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Interview: Johnny Ma - To Live To Sing


Interview: Johnny Ma – To Live to Sing | 2019 International Film Festival • Macao (IFFAM)

Interview: Johnny Ma – To Live to Sing | 2019 International Film Festival • Macao (IFFAM)

Art and legacy clash with progress and commerce in a lightly dramatized account of life as one of the few remaining Sichuan Opera troupes in Chengdu, China. With a story originating in documentary filmmaking, To Live To Sing is Johnny Ma’s sophomore feature, distant from the high energy fueling his debut Old Stone (read review) in 2016 but borne out of a similar observational knack for rapidly evolving social dynamics in contemporary China. The theatre manager (Zhao Xiaoli) fights hard every day to keep the show going, even in the face of bulldozers tearing down the neighborhood, but the financial reality of a dwindling audience is pushing her husband (Yan Xihu) and niece (Gan Guidan) to pursuing more lucrative, if not as artistically legitimate, side gigs. Chinese-born Ma, who grew up in Canada, jumped on the story after seeing it portrayed in a documentary, and traveled to China to put real-life Opera performers in the film – playing variations of themselves. To Live to Sing premiered in Cannes at Directors’ Fortnight, and after stops at Shanghai and Cairo it’s closing out the year with a competition slot in the New Chinese Cinema section of the International Film Festival and Awards Macao. I met Ma at the local Cultural Centre to discuss his aspirations, dual identity and the pitfalls of censorship in the Chinese industry.

A freelance film critic and programmer, Tommaso Tocci is based between Paris and Rome. He covers the European festival circuit and he's a member of FIPRESCI and the International Cinephile Society. His Top 3 for 2021: After Blue (Bertrand Mandico), Titane (Julia Ducournau), What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (Alexandre Koberidze).

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