Yamagata at 30
Let us consider time. The various events in our world and emotional connections between people are accumulated under the concept of “time.” In the very moment they become stacked together in exquisite balance, they appear before us again as the miracle of “now.” This flow of time cannot be fought, yet each moment captured in the gaze of the camera’s eye can shine bright with the feeling of being an entirely new passing of time, lit up one by one with each succeeding frame. Fighting with and being conscious of time, as well as that act of giving eternal life to our present—this is what we know as cinema.
In the fifteen times the two competitive programs were held through 2017, we received in total 17,401 submissions from around the world, of which 2,660 were shown. A total of 306,896 people watched, felt, and shared their reactions to these films. While these figures give us the bare facts of the festival over the years, behind this data also lies all the individual stories existing in the minds of the people who have experienced Yamagata first-hand—its thirty years only truly survives in the accumulated memories of those who were here.
Documentary film captures a piece of reality, and so a documentary film festival must then root itself in the human relationships between those who attend and run the festival, almost as if it is projecting their faces on the screen. A film festival takes shape thanks to the passion of each individual staff member, volunteer, patron and guest, and in doing so its own face will change. Just as the physical map of Yamagata Prefecture resembles the profile of a face, this festival also has a human face.
The face of Yamagata is indeed kind. It is warm and inviting. When a filmmaker claims that their film is a documentary yet has actors, animation or an experimental structure, we are welcoming. As a result, this festival has grown happily, linked to the redefinition and expansion of the very concept of documentary film. When creative, cutting-edge works are collected together, they strike a sharp, intellectual pose. Even in a hopelessly cruel and irrational world, those films project onto the screen flashes of hope in the form of those people who band together, struggling in earnest each day. For this, they and their films have earned our deepest respect.
Last year, we lost a dear friend whose efforts have long made our festival possible. However, his face will be permanently etched in our memories. Anytime we recall his expression, we realize once more the generosity and charm he brought into our lives. That face resembles the very face of our film festival, that is accommodating to films from around the world, including the realities, cultures, and world views that are portrayed in them. Culture is truly creative not on its dispatch, but on its reception. From this perspective we have adopted an ethos for our festival, and the people of Yamagata, have taken us in and nurtured a creativity that has spread around the world, even before its recognition by UNESCO.
Our “now” rests atop the thirty years of collected memory from those who came before and supported the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, including Ogawa Shinsuke. We then see before us the next thirty years of Yamagata, in the form of everyone who has gathered here this year. To all of you who give the face of Yamagata new expression in your work, participation and patronage, I say hello again, and welcome to a film festival with a human face.
This Year’s Festival
The passing of thirty years has us contending with both new encounters and farewells. We begin this year with On my Way to Mt. Fuji, I Saw . . . , a film that features director Jonas Mekas filming his own encounters with people in Yamagata. The Special Invitation category includes many works that pay tribute to people in film connected with the festival, including Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Masaki Tamura, Barbara Hammer, and Peng Xiaolian. And we close with the last work directed by Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, Angela’s Diaries: Two Filmmakers. 1993 Iran and 1996 Sarajevo are seen in the film, and I hope visitors can watch it together with the special program on Iran, and In Our Paradise, in the International Competition (IC).
IC judges will include Ossama Mohammed, who had just been exiled from Syria at the time of YIDFF 2015 and was unable to enter Japan (Hassan Fazili, the director of IC’s Midnight Traveler, is currently in a similar predicament). And this year, twenty years after Robert Kramer’s death, I am pleased to welcome director Suwa Nobuhiro, who planned to collaborate with Kramer, along with the amazing women of film Hong Hyung-sook, Sabine Lancelin, and Deborah Stratman. All fifteen films screened represent the fruit of each filmmaker’s painstaking efforts, whether they be debut works, or those by Yamagata regulars such as Anand Patwardhan and Wang Bing, who both take part with lengthy works this time. More than half are by female directors. One work from Director Zhang Mengqi’s Self-Portrait Series is screened here and another in the New Asian Currents program this year.
New Asian Currents, where new waves intermingle and whose bursting light dazzles, features a total of twenty-one films. There are three from India, including And What Is the Summer Saying with its unique visual world, and works by Japanese directors set abroad: Cenote and In Thy Kingdom by the Sea. Director Hsu Hui-Ju’s work will be screened both in this program and in Cinema with Us.
The films in the Perspective Japan take a stance on the current state of Japan, such as Tokyo High Tide, An Ant Strikes Back, and Boy Soldiers: The Secret War in Okinawa.
In the program AM/NESIA, which includes the prewar film Lifeline of the Sea—the full version of which will be screened at the festival for the first time—we will search for the roots and routes connecting Japan and Oceania from ancient times, with works featuring Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner and other voices from the Pacific Islands. Reality and Realism: Iran 60s–80s is a program of essential feature films, documentaries, and experimental films from Iran, including the first screenings of Kamran Shirdel’s work in Japan.
Double Shadows 2 leads us through resonances among multiple images, from Talking About Trees, which pursues the struggles of four Sudanese filmmakers beginning in the 1980s, to the work of the Maysles brothers. The Creative Treatment of Grierson in Wartime Japan features the pioneering work of the British documentary film movement, Drifters, while the first YIDFF screening of the wartime Japanese documentary, People Burning Coal, will also be held—illuminating their relevance to the present moment. The charm of Yamagata itself is once again shown from numerous perspectives, through Yamagata and Film, which includes 16mm films from the Prefectural Education Institute such as Mogamigawa no uta: Mokichi, and events like Home Movie Day, where you can enjoy 8mm films brought by film festival participants. The fifth Cinema With Us program pays heed to documentary activities in Japan and Taiwan, which have both been visited by numerous natural disasters. And the indigenous people’s movements and records featured in the Documentaries from Northeast India program will surely speak to what is going on in outlying regions all across the world in the present moment.
Each film seems to be trying to understand and reconcile with some kind of pain. In the dizzying confusion of 2019, we should not forget our wounds, but rather hope that the works will invite us to recognize and heal, and move towards raw reality. I offer my profound thanks to the many people who have supported us and worked with us to create such a film festival together.