Conversations with Documentary
YIDFF 2023 Interview Collection

International Competition

New Asian Currents

Special Invitation Films

  • Sora Neo, director of Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus

Perspectives Japan

  • Inoue Minoru, director of Men with Movie Cameras—Shooting the Great Kanto Earthquake
  • Okawa Keiko, director of Oasis

“Conversations with Documentary”—some might have heard of the phrase. This interview collection’s title comes from Conversations with Documentary Film: Traces of Interviews with Filmmakers (“Documentari wa kataru: Sakka intabyu no kiseki,” Miraisha, 2006). The book was a collection of interviews, rearranged and given new commentaries, drawn from the “Japanese Documentary Filmmakers” series in Documentary Box, the bulletin that the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival published between 1992 and 2007.

If we trace the history of the film festival’s interviews, we will find that it stretches back to the Daily Bulletin, the daily newspaper for the first YIDFF in 1989. Ogawa Shinsuke, the keystone of the film festival’s inauguration in Yamagata, was inspired by the daily paper at the Berlin International Film Festival, which he had attended in 1982, and wanting to implement something similar at the new film festival, he assembled some local young people. However, the majority were inexperienced in media production, so professional editors were also brought in. This was the advent of the improvised editorial department, formed only during the film festival. Prominent cineastes like Robert Kramer, Teshigahara Hiroshi, Richard Leacock, Johan van der Keuken, Serge Daney, Marceline Loridan, and many others were interviewed, and even the young Ignacio Agüero, now an established director with a long connection to the festival, made an appearance. If we re-read the Daily Bulletin from that time, we can see that questions like, “What is documentary?” were thrown point-blank at the guests. Rather than carefully prepared articles, they were highly improvised, and even though interviews were conducted on the spot and printed the next day, using the word processors and processes for publishing from that time, they were clearly overflowing with a passion and energy that broke away from established norms. After that, Daily carried on with publishing the director interviews. Eventually, it interviewed as many filmmakers as possible, coming to focus more on spotlighting invited directors. As for those that could not be published as news during the festival, they were later issued in Daily Bulletin plus, a booklet of all the interviews, or posted on the website. That continued until 2019, but with the 2021 festival held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Daily Bulletin was unfortunately discontinued, and currently, the film festival’s guide, SPUTNIK, serves as the daily newspaper.

Now in its 34th year, the festival itself is engraved with all sorts of histories and transformations, but Conversations with Documentary marks our first attempt at an intersection of the Daily Bulletin director interviews and Documentary Box’s documentary filmmaker series. A number of Zoom interviews were held in advance, but most of the interviews were done at the festival, resulting in a total of 39 filmmakers. Under Daily, many volunteers were very active as interviewers, but this time, we sought the help and participation of a wide range of people, beginning, as with the Documentary Box filmmaker series, with researchers and critics, the film festival’s selection committee members and affiliated parties, directors, cinematographers, interpreters, and the volunteers who honed their skills at Daily. The selection of these interviewers not only substantially reflects the advice of Hata Ayumi (director of the YIDFF Yamagata office), program coordinators and the suggestions of Yano Kazuyuki, the publisher for the first Daily Bulletin issue and the former director of the Tokyo office, but it also condenses over thirty years of the film festival’s history. The Yamagata film festival’s driving force is its ability to consistently and flexibly deal with change, but at the same time, there are a lot of questions and points to reconsider in trying something new. Even so, there is no doubt that these are articles of profound depth, vividly colored not only by each filmmaker’s conditions of production, beliefs, creativity, and feelings towards documentary film, but also, by the interviewers’ stances and backgrounds. I hope you will savor the afterglow of YIDFF 2023 and enjoy the filmmakers’ living voices, as well as the conversations with them.

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to those who graciously agreed to interview or be interviewed, to all the interpreters, translators, and everyone else who helped along the way.

Ono Seiko
Translated by Joelle Nazzicone

Editing Team: Ono Seiko, Sato Hiroaki, Mabuchi Ai, Jeremy Harley
Recording Team: Masuya Shuichi, Murayama Hideaki, Kato Takanobu, Kusunose Kaori, Oshita Yumi
Onsite Coordinator: Okabe Ai
Support: Aaron Gerow, Kato Hatsuyo, Kinugasa Shinjiro, Mori Eiko (Gao), Nakamura Daigo, Nomura Aki, Tsukada Takayuki, Wakai Makiko, Yano Kazuyuki