Let’s Head to the Film Festival

What have we all been doing in the two years since the last film festival in Yamagata? Some have surely been making films in different parts of the world. Others surely have devoted themselves to working through the everyday reality they face wherever they may be. As for me, while preparing for this year’s film festival with my colleagues, I roamed as much as possible through Yamagata Prefecture, visiting towns and villages nestled in mountains large and small, and walking the country roads that connect them.

To work for a film festival is to arrange encounters between people and films, and in the process to discover for yourself what films are about. Before I returned to work, I wanted first to encounter people who are far removed, in many senses, from the space-time of a film festival, to explore the ways we might be able to share films, and to examine carefully what goes into making the film experience. And so I hit the road in Yamagata Prefecture.

Where exactly do documentary films come from? After all, they just don’t just pop out of thin air or suddenly materialize from the whirlpool of popular trends. Rather, the greatest pleasure likely comes from seeing a film that emerges from the deep, ordinary reality of an unexpected place, a film that sings a song you have never heard before. I have developed the urge to take films like these to places as far away from the film festival as can be. I want to show the films I love to distant strangers in unfamiliar towns, as if to repay the real world for the things the real world has created. And someday, those who have encountered honest images that come from afar might say, “I hear there’s a festival that shows wonderful films. I’d like to go someday.” I want to witness the moment the cup overflows. I want to see a blank face flood with curiosity. I want to be there when slumbering sensations are reawakened.

“That’s right. Let’s head to the film festival.” To all of you who have kept this feeling dear to your hearts and have made your way to Yamagata, thank you. We’ve been waiting for you.

Takahashi Takuya
Director, Yamagata Office


Find the Commons!

The concept of “a common,” introduced in this year’s Special Invitation film Kotsunagi–Iriai, Commons in Japan, is an intriguing one. It refers to fields, mountains, or woods collectively owned by a village community, for example, the members of which have certain traditional rights to collect firewood, thatch, mushrooms, and other resources from that land. It is land that cannot be privately owned or occupied, and the community is responsible for protecting it from neglect and exploitation.

In hosting this eleventh edition of YIDFF, I’d like to ponder the image of a film festival as such an organic common. Unlike the industrial one-off events often organized by advertising agencies, I think of our festival’s 20-year meandering history itself as embodying identity. Leaves and branches old and new, tree trunks battered by typhoons and scorching heat, mushrooms sprouting from shaded niches, splendid flowers unexpectedly bursting into bloom out of nowhere—even an immobile mountain, bearing witness to changing seasons and passing years, will have its different faces. The ideal is for the film festival to be such a living shared entity, a common.

Over the past 20 years, the technical environment for cinematic production and projection has transformed dramatically, tools and methods of communication with the world have become amazingly efficient, and yet wonderful films are still being born, and there is no end to the works we’d like to introduce. Directors Sato Makoto and Tsuchimoto Noriaki have passed away, but their films will become the soil from which the next shoots grow. Festival staff have come and gone over the years, in the way chrysalises turn into butterflies and cicadas shed their skins. The festival has stepped out from the framework of a biennial event, to become a buzzing hive of activity throughout the year.

Hosting Yamagata’s Friday Theater, Monthly Yamagata screenings in Tokyo, archiving thousands of videos in the Documentary Film Library, making three hundred-plus documentary works available for public use, introducing Japanese documentary to the world, spreading cinema in the towns and villages around Yamagata Prefecture, holding film workshops in after-school centers for children. . . This year YIDFF became host to an artist-in-residence program, the point of dispatch for creative expression. Many volunteers and interns entered our woods to participate in “grazing” our lands.

In this spirit, you will find this year’s festival program is peppered with ideas around the issue of the common. The keyword is “Find the common!” (Hints: Rip, Guy, Island, Fence, Utopia, among others.)

Entering the living forest of cinema, a mountain common. Enjoying the colors of the year, picking mushrooms in earnest to revitalize oneself. I hope that many people will visit our common again this year. Lastly, I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the sponsors, filmmakers, staff, volunteers, and audiences who made the festival what it is now, a lush forest.

Fujioka Asako
Director, Tokyo Office