An Interview with Hasumi Shigehiko
Yamagata: A Place Where Adventures Are Possible
Q: What kind of trends were there in this year’s International Competition?
HS: One characteristic that we can observe is that almost all of the entries were shot on video; there were extremely few film entries. In one sense, this is a positive aspect, in that people have become extremely familiar with filmmaking. On the other hand, I have a general feeling that the healthy respect for the act of shooting has decreased slightly. As filmmakers grow to feel that they can shoot whatever they want, I wonder if their attention to the craft has perhaps weakened somewhat. I had a few misgivings that, even as we reach a state of affairs in which anyone can make films, the films are actually increasingly homogeneous rather than diverse. Perhaps it’s a conformity akin to that of television. I felt that this isn’t just a problem with this year’s festival; it’s the general tendency of filmmakers in the twenty-first century. But that doesn’t mean that among their numbers there won’t be directors such as Wang Bing, who holds the strong resolve and awareness to give us his own personal sense of truly cinematic space and cinematic time.
Q: Were you looking for that in your capacity as a juror?
HS: We didn’t set any parameters for our decisions. I considered each of the prizes we were awarding, listened to the opinions of the other jurors, and played it by ear. It’s a truism that jurors’ decisions at any film festival don’t adequately sum up all of their opinions. This festival was no different. And yet it took twice as long as it usually does for us to come to our final decisions, and I can’t help wondering if that isn’t the result of a decline in diversity due to the fact that the majority of the films had something of the same kind of shots.
Q: What kind of new possibilities do you see for documentary film?
HS: I think there’s a big market for it. Documentaries will come to have a bigger and bigger meaning. Video has become an extremely cheap medium, but as soon as we started thinking that anyone can produce video works, a huge paradoxical corollary arose: films are starting to look alike. It may seem strange—anyone can make a film, but endless diversity doesn’t appear—but when I watch these films, a standardization has set in as a result of everyone shooting in much the same way. Of course, I think the perspective from which directors view the world is of great importance as they consider how to avoid this conformity.
Q: It seemed that works dealing with family and other intimate relationships were extremely prevalent at this year’s festival.
HS: That was a topic of great discussion. I think it’s important that all of the families that were presented to us in these films are different from one another. It was surprising to see that what we lump together under the term “family” can reveal itself in this many different ways; Kawase Naomi’s family in Tarachime and the family in Potosi, the Journey are completely different. If we understand that the variety therein is limitless, I don’t mind if family becomes the topic. But I think everyone has to be conscious of just how easy it is to end up filming one’s own family when one picks up a video camera. There was a film in the previous festival that dealt with family, The Cheese & The Worms. I think there is an enormous difference between, on the one hand, choosing one’s family as the subject only after duly considering why them and not strangers and, on the other hand, simply turning to them because they’re closest; I have come to believe that this trend was triggered by the ease in filmmaking that is a result of the rise of video. I think that, as a rule, a film is something that trains its gaze on the other. The key from here on out will lie in how to treat one’s family as the other. A too-easy gaze is prevailing, but I feel that outstanding filmmakers will refuse it.
Q: What does documentary mean to you?
HS: No one knows how to define documentary film. It’s not as though there was ever a time when it was defined. The earliest films were fiction, and at the same time they were documentary. From the moment cinema was born to the present, the line between documentaries and fiction films has been extremely blurry. I think that for a time it was very easy to treat films with a certain subject matter as documentary and films with a different subject matter as fiction. But now, some fiction-film directors, including my fellow juror Pedro Costa, shoot fiction films with extremely documentary-style tendencies. Even in the works of Ogawa Shinsuke, who was very much inclined toward documentaries, many elements we associate with fiction appear. What is really important is the way in which the gaze is trained on our world via the subject matter. Often, there are works that are interested in nothing other than what they are showing us. In such a work, absolutely nothing is revealed of how the person who shot the film views the world. If we are made acutely aware of the approach the filmmaker has toward the world, I think it will have the same impact whether the overall framework is ostensibly documentary or fiction.
Q: We hear that until now you’ve been faithfully coming to this film festival as a spectator. Do you have any thoughts on where the film festival is headed from here?
HS: Today, film festivals on the whole are going defunct around the world. Pedro Costa said in a published comment that since even the small-but-proud film festivals are all veering toward mediocrity, how is Yamagata going to resist that slide? There are two kinds of slides toward mediocrity; one is the forming of a structure that is only concerned with getting a lot of people to come, and the other is the thinking that one kind of filmmaking is good enough. The risk-taking will go away. I hope that to the end Yamagata will be a place where adventurousness is possible, on the level of the extraordinary adventurousness of Wang Bing’s Tie Xi Qu: West of Tracks. It seems as though there were few works this year from young directors in their twenties or early thirties. Perhaps that is the result of heading toward a certain kind of stability, but whenever someone says, “Well, there aren’t any good works coming out of that generation,” it’s sure that that country or that community is headed in a bad direction. So next time, I would like to see the festival show the work-in-earnest of these vigorous people in their twenties and thirties.
(Compiled by Nishioka Hiroko)
Interviewers: Nishioka Hiroko, Takada Ayumi / Translator: Kendall Heitzman
Photography: Hashimoto Kenichi / Video: Mineo Kazunori / 2007-10-11