Where We Started Is Also the Road Ahead
On July 25, 1989, roughly two months before the opening of the first Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, the YIDFF Network held its inaugural meeting in an old hotel at Zao Onsen (a hot spring in Yamagata).
The meeting rallied a group of volunteers who wanted to support Asia’s first full-fledged documentary film festival. Present were officials from Yamagata City, members of the YIDFF Organizing Committee, people from Ogawa Productions, staff from the Tokyo office in charge of the creating the festival itself, and young men and women from various parts of Yamagata prefecture. Without a doubt it was this hodgepodge of different energies that set the YIDFF off to a good start.
At the time I was responsible for the Yamagata Prefecture distribution of Ogawa Productions director Ogawa Shinsuke’s Magino Village—A Tale, a film the company had made while growing rice in Kaminoyama. I visited Ogawa Productions from time to time while they were living in a house next to that of Magino’s Kimura Michio, a farmer-poet. One day, Ogawa looked at me and said “We’re holding a documentary festival as part of the celebrations for the centenary of Yamagata City. There will be films and visitors from across Japan and around the world. Young men and women from the area like you who enjoy film should really get involved.” Straight away he called the Yamagata municipal offices to recommend me. It all happened so suddenly! Ogawa was a genius at drawing people in and filling them with enthusiasm.
I wondered whether a film festival that was left up to city officials and people in Tokyo would really be that interesting and whether it could take root in Yamagata. Even so, I went without delay to meet with everyone only to find that the city, too, was earnestly looking for ways to ensure its first international documentary film festival would connect with its citizens. How would a film festival not glamorous and filled with famous actors, but comprised of documentaries dedicated to training a serious eye on the real state of society and peoples’ ways of life, be accepted in a regional city in Tohoku (northeast Japan)? Furthermore, how would the world film community receive it? I think that everyone who decided to get involved in the festival shared these concerns but they also taught themselves to be optimistic for the possibilities the future held.
Those young people in Yamagata prefecture who were already involved in organizing independent film screenings came to realize that they could move freely between the identities of film specialist and ordinary citizen. The YIDFF Network meeting prompted them to activate their networks and organize a variety of activities to spread the word about the film festival. They held pre-screenings throughout the prefecture, widened their base of acquaintances, sold tickets, distributed fliers and posters, and helped to make both a trailer for the film festival and a documentary about the festival itself. They interviewed participating directors and produced a Daily Bulletin during the festival. Knowing these bold volunteers, who are more enthusiastic than even us festival organizers, I feel that the spirit of curiosity they bring to what they do and their openness to a changing world are what give the festival its unique atmosphere.
Three main elements are necessary for the smooth operation of the festival. Yamagata City’s budget measures have enabled it to continue to serve as a window between the citizens and the world; professional work and networking combine to produce a challenging program that addresses the world history of cinema, contemporary society, and the current state of film. Then, there is the energy of all the volunteers who gladly put so many hours of hard work into supporting the festival. Without these three elements the festival wouldn’t run, but it is the numerous people who come to Yamagata both from across Japan and around the world, and the diverse number of films, that give meaning to the festival and teach us something new each time.
I do not think that this will change in the future. Indeed, we must be sure not to change it.
The Past, Present, and Future at YIDFF
Our festival was launched in 1989, the year of tumultuous world events like the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the fall of the Berlin Wall. This year, in 2015, the festival is held for the fourteenth time, seventy years since the end of World War II. Looking back in history is a must, but I think the question is whether we will continue our reflection seventy-one, seventy-two and further years on. This year’s festival is bound to the past, present, and future by films interwoven through all sections of the program, with no need to crown the event with an anniversary label. It is my heartfelt wish that audiences will fully indulge in the roughly 160 films and packed program during the week, to experience what interests them, impassions them, and astonishes them, and of course for each person to discover their own personal Yamagata 2015.
This year’s International Competition features six films related to Latin America. Female directors also make their mark, unearthing the very actual and intimate sensitivity of women’s spaces in works like Always and Again and Us women . Them women. The film We Shall Overcome is best viewed along with Okinawa: The Afterburn, in the Perspectives Japan program.
In New Asian Currents, we see a trend of films by young directors who are based outside their native lands, like two who study film in Sarajevo under Tarr Béla—their films are ARAGANE and Foolish Steps of a Fat Cow—as well as first-time filmmakers sincere in their forays with the camera. In collaboration with the Japan Foundation Asia Center this year, we have organized a section entitled Asia Film Communities: A Glittering Constellation, which hosts an art installation by Indonesian film preservation group Lab Laba-Laba and a discussion by filmmakers who have carved out new spaces in cinema. This program, together with the second edition of Yamagata Rough Cut! and the Yamagata Film Criticism Workshop presents a launching pad among participants from Asia and beyond for networking with film exhibitors and audiences, reviewing film production methods, and critiquing documentary—essential activities that YIDFF has been involved in over the years.
In three films in the Perspectives Japan program—THE COCKPIT, PYRAMID, and Voyage—music is a strong component. Together with the live music events hosted by the Latin America and Arab programs, Yamagata will offer the opportunity to relish both music and cinema—creative arts with close ties.
In the Latinoamérica special program, you will encounter the Argentinean film that became the fountainhead of the Third Cinema movement, The Hours of the Furnaces, as well as waves of Latin American films that followed it to this day—films which present an alternative perspective from the existing “official” or “accepted” methods of cinema.
The program lineup of Double Shadows includes Remake, Remix, Rip-off—an unveiling of the unknown history of Turkish cinema—and offers multiple perspectives on film interpretation by featuring works that record film itself.
The 16mm films from the 1940–80s showing in the Arab Peoples program capture landscapes that once existed. Projecting a future for Arab communities facing extraordinary challenges today perhaps shares an undercurrent with films in the Cinema with Us program, ongoing since 2011. Yamagata’s 311 Documentary Film Archive launched late last year is an example of activities that reflect the necessity for continuous thinking about films made after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
The Yamagata and Film program digs deeply into Yamagata’s relationship to war in the closing film Sepia-Tinted Testimony as well as in Kodomo no koro senso ga atta.
The YIDFF 2015 Opening Film is Manoel de Oliveira’s Visit or Memories and Confessions. It can be considered a last testament by the Portuguese master who forbade its screening until after his passing, which came in April this year at the age of 106. Sadly, the death of filmmakers with ties to YIDFF also continues—we cannot forget Eduardo Coutinho of Brazil, legendary cinematographer Otsu Koshiro, and producer Kudo Mitsuru, who left us with Japanese documentary masterpieces. To mourn is to learn from our predecessors and to carry this knowledge on into the future. May we be led by the light of giant stars like these, survive the confusion of contemporary times, and continue to be fueled in both our filmmaking and everything we do for film!
An enormous amount of meticulous work goes into giving birth to a film festival, this living creature. We are lucky to be supported by so many people in such an abundance of ways. I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to each and every one of you who made this festival possible.