Get On Out There!
Some 20-odd years ago, when I was in charge of operating a small movie theater, we would always try to come up with ways to publicize each film we screened, to get people to come to the theater. The theater was established by local citizens, so there was no budget for buying TV spots, and if it continued to lose money, the newly opened theater would go under. I’d make the rounds of shops and homes that agreed to put up our posters, leave tickets at the offices of various groups and workplaces, visit municipal and company employees who were movie buffs, frequent supermarkets and beauty parlors to find female viewers, and search for sponsors of screenings. Sometimes we’d put together a screening committee. If the film generated buzz, we could get free publicity. I’d make the rounds through town all day long, then return in the evening exhausted and lean against the dark wall of the theater to check on the audience numbers and their reaction. Half of getting people to see films is physical labor, I thought, and, reaching the obvious conclusion that it came down to mixing with people, I’d feel happy. Afterwards, my job posting changed, and I became involved in distributing films in areas where there were no theaters, visiting towns and villages to meet people and plan screening events. Here, seeing movies could be accomplished only by the involvement of many local residents, in what amounted to a festival. We all worked together, starting from scratch, to select the films and build friendships, set up venues and publicize the events.
Since then, the settings for viewing films have changed dramatically. Many of the theaters that used to be in towns and villages throughout Japan have been replaced by luxurious multiplex theaters from the big cities, which gather customers by mobilizing money rather than people. Schools have become places devoted exclusively to study, and the concept of “film in the classroom” has virtually disappeared. The film clubs that were once popular in many towns have mostly become private video-viewing circles; screenings at community halls organized by neighborhood youth associations or wives’ associations or family film societies have largely died out; and there is no trace of the era when trade unions and teachers unions hosted film screenings to further their ideological agendas. One wonders where the Daimajin monsters that once appeared on courtyard screens during shrine festivals now do their rampaging. Most Japanese have become tame consumers, watching films in their homes or their private rooms. The pleasure of departing from the everyday for a rendezvous with a movie has been brought inside and become an everyday part of the comfortable life. People have changed. No, they have been changed. That’s how I see it.
After the March 11 earthquake, we started an effort to screen films in the disaster zone and in relief shelters. We went to a variety of places, from schools that were still standing amid the rubble, to shelters at hot springs deep in the hills. Volunteers who preceded us to these sites told us about conditions, built trust with local people and residents in the shelters, and gave us opportunities to bring in films.
We loaded projection equipment in a vehicle and drove hundreds of kilometers to places where people were just getting back on their feet again, set up a screen and black curtains, found a source for electricity, and connected the projector and sound equipment. It seemed familiar.
We shared the experience of viewing films with people who had brushed up against death and were now steering their lives toward recovery. Wherever the films ventured, they were encountered and viewed with a degree of pleasure that was utterly surprising. It seemed to me that, more than showing us something, the films were drawing something out from us. People don’t die if they don’t see films, but a life in which a variety of films are encountered is enjoyable and rich. And there’s no limit to the settings we can create for those encounters to take place. Embarking on journeys with films is also a way to encounter people. Let’s build strong legs for films. Get on out there!
Encounters with films have always been, and will always be, once-in-a-lifetime, live experiences.
Director, Yamagata Office
Long flat strips of material wound up in rolls arriving at the projectionist’s—that used to be what was called cinema. Nowadays with the advance of digital technology, the shape of the medium is more often a disk or box.
Without going into a discussion about image resolution or utility, I must say it feels a bit sad that with the data file, the “length” of a film isn’t materially visible anymore. We imagine time in spatial terms to be a continuous passage or conduit, and I like to think of the time-based medium cinema also as a length of consecutive footage.
On this occasion of the 12th edition of our film festival, which began in 1989, I am imagining the film festival also as a kind of time-based medium. YIDFF 2011 is but a few frames sandwiched between the time past and the time that awaits us. Indeed, this year’s program is not a digital blink of a moment, but solidly spliced together with the past and the future.
Japanese and Taiwanese filmmakers who came to Yamagata in 1999 will gather together to review the past 12 years of their careers. Travis Wilkerson, Mori Tatsuya, Maeda Shinjiro, and Hirano Katsuyuki, who were also at that year’s festival, will return to Yamagata after 12 years—a cycle in the Chinese zodiac—to present new films.
This year brings the premieres of two films born out of projects initiated by the late Sato Makoto. New Asian Currents is presenting Children of Soleil (by Okutai Yoichiro), which started as an investigation on Tokyo, and My Television is presenting Ushiyama Junichi: Our Wonderful Television (by Hatakeyama Yohei), the culmination of research done by Mr. Sato’s study group. We will never again see a new Sato Makoto film, but his presence pierces through to the future of young filmmakers.
Special programs are often considered retro, but My Television, a program of TV of the 1960s and 1970s, actually issues a challenge to makers of television today. This year’s Islands / I Lands program, featuring Cuban cinema and its cinematic innovation emerging from revolutionary idealism, shines particularly in the context of today’s contemporary society. The unending research and excavation of forgotten films in the Yamagata program tell us that after the death of their makers, films can continue to convey part of people’s memory. Across the program, the past is directly connected to tomorrow by an organic umbilical cord.
As an attempt to interface with future audiences, we have many junior-high and high school students involved in organizing the festival this year. Our ongoing filmmaking workshops with children of the Tohoku region will, through sustenance over the years, incubate movie fans of the future. Further, the Yamagata Film Critics’ Workshop, launched this year, seeks to increase the number of people thinking, writing, and reading about documentary film.
The new Sky Perfect! IDEHA Prize, presented by SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation, supports Japanese documentary filmmakers and provides a place for them to meet and interact—an invaluable gift for future generations of filmmakers.
I can hear the music from Santiago Alvarez’s Now! approaching.
I have the sincere hope that after the great losses caused by the Great Earthquake here in Tohoku Japan, this festival can contribute to reconnecting people with time and with each other. I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to all those who helped us make this festival possible again this year.
Director, Tokyo Office