Bravo, for Conceiving this Festival in Yamagata!
If you don’t give yourself the chance to reflect on the past, you’re liable to forget something important. The Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF) was first held in 1989, but its earliest stirrings and subsequent preparations date back as many as thirty years. Working behind the scenes, one can’t help but think this way. Three decades might seem a brief span of history for a single business or organization, but putting down roots in the region and reflecting on the screen the knowledge of the world and generations in that same period, when accumulated, adds up to an unmistakable weight of experience. And when the history told in the films joins the thoughts and ideas of the huge number of people involved in the running of the festival, it itself becomes an enormous living story, made up of people’s records and memories.
Some thirty years ago, documentary filmmaker Ogawa Shinsuke gave a fervent speech in front of some countryside youths passionate about movies in Magino, Kaminoyama City:
Narrative films and documentaries are two halves of a whole—you cannot have one without the other. Any era when people only watch narrative films cannot be said to be a good age. You should all watch more documentaries. Do not let a chance to create our own international film festival slip by—do not leave it to the government or anyone else.
And the youths started to think:
A film is like a window—a mysterious one, opened towards the outdoors, but through which you feel as if you are staring at yourself. The existence of YIDFF will likely bring greater possibilities to the opening of these windows—the realities experienced by humans around the world, situated by these windows through which we can look, their lively and sparkling appearances exposed to us. And let me personally, as one of the public, lend my support to the joy of creating here in Yamagata, a meeting place for filmmakers from around the world who have dedicated their lives to communicating.
It sounds embarrassingly green, but there is no doubt that something sprouted then in our young hillbilly hearts, something that later became the driving force behind our efforts.
In due time, this group of youths called on people across the entire prefecture, rapidly broadening the network of those supporting the film festival. I am not sure whether Ogawa predicted that events would unfold like this, but I know that he took delight in it. He would often speak of it mischievously, saying things like, “It’s the same as when I hoaxed you young people into making films with me.” Half laughing, we ourselves were convinced of the fact that we indeed wanted to be hoaxed.
On July 25, 1989, the launching of the YIDFF Network took place at an inn at Zao Onsen (a hot spring in Yamagata). Yamagata City officials who were to run the festival, members of the YIDFF Organizing Committee, experienced Tokyo staff, Ogawa Productions staff, and impertinent youths who had arrived in Yamagata from a variety of places, all gathered in that one location for the occasion. In honor of the occasion, a CinemaScope-size screen was hung between the windows of the inn, and Director Kato Tai’s The Ondekoza was shown, outdoors. It was a film that far overcame any walls between documentary and drama. While feeling the lively pulsation of cinema throughout our bodies, I think we were all astonished under the night sky in Zao and felt a certain way—feelings of freedom, uncertainty, and happiness that come with meeting something unpredictable.
And from there, this film festival went on to project the world on screen—a world where the freedom to make films, show films, and watch films is not always guaranteed—and continued to offer, the sense of freedom, uncertainty, and happiness to the many participants of each and every festival, just like what the countryside youths experienced that night.
Why is the film festival held here? It was honestly the result of an accumulation of miraculous coincidences along with those that saw value in the festival and took delight in preparing for it. The undying passion of those who make the festival happen, its supporters, and audience, created a fated history in Yamagata. Bravo, for conceiving this festival in Yamagata! And it shall continue.
Have the time of your life in Yamagata, the City of Film!
Lured by the Singing of the Souls
The 2017 film festival, being held for the fifteenth time, features a selection of films that reflect on the past, illuminate the present, and consider the future, going beyond the limits of their respective programs to act in dialogue with one another. We would also like to extend our warmest welcome to all the guests coming to participate in the festival this year.
We have an amazing lineup of judges this year. For the International Competition, there is director Ignacio Agüero, who made One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train, which screened at YIDFF ’89 in the International Competition, and is even now widely acclaimed in the field of film education; Dina Iordanova, from Bulgaria, who continues her research into non-Western cinema; Jocelyne Saab, the celebrated Lebanese Arab female director; cinematographer Ranjan Palit, who has filmed many Indian documentaries and whose A Magic Mystic Marketplace screened at YIDFF ’97; and director Shichiri Kei, who continues to explore the possibilities of film through various methods of expression. For the Competition, new works from master directors including Frederick Wiseman, Hara Kazuo, and John Gianvito will be screened, among others. In New Asian Currents, the judges are film historian and archivist Teddy Co from the Philippines, who served as a panelist at the YIDFF ’89 Asia Symposium, and director Shiozaki Toshiko, whose Memory of the Soil was screened at YIDFF ’97 in New Asian Currents. The liberated radiance of Asia will shine out in works from Okinawa, Hokkaido, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, Iran, Lebanon, and Myanmar.
The late director Toshio Matsumoto’s For My Crushed Right Eye will be projected on three screens as the Opening Film of the festival with other two short films. Matsumoto’s many accomplishments were not limited to his pioneering experimental films, but he also left a significant mark as a film critic and scholar. The spirit of the same age reflected in another program featuring works of militant cinema, Politics & Film: Palestine and Lebanon 70s–80s, will surely be thrown into relief.
Other programs include Africa Views, that shines the spotlight—in the same spirit as YIDFF 2015’s Latin America program—on contemporary Africa and the people who live there; a retrospective of the works of Swiss director Fredi M. Murer, who had a friendly association with Ogawa Shinsuke, and who is known for the films he shot deep in the Alps; Perspectives Japan, a program of new Japanese films that includes The Road Home, appeared in an earlier form at “Yamagata Rough Cut 2015!”; Cinema with Us 2017, that will explore the use of the 311 Documentary Film Archive, now in its third year; and Yamagata and Film, that reveals the relationship between Yamagata and film through a retrospective of the late director Sato Makoto, who had a long history with YIDFF. For the first time, Yamagata Rough Cut!, in its third edition, accepted applications for participation from other countries in Asia—we can explore adventures at the intersection of Japan and Asia, embedded in the film fragments known as “rough cuts.” Finally one of the films chosen as one of the Special Invitation Films, The Targeted Island, calls Japan to account, from the front line of Okinawa.
Yamagata’s true charm is being able to look forward to coming across new encounters and discoveries, as well as reuniting with directors and guests that participated in previous film festivals. Not least of which is Roxlee’s Yakata, an exhibition of the work of Roxlee, who participated in the 1989 Asia Symposium and has come many times again to subsequent festivals. The same symposium was attended by the late Takagi Ryutaro, who also voiced his opinion there as an observer; the Closing Film of the festival, The Power of Expression: The Minamata Producer Speaks, is chosen in his memory. Films take on a new life in the forum that is the film festival. My wish is that you encounter the voices of the souls within them, finding in each reality hymns that bring you vitality.
The festival is made possible by the many people that provided support and assistance in some shape or form. I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone from the bottom of my heart.