A total of 1,078 films were submitted from 101 countries for the 2011 International Competition. Since the first edition of YIDFF, our selection has been based on the principle that the film is the most important thing, meaning, every film is viewed through to its end. Beginning in September 2010, submissions were processed by the festival office and divided up among the ten members of the Selection Committee and a number of advisors. Every film was screened by at least two people, at normal speed, and carefully considered for selection, always keeping in mind how the work would appear as a film when projected in a theater. During the six months prior to the final decisions, members of the Selection Committee watched films almost every day, screening more than 200 films each, and held several meetings to deliberate on them. Among the more than 1,000 films submitted, there were many that dealt with the process of aging, as well as the testimonies and reminiscences of people who survived World War II. While the number of films from Asia, Europe, and North America stood out, films were entered from all parts of the world, with an increase in the number of submissions from Latin America and Africa.
This year, as the selection process began to intensify in March, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. We were astounded by the unimaginable destruction caused by the tsunami along the Pacific coast, and as the situation at the nuclear power plant came to light, our feelings grew increasingly grim, but we never doubted that the festival should take place. Preparing for the festival and viewing and thinking about the documentaries submitted to us was the role we were to carry out. While each member of the Selection Committee had his and her own feelings and fears, we all faced anew the question, “What is documentary?” as we witnessed the unprecedented devastation near at hand. These 15 films are those we strongly felt had to be seen at YIDFF after this period of intense debate.
Having selected these films, the key words that come to mind are “life and death.” Life and death in war, death by massacre, the loss of those we love, towns that disappear . . . Each of these films poses questions regarding the weight of living and dying, which will always be central to people’s lives.
Among the submissions were many new films by filmmakers who regularly submit to the competition. Six new films by directors who have appeared at YIDFF in the past were selected for screening. Being able to watch changes in style and the ways a director approaches subjects is one of the special features of this festival, which now has a history of more than 20 years.
This year, for the first time, we showed some of the films in the competition, before they were subtitled in Japanese, to junior- and senior-high school students in Yamagata and asked them to select the films they would recommend to their peers. This made us aware how many films address themes—such as family and daily life—that resonate with young viewers, and how much potential there is to share with people in our home city the fascination of documentaries.
These 15 films have a richness that will only deepen the more they are seen, and we hope that those who join us in Yamagata for the festival will see as many of them as possible. And we hope you will actively participate in the Q&A sessions after the screenings, talk with others about the films you have seen, and share the pleasure of new discoveries.