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Vancouver Film Festival 2012 Interview – THE LAST TIME I SAW MACAO director Joao Pedro Rodrigues

At VIFF 12 (www.viff.org)
by Jason Whyte

“In "The Last Time I saw Macao", a mysterious man called Guerra da Mata travels to Macao, an ex-portuguese colony. Candy, a girlfriend he hadn't heard from for years is in danger as she got involved, yet again, with the wrong men and asked him for help. For the first time, thirty years after having lived there the happiest times of his life, Guerra da Mata returns to Macao, an architectural jungle flaunting two faces, like the coins that the slot machines swallow at breakneck pace, one calm and smiling, the other veiled and secretive. According to Candy, "strange and scary things" are happening in Macao and, as in Oriental mythology, where the elements have supernatural powers, Guerra da Mata has no clue of the dangers he is about to face, blown away to Macao on the wings of the wind.” Director Joao Pedro Rodrigues on “The Last Time I Saw Macao” which screens at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first film in the Vancouver International Film Festival? Do you plan to attend Vancouver for the screenings?

My two previous films, "Odete" / "Two Drifters" (2005) and "To Die Like a Man" (2009) both screened in Vancouver. I will be attending the screenings alone as the co-director, João Rui Guerra da Mata will be presenting the film at BIFF, Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. My short "Morning of Saint Anthony's Day" will be presented also as part of "Cinema of Our Time" section. I'm also part of the jury of the Dragons and Tigers Awards.

Could you give me a little look into your background and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

I began by studying Biology at Lisbon University to become an ornithologist but soon gave it up for cinema studies and graduated from the Lisbon Film School. O Fantasma (2000) was my first feature film. My co-director for "The Last Time I Saw Macao", João Rui Guerra da Mata started working in cinema in 1995. He teached Art Direction / Production Design at the Lisbon Film School (ESTC) from 2004 to 2011. In 2012 he directed “As The Flames Rose”, his debut solo film, which premiered at Indie Lisboa last April and then in Locarno Film Festival where it won the Film und Video Untertitelung Prize.

We met 19 years ago and worked together in cinema for the first time in 1995. In 1997, João Rui Guerra da Mata starred in my first short “Happy Birthday!” From then on, João Rui has been the art director / production designer for all my films, working also on the scripts as co-writer. We co-directed 2 shorts: "China, China" (2007) and "Red Dawn" (2011), before co-directing "The Last Time I Saw Macao".

How did this project come together?

We were going to make a documentary and left for Macao embarking on a journey of discovery in a fascinating, multicultural labyrinth-city. We spent six months in Macao. We were there three times during a period of three years. While we were shooting, our idea of making a documentary shifted towards fiction and we understood that it wasn't a documentary what we wanted to make. It was as if Macao was telling us stories, fictions that we had to be ready to listen. In "The Last Time I Saw Macao", the voiceover of both directors-protagonists contextualizes the images with the plot that unfolds from them and is used to continually reformulate the plot: the Oriental childhood memories of João Rui Guerra da Mata – fictionalized recollections of a vivid reality – enter into dialogue with João Pedro Rodrigues’s memories of a city he had never visited, built on the codes of cinema, literature and painting – vivid memories of a fictionalized reality. Sound also plays a major role. We constructed dialectic between the diegetic and nondiagetic sound. Other than the voiceover of the directors, the direct sound, the noises, the ambiences and the music, build a new sound structure, at times coincidental, at others parallel to the structure of the images. It is from this dialectic that the structure of the film emerges; a film of palpable details, places, characters, looks, gestures, sounds and even secrets. The result is an album of physical and emotional geography, structured like an investigation disguised as a Film Noir, where the puzzle of the narrative challenges reality and fictionalizes it.

What was the biggest challenge in the making of this movie?

The biggest challenge was to make a film that finally is somewhat like a documentary film transvestite into fiction or a fiction film transvestite into documentary.

Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

The crew of the film in Macao was just João Rui and I, a sound recorder, an assistant, and sometimes a translator and an anthropologist who worked as our scientific consultant.
The film was shot on HD and the photography was made by me and João Rui. Only the overture, the musical number with Candy and the tigers, was shot by my usual cinematographer, Rui Poças. The idea was to have a very small crew, first because the budget we had was very limited and also because we wanted to shoot for a long period of time and with very few production constraints.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are? Any inspirations for this film in particular?

For this film: "Macao" by Josef von Sternberg and other Film Noir from the forties and fifties, but also sic-fi B movies from the fifties. And the James Bond film "The Man With the Golden Gun; the film crosses film genres in order to give our personal portrait of a city that was so many times mystified.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Being film festivals the main place for visibility of works like ours, they were never so crucial to a certain type of cinema that finds less and less space in regular commercial exhibitions. It's not our belief that films should be made just to be shown in film festivals but they're the best, not to say the only showcases for some films and media has an important role in helping to promote and to publicize films to the general public and to greater increase the probability of a film’s circulation.

If your film could play in any movie theatre or "space" in the world, which one would you choose any way?

Any theatre in Macao and the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, in LA.

How can people keep in touch with the film at this point in the festival circuit?

The Last Time I Saw Macao has an international sales agent, FilmsBoutique, a Portuguese production company and a French production company Epicentre Films. And a Facebook fan page.

And finally, what is your all time favorite movie and why?

It's a question that I find very difficult if not impossible to answer as it keeps changing. But I could name one of the first films I remember seeing, which is “Mon Oncle” by Jacques Tati.

This is one of the official selections in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival lineup. For more information on films screening at this year’s fest, showtimes, updates and other general info, point your browser to www.viff.org.

Be sure to follow instant happenings of VIFF ’12 on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a Tweetphoto or two. #viff12 is the official hashtag.

Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=3436
originally posted: 09/29/12 13:48:49
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