Celebrating No Spectators
Yamagata without Komian, Yamagata without films shown on the big screen—can it really be called a festival? Neither a celebration to worship an absolute, nor an artificial ceremony to distract from the authorities’ mismanagement, but rather, a carnival of conversations, where people can talk to one another on equal footing, freed from the hierarchies that govern daily life—can we really make it happen?
We are not so naïve as to carry off an optimism claiming that, through the internet, we can come together and enjoy movies without any barriers. Rather, the films screened at Yamagata thus far have made clear just how much the net encroaching on every corner of the earth distributes information and wealth unevenly, segregating society.
Even so, YIDFF 2021 will show its films online, and aspire towards a festival. This year as well, the International Competition, which might be called the face of the festival, received over a thousand entries from all over the world, all of them born out of a never-ending conversation between those who hold the camera and those on whom it is turned. At the close of long, difficult conversations between preliminary selection committee members, that number was narrowed down to fifteen films.
The citizens caught up in the colossal machinery of nation and war, the farmers tossed about by the wave of development driven by global capital, the odoriko on the verge of being left behind amidst the changes of an accelerating era. The filmmaker’s hands and eyes record the individual ways of life of those who would be blown about with a single breath from big entities, and a world full of proper nouns is made manifest. On the other hand, the violent powers who conspired with advanced information technologies steal the names of the subjects before the camera and the filmmakers behind the camera, hide their faces and make them anonymous—you will witness this reality with your own eyes.
Each of the fifteen films contains tensions fit to burst, and anticipates the moment when the viewer opens the door to conversation. The filmmakers stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the same even ground from old hand to novice, regardless of background or experience. Through frictions between them, their films generate heat, and set off new conversations that not even their creators could have foreseen. This year’s International Competition, the seventeenth iteration and the first to be held online, is, after all, both chaos and a festival of conversations.
What ties the fleeting images on computer screens together are human bodies and their smells, the fresh traces of the fight between living artists and the world. That is the cruelty of this world and the abundance of life, which cannot be reduced to digital signals, but easily sticks out from the computer screen.
To begin with, online or offline, wasn’t YIDFF’s original structure that of “no spectators?” The cinephile youths who gathered around Ogawa Shinsuke, together with the administration, local people, and volunteers, overcame all sorts of barriers, and built this celebration of documentaries. Whether they will it or not, those who face the screen are caught up in the world of these powerful films, and before they know it, cease to be onlookers, becoming active participants instead.
To everyone who took part in preliminary selection, subtitling, screening, distribution, interpretation, the jury, and all the work it took to realizing the International Competition, this dazzling feast of conversations—I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks. And to the applicants who gave us the opportunity to have this once-in-a-lifetime conversation—I offer my deepest gratitude.