Former Protagonist Pictures CEO Mike Goodridge left the sales biz in 2017 to take over the reins at the fledgling Macao International Film Festival & Awards Macao (IFFAM), a new festival set up by the former Portuguese colony and Chinese gambling capital to attract international attention and glamour to the territory, and also to nurture the local industry.
It was a left field move for Goodridge, but under his stewardship IFFAM has grown into a multi-faceted international film event that is beginning to establish itself in the festival calendar. This year marks its fourth edition, and third under Goodridge, with events getting underway today (December 5) with a traditional opening ceremony and the opening film, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit.
Alongside building and diversifying the appetite for cinema in Macao, the festival has also fostered talent through its industry initiatives, with Laos filmmaker Mattie Do’s feature The Long Walk becoming the first to graduate from the event’s genre-focused project market (in 2016) and play international festivals (Venice, Toronto and now Macao). Ivan Sen’s sci-fi Loveland, with Hugo Weaving, was a graduate from the market in 2017 and is now in post-production ahead of a 2020 release.
IFFAM has attempted to mirror the extraordinary blossoming of the Chinese film business. Over the last five years, the country’s cinema infrastructure has grown at a colossal rate, with annual box office receipts being projected to overtake the U.S. as soon as 2020. The Chinese public’s taste for cinema has transformed as well. Chinese blockbusters and select American titles (which receive clearance for release in China) still dominate takings, but there is a growing market for arthouse titles, including foreign-language film. This year, Nadine Labacki’s feature Capernaum was a surprise hit in China, taking $54m via distributor Road Pictures, a remarkable number for a foreign-language pic from Lebanon. The company also had success last year with Japanese drama Shoplifters, which took $14m.
One of the major challenges for international titles in China remains censorship, with films needing to receive government approval for release, and restrictions still in place on the number of foreign titles that can play per-year in the territory (the number remains officially 38, though has been exceeded in recent years). Government influence has also reportedly affected Chinese films playing outside of the country. At Berlinale this year, Zhang Yimou’s One Second was pulled from the festival days before its world premiere, with “technical difficulties” cited.
This is one of the places where IFFAM stands out, with Macao benefitting from being a special administrative region of China, so it is not subject to the same level of government censorship. That means the festival is allowed to screen a wide variety of international titles without needing to get them pre-approved by Chinese authorities, so the team can play films that may never receive a release on the mainland.
Pics screening at the festival this year include Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, Terence Malick’s A Hidden Life, Takashi Miike’s First Love, Sacha Polak’s Dirty God, Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters, and family animated feature A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.
Pics in the international competition will compete for a $60,000 prize from a jury chaired by filmmaker Peter Chan Ho-sun, while Romanian director Cristian Mungiu will oversee the jury for the New Chinese Cinema strand this year.
This year is also a special one for Macao as it marks the 20th anniversary of the territory being handed back from Portuguese rule to China, with numerous celebrations being held in the city. The festival is marking the landmark by programming a special section consisting of five Macao features produced in the region.
Ahead of the festival’s 2019 edition (don’t call it the “fourth edition”, the number is bad luck in China), we sat down with Goodridge to catch up about how the event has grown in his three years at the helm.
DEADLINE: You took the reins at IFFAM for its second edition (after the festival’s short-lived stint under the stewardship of Marco Muller, who is now running Pingyao Film Festival) – what was your initial goal?
MIKE GOODRIDGE: I started from scratch, rebuilding the programme to have a competition focusing on first and second time filmmakers. My mandate was to bring in international titles and to work on the relationship with the Chinese industry. We really wanted to focus on how the festival could support and expand local industry.
DEADLINE: How do you reflect on how it’s gone so far?
GOODRIDGE: Really well. On the festival level, we’re building the audience here for these kinds of films – it’s a small population, about 650,000 people. It’s about nurturing their appetite for different kinds of cinema. We have one big multiplex here that shows Hollywood and big Asian movies. The festival is charged with giving them the opportunity to see different kinds of cinema. It’s been a really fun process, audiences have built year on year. We played The Shape Of Water in the first year, Green Book, The Favourite and ROMA last year.
DEADLINE: Green Book turned out to be a hit in mainland China too…
GOODRIDGE: Yes. There was a lot of Chinese investment in the film itself. We opened with Paddington 2 in our first year, that’s a small masterpiece. This year we’re opening with Jojo Rabbit. We have Dark Waters, The Lighthouse, Judy – we’re bringing in a lot of the prestige films from this time of year.
DEADLINE: In the time you’ve been running the festival, Chinese cinema has continued to grow exponentially.
GOODRIDGE: China has been developing in the last 10-20 years, building its own cinema infrastructure and production industry in a spectacular way. This year, we’ve expanded our New Chinese Cinema Competition, with a jury headed by Cristian Mungiu, one of the greatest directors in the West, and we’re giving out five awards – last year that program had six films, this year it’s eight. It’s an effort to showcase the best of independent Chinese cinema to the west, to the international industry and guests, we’ll be really encouraging international industry to watch these films. It’s Chinese-language, so it also encompasses Singapore, Malaysia, anywhere that speaks Chinese.
