An Interview with Shichiri Kei (Director)
Documentaries Are Also Fiction Films
Q: Give us your impressions of the festival overall.
SK: It’s been 24 years since my last visit to YIDFF in 1993. It’s incredible to realize that it’s been so long since I first saw Sokurov’s Russian Elegy. It was such a pleasure to indulge in the festival for a full week. YIDFF is an important film festival for me. I have been deeply influenced by filmmakers who YIDFF introduced to Japan, like Pedro Costa, Wang Bing, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Even during the years I could not attend the event, I was always curious who the award winners were.
Q: How was the experience of being on the jury for the first time?
SK: It was a learning experience. I was hesitant when I was first offered the role, unsure whether I was the right person. But in the end, I’m glad I accepted. When I attended YIDFF for the first time in 1989 as a student, I was moved by the film 100 Children Waiting for the Train, directed by Ignacio Aguerro. It’s so magical that 30 years later, we are serving on the jury together. I’m glad to say it’s as if (by jury duty) I’m returning a favor to the film festival that had introduced me to so many wonderful films in the past.
Q: Can you speak about your thoughts on documentary?
SK: I don’t think cinema can be divided into genres. For me, there is no difference between feature films, experimental films, or any kinds of films. Festivals divide films into sections, but I believe the further we progress in time, the less sense it makes. An outstanding fiction film includes documentary and experimental film elements, while the opposite holds true as well. This was valid during Flaherty’s era already. YIDFF could be called Yamagata International Film Festival—although I am not asking for a name change. The current name embodies many filmmakers’ deep respect for Ogawa Shinsuke and also represents Ogawa’s own convictions.
Q: What was your impression of the International Competition films?
SK: All 15 films were good. It was a lineup of wide variety, without imbalance. But unfortunately, I did not discover any extraordinary film which stood out as singular.
The film I personally liked was Lone Existence by Sha Qing. It is made modestly in a low-key manner, but every shot is done with care. Scenes which would be overlooked as commonplace at a glance were in fact well formulated in, for example, how the sound was designed or where the gaze of the subject was directed. It makes you wonder if it’s fiction. I was determined to support this film and the film Communion in the jury meeting.
Q: What did you like about Anna Zamecka’s Communion?
SK: That one is indeed a film without a boundary between fiction and documentary. The main characters are an older sister, a younger brother, and a father addicted to alcohol. I was amazed that the filmmaker could capture all that footage to tell such a story within the short period of three months. The images present the characters naturally without self-consciousness, and it looks as if they were living together for a long time. It’s incredible. I am really curious how it was shot. There were other films like this before. I was reminded of many titles as I watched it. For example, films that were not necessarily documentary, like Rosetta by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, or Robert Bresson’s Mouchette.
I felt this film made clear whose side it was taking. It didn’t engage in abstract intentions like depicting poverty, but was strikingly strong-willed, as if to state “I am going to stand by these children who the Church and school have forsaken.” The camerawork, using images in close-up and in focus, was in synch with the filmmaker’s mindset, and thus the viewer was drawn smoothly into the film’s world.
Q: What criteria did you follow in the jury discussion?
SK: To tell the truth, the jury members’ opinions were not at odds with each other. It didn’t take us long to reach a decision. We had already discussed and reached a consensus before the meeting. Our slight differences lay only in which prizes to give.
(Compiled by Yoshioka Yuki)
Interviewers: Yoshioka Yuki / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Okawa Akihiro / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2017-10-12