for us, I must say, but in the long term, it would give Macau a very different kind of exposure and also make people look at the city differently.

Marco Mueller quit abruptly as film festival director last month and you had to step in. How do you feel about being the festival director?

It really threw us off guard because all of a sudden he left and we had to carry the flag and it wasn’t easy. But we feel it wasn’t really fair to bring in another festival director when all the films had been selected, because every film festival director has their own reasons on why they make their selections. It’s not fair for an industry professional to come in at this late stage; so for me it has been a steep learning curve.

Any cancellations from international guests or media because of Mueller’s resignation?

No, not that I know of, and in terms of international guests not really. Not that I can recall. But, obviously, it’s always difficult to experience such a change and also a very sudden departure.

Zhang Ziyi was among the stars at the opening of festival’s opening. Photo: IFFAM

Was Marco’s departure a setback?

I don’t think it is a setback. Of course, the departure of Marco … I can’t say it was easy to overcome, but I would say, obviously, the local productions have to grow themselves. We can’t just depend on people helping us, [the filmmakers and directors] have to be artistically sound so they can attract the attention of the international community. I guess we need to be good ourselves and then, with this platform, make more people understand that Macau cinema is here to stay and we are trying to deliver a quality production.

A shot from the Macau film Our Seventeen. Photo: IFFAM

How can this film festival boost Macau’s movie scene?

One of the objectives is to really introduce Macau to a wider audience and make people aware of the city’s potential beyond the more famous tourism spots and the other attractions like the integrated casino-resorts. With the presence of the international media here, we would be able to give Macau more global exposure.

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Also, by having different producers and film crews here, as well as diverse directors, we can introduce Macau’s diverse scenery as a possible location for future projects. We could encourage them to consider the city for some location shooting, if not for the entire film, or for some parts of the film.

Serious business – a scene from the Portuguese movie Saint George. Photo: IFFAM

Can you tell us about the Portuguese films here? 
We had, from the outset, stressed the importance of having local productions and Portuguese-language films here. We not only want to serve the international community, we also want to, very importantly, serve the local community. And in the 13th five-year plan of the Communist Party of China, Macau is positioned as a platform between China and the Portuguese-speaking countries, so we also stressed the importance of having Portugal represented here.

How can the local film community increase its presence on the world stage?

This is the festival’s first edition and we are very happy to have two feature films from Macau included in the lineup – one of them is in competition (Sisterhood) and the other (Our Seventeen) is in another section called Hidden Dragons, introducing new movies.

Director Tracy Choi (center) with her lead actresses from Sisterhood. Photo: IFFAM

I guess in the future, through this festival, we will be able to put local production companies and filmmakers, as well as aspiring directors in touch with the international cinema industry. It’s important for them to understand the international community, to be able to network with them and to also learn from other people’s experiences and viewpoints. By having international representatives from both the film industry and media watching their productions, Macau’s aspiring filmmakers would also get better feedback in terms of how they can improve their productions.

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Normally, the films selected are more commercial, but by hosting a festival we are able to make more artistic and broader choices so we can be a little more ambitious in terms of bringing different movies. This would also help the local audience to understand that films are more than just commercial productions.

Looking ahead, what kind of cooperation do you expect between China and Portuguese-speaking countries and Macau in terms of film production?

It is still too early to say. We look forward to, obviously, being able to strengthen our relationships, but this has to be more on the business side of the festival. We have an industry hub that we are running, so we hope through this there will be more opportunities to collaborate or encourage our Chinese or local people to be able to connect with the international industry’s movers and shakers. Preparations for the next festival will start immediately.