Macau | Cinematheque promises to shake audiences with documentary festival - Interview

Themed 'Envision / the World,' the 3rd edition of the Macao International Documentary Film Festival is opening tomorrow, July 14, at the Cinematheque Passion, bringing a retrospective of Japanese director, Kazuo Hara – and the director himself

Macau (MNA) – The 3rd edition of the Macao International Documentary Film Festival is opening tomorrow, July 14, with a party and a film from North Korea at Cinematheque Passsion. Guest curator Penny Lam and the head of the venue, Rita Wong, told Macau News Agency (MNA) that they have selected a total of 28 films to be screened in 40 sessions over three weeks which promise to awaken audiences to a genre they believe is still underexplored by filmgoers and underdeveloped by local filmmakers. Themed ‘Envision / the World,’ this year’s Festival is also screening a retrospective of Japanese director Kazuo Hara – with the director himself in attendance – in the first to showing all of the director’s provocative films.

MNA. Why did you chose the theme ‘Envision / the World’ to celebrate the 3rd edition of the Macao International Documentary Film Festival?

Penny Lam. After the experience of the first two editions, we started to realise that our Festival should focus more on the city of Macau and on local audiences. Last Summer, we had the Typhoon [Hato] in August that destroyed the city – a few weeks later I started curating the 3rd edition – so I thought this year’s theme should answer to something, to the Typhoon, to the city. The city kind of died in those days, so I realised we often say we don’t like Macau, we have some problems with the city, so how can we move on together, the city and the people here. I started questioning what we expect from the city, what we want to do, what this city should look like or do in the future. That’s why we chose this theme, the imagination and the world, together.

If there were a specific image of the world that is being portrayed in the selection of documentaries that will be presented from Saturday onwards how would you describe it?

PL. We’re not trying to answer everything to the audience directly, but instead to throw the questions to the audience. A lot of characters in these stories try to question the possibilities of the world, and what we can do. Maybe there are no boundaries, maybe there are, but are they necessary or not? A lot of things like this that they [the documentaries] are questioning – instead of answering them or giving a statement. They reflect your life or what you can do.

What is new in the documentary world that you are bringing to the public in the Festival?

PL. We’re trying to show people the possibilities of documentary. We’re always trying to question the audience in Macau about what a documentary is, what the definition of documentary is. Of the selection, there is one documentary that quite fits our core value for the Festival, a Thai film titled Die Tomorrow. It was [showcased] in Berlin earlier this year and in the Hong Kong Film festival.

It is a fiction film, actually, but based upon the memory of six real people who passed away. Their friends tell how they remember them the day before they died, what they were doing […] I think this film fits what we are doing, and it is easy to watch; it is beautifully shot, and set kind of inbetween fiction and documentary. Maybe people would come and say ‘Wow, how come this is a documentary?’

How does the Japanese director in focus, Kazuo Hara, fulfil the programme’s ambitions?

PL. We try to focus on directors every year, not countries. Last year, it was also a Japanese director, but the first year was a Portuguese filmmaker. Next year it will not be a Japanese for sure. One of the reasons we invited him is because his films are very provocative – especially in a society like Japan where there are so many taboos. He focuses on the outcasts of society and tries to question why there is a mainstream society value, why it is so important, why we cannot change it.

One of the reasons I like to bring him to Macau is because I think Macau people are sometimes too polite, meaning they don’t question everything. They see the problem but they don’t take any action, they try to keep a safe distance from the issue or the problem, but of course they understand everything. I think it’s a cultural thing, because of the city’s background, ‘I don’t like him, but I shut up.’

Besides, Hara released a new film last year, his first film for 24 years. He is a very high profile filmmaker but in terms of production he is very low profile. […] So he’s quite willing to travel around. He was in Hong Kong and Taiwan this year, but we are the first one to show all his films.

How would you describe the interest or knowledge of Macau people about the documentary scene or its evolution since you launched the first edition of the Festival in 2015?

PL. In Macau we don’t really have a history or culture of documentary as in Europe or in Japan or other countries. And I think that many people [here] understand documentaries like a TV documentary or journalist-style documentary, so that in our Festival we are trying to introduce ideas of cinema documentary or documentary film. I think it creates a good image for the people because people are quite surprised. Maybe they have never been to a cinema to watch a documentary before in their lives. So I think that by the films we choose they come and they realise they can enjoy a documentary in the cinema; it is entertaining and quite enjoyable for them. So, I think the response is quite positive. Quite a lot of audiences will come for the Festival.

Rita Wong. We want to broaden the range, so that people realise that documentaries can have different forms. Generally, if the public has the chance to be in touch with a documentary, it is normally a TV type, more on the journalist angle, or about social affairs. So, the form is more conventional, with some interview, some research, maybe a subject explored not too much in depth. […] I think we can have a programme that encourages more critical thinking and that it is the position of our selection.