An Interview with Sai Yoichi (Director)
Having Finished Jurying
Q: You are renowned for directing feature films, but what are your thoughts on documentary films?
SY: The important thing for me as both a viewer and filmmaker—aside from whether I actively make documentaries or not—is continuing to be particular about the existence of cinema, not about documentaries as a separate genre. From childhood, the important thing for me when facing the screen was the judgment of whether the film is meaningful for me, and whether it is interesting. I don’t think I made a distinction between documentary and feature films, or animation and live action. Also, during my childhood and adolescence, it wasn’t a big deal to watch documentaries. For example, it wasn’t anything extraordinary when Oshima Nagisa made The Forgotten Imperial Army (1963). Or when Far from Vietnam, made by William Klein and Jean-Luc Godard and others, was screened in Shinjuku, it got a pretty good reception from young audiences. So watching documentaries was not necessarily something you went out of your way to do. That was the atmosphere of the era. Among the many consciousness-raising documentaries that questioned the entire world order, I was stirred by uplifting films where the conclusions became visible within myself. It was an era when you had regular screenings of works by Ogawa Shinsuke, Tsuchimoto Noriaki, or Godard, member of the Dziga Vertov group.
Q: What trends stand out in the films you’ve seen at this film festival as president juror?
SY: There were fifteen films in the international competition, and close to half possessed some kind of volition vis-à-vis the state of the world; in other words, they embodied the filmmaker’s independent perspective on the world’s existence, often dealing with the relationship between the individual and globalization’s tidal impact on humanity. And these filmmakers, through going around to the other side of the camera and filming themselves as if reflected in a mirror, managed to objectify the self and depict issues with a sense of distance.
The other trend was using the camera to depict extremely quiet changes, changes in space and time. I think perhaps the works incorporated a flavor of taking a single phenomenon with some kind of real truth, and looking at it with multiple perspectives and from multiple angles. In many of the films, it was as if the filmmaker was posing the question “who am I” as they themselves stood in the shoes of the filmed subject, through filming with a unique sense of distance from the subject over a long stretch of time. I think you see a tendency of works where the “I” is filming countless “I”s, not only in this festival’s personal documentary special program. I think we’re in an era when the world’s screeching contradictions are having an impact on everyone.
Many works treat the friction in the world not in terms of political structure, but rather place the filmmaker him or herself in the midst of that friction, combining an impartial gaze with a passionate urge to create.
Q: What criteria were used to jury the competition works?
SY: The four jurors this time didn’t watch the works with criteria that had been established beforehand. In a sense there was no coherence, since we were jurying based on the criteria of whether the works were meaningful, including our likes and dislikes. But strangely enough, in the end there was a sense of consistency to the works that everyone selected, even though we were a jury with different languages and customs.
Q: What are your opinions on this event as a film festival?
SY: I say this a lot, but the people who coordinate volunteers are charged with the mission of figuring out how to systematize, with passion and enthusiasm, a film festival that blossoms for a brief period of time. The people who know the film festival often end up working to achieve some kind of harmony by fitting the volunteers into a framework. However, volunteers are in fact amateurs, so on occasion they have to confront new tasks, but I think their own motivation increases as they face those new challenges without flinching. Passion alone will only sustain you for three days or so, so it’s important that organizers effectively channel that energy, while making good use of people who already have volunteer experience. And it’s important to link together the period in between festivals, since it’s held every other year. So the people who are not volunteers need to get the hang of that and work to toward balancing things, and that sincere attitude gives birth to new friendships and new ideas. But, there’s a need to cultivate some kind of expertise within volunteers, instead of relying on occasional enthusiasm.
Q: I’d like to ask for a word of advice on the future shape of the film festival.
SY: As a person visiting Yamagata from Tokyo, it’s a huge pleasure to participate as an audience member, and not just as a filmmaker presenting work, as a jury member, or the many other ways of getting involved. So, it’s important for me as well to always be able to come to this festival and watch films, and talk about films. The festival’s reputation is already established, and the festival is peerless in the world, but it’s necessary to keep on thinking about what you can do, and not to rest on your laurels. It’s held every other year, but there’s a need for sharing more information within and outside the festival, not just through holding pre-events. There’s the difficult tendency that the higher the quality of the festival, the more difficult it becomes for everyone to participate. However, that’s no reason to stop trying. When someone’s doing something interesting, people tend to feel resistance. You can’t just let that be. Instead, you need to continue making the effort to encourage participation.
You can’t get lax about making efforts to persuade other people. To give some concrete examples, you could put together popular programs aside from the main festival, programs for youths or elderly people after the festival is over, or workshops. I think it would be good to have workshops for people using video and 8mm that they have at home, not necessarily to cultivate professionals. I think you have to continue efforts to keep on holding workshops that deal with making and watching films.
At any rate, I get the feeling that the festival has established roots when I meet regular attendees, like elderly locals who come to the festival to stimulate their own curiosity.
(Compiled by Abe Koji, professor at Yamagata University)
Interviewer: Abe Koji
Photography: Kawaguchi Hajime / Video: Otani Shizu / 2005-10-13