DEADLINE: Are you affected by censorship, like other international festivals?
GOODRIDGE: No, we’re not impacted by that because Macao has its own ratings system, we’re a lot more free in what we can play here. China has become more restrictive and precise about how its films are exposed at overseas film festivals, but Macao is a Chinese festival and we have an incredibly rich selection of Chinese titles. It’s reflective of the industry now, it’s an amazing talent pool.
DEADLINE: The festival has several different pillars: the international program, the Chinese program, and the industry side. How are you balancing those and what are the priorities?
GOODRIDGE: We set out to do a number of different things. Macao is a trading gateway into China, and that’s how we see ourselves, a place where people can come and interact with the Chinese industry, as well as our burgeoning Macao industry. And then the Chinese can come here and meet the foreign industry. We want to be a relaxed place where people can feel like they’re in a global business that incorporates both the Chinese and international industry.
DEADLINE: How has it been attracting international guests to the festival? Is it becoming easier over time?
GOODRIDGE: It is becoming easier. When I joined, I looked at festivals like Dubai, Zurich, Cabo, the newer festivals that had established themselves in in the last 5-10 years. Any festival is going to need several years to show the world that’s it’s serious and here to stay.
You can’t go in and expect to be Cannes in year one, that’s not going to happen. You have to dig in, get into the trenches, and work your ass off for a few years to show people that you’re here to stay. I’ve tried to impress on my partners and colleagues in Macao that we have to put the programming work in. We’re not just about red carpet, we’re passionate about cinema and dedicated to helping cultivate the industry here. It’ll take a few more years yet.
DEADLINE: You’ve attracted some starry guests to date.
GOODRIDGE: We had Nicolas Cage last year who was such a brilliant guest. Jeremy Renner the first year. Juliette Binoche this year, plus Lily James and Korean director Kim Yong-hwa.
DEADLINE: Given the current political unrest in Hong Kong, have you found it harder to attract guests or industry delegates?
GOODRIDGE: We’ve had a lot of questions about it, but we are a separate city. While of course we’re extremely concerned about what’s happening over there, it shouldn’t impact on us.
December is a big month for Macao, it’s the 20th anniversary of the handover from Portugal to China, and the new chief executive of the city will be appointed. All sorts of local stuff is going on here that’s very significant.
DEADLINE: What do you think is the main appeal for international guests?
GOODRIDGE: For me, when I hear the word ‘Macao’, I think of a mysterious, glamorous place. There’s an old-style glamour about it, full of intrigue and mystery. A lot of people are drawn to find out about Macao. I don’t think it’s over-exposed on a global level. You see it in a few films like Now You See Me 2, and Skyfall (though that sequence wasn’t shot here), but I don’t think many people know much about it.
It’s an incredible, niche place, a combination of crumbling Portuguese city and spectacular gambling resort. Parts of it sit 2,100 metres away from China, it’s absolutely unique and I think a lot of people are intrigued by it and want to come. That’s why having a film festival works – you can go somewhere you want to go. It’s like the Venice Lido or Cannes, there are resort towns. People want to go somewhere fun.
DEADLINE: Tell us about the industry program this year.
GOODRIDGE: We bring about 250 industry out every year for a concentrated three-day event. It’s a blend of Asia-meets-international. The project market is not open to submission, it’s curated by Todd Brown from XYZ who knows everything about the genre world. This year, we’re showing a film in the festival (Mattie Do’s The Long Walk) that was in our first project market in 2016. We showed excerpts from that film last year as a work in progress, so it feels like the formula is working.
We have a behind-closed-doors forum again, it’s not open to press. We tackle key challenges and issues in the industry, have round tables with some really big level people, discussing and venting without the pressure of journalists being in the same space.
DEADLINE: How much have you personally taken to Chinese culture?
GOODRIDGE: It’s been an amazing adventure for me. I love this part of the world. Being exposed to it, being able to travel within it and dig deeper into the cinema culture here has been amazing, I’ve become attached to Macao, it’s a special place, really unique in the world. It has a rich historic culture as well as rich culinary culture (including 19 Michelin starred restaurants). The gambling in Macao is remarkable – it’s is many, many times bigger than Vegas.
DEADLINE: How are you splitting your time now?
GOODRIDGE: It changes every year. I’m based in London but I spend a lot of time here and I travel to festivals on Macao’s behalf.
DEADLINE: Are you still serving on the board of Protagonist Pictures?
GOODRIDGE: I am, proudly. They’re doing really well at the moment, they had an amazing Toronto this year.
DEADLINE: You also have your own production activities.
GOODRIDGE: Yes, it’s going really well. It’s coming together nicely, I’m building a slate of projects. I’ve always been a very intentional person – the slate is very reflective of that.
DEADLINE: This is your third edition, apparently three is lucky in china.
GOODRIDGE: But you know what’s not lucky – four – and it’s our fourth edition. So we’re referring to it as ‘IFFAM 2019’.
DEADLINE: Will you stick around for your own fourth edition?
GOODRIDGE: I would love to. I love Macao. Let’s see how this year goes.