All good things must come to an end. An overused sentimental saying, true, but it’s something that resonates with film buffs in Macau as they bid adieu to the Audiovisual CUT Association, operator of the city’s sole art house cinema. Since 2017, CUT has transformed Cinematheque Passion – based in a once abandoned colonial-era mansion just around the corner from the tourist landmark The Ruins of St Paul’s – into a film hub with a level of innovation and dynamism on a par with its regional counterparts. Its achievements could serve as an uplifting tale for aspiring film programmers, and proof of cinema’s power in galvanising social progress. Defying the social, economic and cultural odds ingrained in Macau – a city with a tenth of Hong Kong’s population, and with no established film industry to speak of – the cinematheque helped consolidate a community of cinephiles and aspiring movie critics through its left-field programming, spin-off events, workshops and exhibitions. And all of this unfolded within a venue CUT basically built from scratch when the government awarded it a three-year contract for the cinema in 2016. Among its programmes were retrospectives of well-known filmmakers such as Pedro Almodóvar, Xavier Dolan and Hirokazu Koreeda, and less-hailed directors such as Kazakhstan’s award-winning Sergei Dvortsevoy ( Ayka ; 2018), whose early films have yet to be shown in Hong Kong. The cinematheque also hosted a festival dedicated to African-American cinema – something Hong Kong is yet to see – and it’s also the venue for an annual documentary festival in which the programmers harnessed and fostered Macau’s ties with Portugal through entries from the latter’s heavyweight auteurs (Lois Patiño, Pedro Costa). Having first visited the cinematheque as an ordinary film-goer, I eventually had the good fortune to witness how the institution works from the inside. For the first edition of its China and Portuguese-speaking Countries Film Festival, in 2018, the team accepted my proposal to expand the programme beyond the more established film-producing powerhouses of Portugal and Brazil, and include titles from much-overlooked Lusophone African countries such as Cabo Verde, Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau. Just as moving were its efforts in bringing all these screenings to fruition. Apart from these African films, the staff were diligent in handling the 35mm prints of Portuguese classics from masters such as Manoel de Oliveira and, during the second edition, in 2019, Paulo Rocha. The screenings were something to marvel at – as were the reactions of the local audience towards these rarely shown films. Indeed, one of the cinematheque’s more lasting legacies was its success in nurturing a cinephile culture in Macau. For the Portuguese-language film festival, the CUT team recruited a group of young film-lovers to write essays about these singular films; their work was then published as a brochure for posterity, proof of a community sensitive to the power of the moving image as both history and art. CUT’s work was a labour of love, and its loyal fan base showed a lot of love back. It’s a devotion espoused by a well-attended closing party on June 30, and also by the articles the fans wrote for Macau newspapers and online news portals detailing their appreciation of the cinematheque’s work and their frustration at the authorities’ decision to deny CUT a new contract. The officials instead accepted the bid from a film production company largely unheard of in Macau, whose offer stood out more for its low budget – 15.2 million patacas, in contrast to CUT’s 34.8 million – than its track record. The controversy will continue to fester in the near future – and it could even be a good thing if the public outcry brings about more transparent governance in the city – but this bitter ending shouldn’t obscure the sweet rite of passage the CUT-run cinematheque ushered into Macau’s once desolate cinematic landscape. This is what cinema should be about: a force designed to empower communities with new knowledge, and inspire people to make that leap of faith into the vast unknown.