Industry Profile: Michael Rosen, Festival Founder

It’s no small feat to create an altogether new film festival concept and turn what might have been a far-fetched idea into reality. Just three years ago, Michael Rosen launched the Madeira Micro International Film Festival on a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, not too far from Portugal. We attended the third edition of the festival last month and sat down with Michael to find out a bit more about how the festival came about and what challenges he’s faced in bringing his idea to life…

Where did the idea for the Madeira Micro International Film Festival come from? And why Madeira?

I’ve been running the music festival here for eight years and the cinema has always been right in front of me – and since film is the first big love in my life, before music, it was an obvious step. Madeira has proved to be the perfect place for a festival like this. All the main things that are needed to create the world’s most beautiful boutique film festival are here: there are good flights to Madeira, great countryside and scenery, great hospitality concept with the local hotels really supporting us, it’s warm in December, and enough space for about 200 people before we are completely full in the village.

Have you ever worked in a film festival before? Were you worried about organising your own?

I worked in film festivals when I was quite young and also for a film magazine, which meant I got to attend some festivals. But to be honest, I generally don’t like the usual film festivals and this is why I’ve started my own. I don’t like having bigger crowds than 200 people, it’s too stressful. I couldn’t handle organising 10-20 film screenings per day, I have no idea how other people handle that. Here we have limited crowds, only two screenings per night, nice weather, and great food.

What were the challenges in organising the festival?

Well, every year we face challenges. It’s very difficult to get the films that we want to get without being a huge festival, as we only screen new films which haven’t had theatrical release in cinemas yet. So for example, The Duke of Burgundy – this was actually the Portugal premiere and there have only been a few other screenings of the film before us, namely at its world premiere at the London Film Festival a few months ago.

How did you select this year’s films? What was the criteria?

We were looking for the best films we could find which, in some cases but not all, somehow reflected the atmosphere and environment of Ponta do Sol, the village where the festival takes place. We looked for films which were surreal, adventurous, supernatural or which were just masterfully made and great to watch.

Was it difficult to find an audience for such a niche festival? It’s much more of a commitment to fly to Madeira for a few days, than to just go to Potsdamer Platz for the Berlinale…

Yes, like most festivals, it can be difficult to find your audience, but I travel a lot and meet lots of people so am always spreading the word about the festival. Many people hear about the festival through word of mouth or are recommended to come by friends who have been, so we’ve developed a very friendly audience who support and enjoy the festival experience here.

What kind of audience are you looking for?

I’m looking for a film-addicted audience – people who are really into films – to come here and who are waiting outside the cinema for the first film to start. I’d like to have more people from the film industry attend the festival, more directors, producers, actors and so on. We want to ensure people are having a good time and are relaxed, without forcing people to talk or ‘network’ like at some bigger festivals.

What are you ambitions for the festival in the next few years?

To be honest, I’m actually quite happy with how the festival has already grown in the past few years. As I mentioned, I’d like to have more people from the film industry join us. I’d like for the demand for the festival to grow in the next few years so that we’ve sold out by summer.

Is the maximum capacity of 150 a blessing or a curse now?

I would say it’s a blessing. I’m not into big festivals, I don’t really enjoy going to festivals which are overcrowded. What makes this festival so special is that everyone is staying in the same village here and we are like a community. You’ll see the same people a couple of times every day and people will start talking which each other. It’s much more manageable and intimate.

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