Award Recipients: Jury Comments
Prizes for the International Competition
- Jurors: Higashi Takuma (Chair), Asato Mari, Saito Ayako, Mark Schilling, Shiga Lieko
This year’s film festival was held online due to the pandemic, but we are grateful that the festival organizers offered the jury the optimal environment of watching the nominated films on a big screen.
For us jurors, this was a week of inspiration. The fifteen nominated films were all very rewarding and of such high calibre that any of them could have been award-winners.
The films varied in subject matter—Memory and oblivion; Military occupation, siege, isolation; Nukes; Violence and the state; Everyday social systems like medical care and government; Sexual violence; Women at the forefront of popular entertainment. There was rich diversity in how these stories were told, from the empathetic voice of the personal to a wider “overview” that looked at people from a global perspective, with some that fell in neither category but used approaches that could be called acrobatic.
In choosing the five award winners, we made new discoveries through repeated discussion and the sharing of differing perspectives. More than simple “jury duty,” it was a process of realizing how cinema was able to gouge out the world and its underside, about being surprised by the generosity and possibilities of “documentary,” and reconfirming the power of the moving image.
Notwithstanding the diversity of the subject matter and storytelling forms, in the end it was the power of people’s gazes as they confronted the camera lens, the rich hues in the detail of what the footage captured, and the urgency of the filmmakers’ perspectives on how they “grappled with reality” that caught our attention and provided us with a truly precious experience. Though all the films had been produced before the pandemic, some seemed to foreshadow what was to come. We’d like to mention that while jurors were divided, there were strong voices of support for Soup and Ideology and Notturno.
The task of judging documentaries is a test to ourselves, the viewers. These films confronted the world, forcing us to reflect on our own selves and question how we can believe in the world, doing whatever possible and offering up their own existence. We are sincerely grateful that we were able to encounter such poignant, outstanding films.
• The Robert and Frances Flaherty Prize (The Grand Prize)
Inside the Red Brick Wall
- HONG KONG / 2020 / 88 min
Dir: Hong Kong Documentary Filmmakers
Twenty-two years from the Handover, an extradition bill which allows “unlawful arrests” will be passed.—That was the imagined future that gave rise to the resistance and protests that this film records. In the eleven-day-footage, we see citizens and students who had gathered in the Polytechnic come under police siege, and the film captures minute-by-minute reality as the youngsters, including those underage, gradually are overcome by fatigue as food supplies run out.
10,000 people worldwide watched live streamed images shot by independent filmmakers from the inside of the Polytechnic. That in itself held a historical meaning. And now this anonymously-made film is the result of filmmakers who were working separately coming together to combine their archives under the name “Hong Kong Documentary Filmmakers.”
With the hope that this product of their creativity will be seen by as many people as possible, we chose it as the Grand Prize winner. Most important is that the world keeps its eye on their upcoming situation. We also hope that the film reaches all people on other fronts who are forced to live their daily lives divided, under siege, and in isolation.
• The Mayors Prize
- SPAIN / 2020 / 111 min
Dir: Alfonso Amador
Alfonso Amador’s “Camagroga” begins as a portrait of a farmer, Antonio Ramon, and his daughter Inma as they grow and harvest tiger nuts in Spain’s Valencia region. But while capturing their individual personalities and characters—Antonio’s look of weary, worried concern as discusses his future prospects, Inma’s vitality and pride as she talks about her work with school children—the film widens its scope to the deep history, traditional culture and current problems of the Huerta district, where farmers working the rich soil of their ancestors are being pressured by relentless modern development and international trends that make farming a survival game.
The film does not romanticize Antonio, Inma and the other farmers, but it does respect their knowledge, celebrate their lives and make us understand why they are still attached to their land and labors, despite the difficulties and uncertainties. Through Amador’s affectionate, incisive film, the rewards they reap also become ours.
• Award of Excellence
- USA / 2020 / 274 min
Dir: Frederick Wiseman
This film marks a pinnacle in director Frederick Wiseman’s career.
The camera is directed at the city hall of Boston, as we see the police, the fire department, the city council, businesspeople, educators, the elderly, and those with disabilities and how they interact with city government.
Wiseman’s artful editing and John Davey’s precise camerawork allow us to see how the tradition of American liberalism operates under the Trump administration. Focusing on Mayor Marty Walsh in the first half and on people in unprivileged neighborhoods in the second half of the film, both the government’s and the people’s perspectives are put on display.
I fully support the idea proposed in this film, that “difference does not bear division.”
• Award of Excellence
- CHILE / 2019 / 80 min
Dir: Carolina Moscoso Briceño
Crushed and devastated by rape, a cruel violence that suddenly befell her, director Carolina Moscoso Briceño holds the camera like a mirror to herself, using it like her own bare hands, and descends into the depths of her deep wound, armed only with an extremely personal sensitivity. She pursues the personal denunciation that law could not resolve by entrusting it to the realm of artistic expression. By placing the brutal rape on the same horizon as the miracle of a baby’s birth to a close friend, she responds to the notion that a rich, beautiful, and barbarous sexuality is innate in all bodies. The narrative brims with a sensitivity that is so strong, it can transform into a life force intact with all its complexity. This film is saturated with an amazingly unique and rare kind of power. We viewers too encountered the experience of being embraced by cinema.
• Special Jury Prize
The First 54 Years—An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation
- FRANCE, FINLAND, ISRAEL, GERMANY / 2021 / 108 min
Dir: Avi Mograbi
When talking about “Palestine” or the current state of the world which the Palestinian situation and circumstances represent, “asymmetrical” is an often used keyword of description.
Avi Mograbi, a filmmaker whose work has included attempts to repair that asymmetry from the Israeli side, this time plays the role of the storyteller himself, posing a critique by utilizing former Israeli soldiers’ stories and testimonies with archival footage to present a military occupation manual. One way of balancing out asymmetry is to shed light on the logic of the oppressor. Meanwhile, we here in Japan today could consider this as a mirror that reflects ourselves.
New Asian Currents Awards
- Jurors: Hirose Nanako, Lee-Kil Bora
In an empty Yamagata cinema, we jurors watched the eighteen films selected for Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2021’s New Asian Currents. First and foremost we’d like to thank the film festival organizers for making these screenings happen, and the filmmakers, staff, and protagonists for bringing these films to us.
As we watched the films, we were often forced to reflect on the meaning of making and showing films, on how filmmaking can influence society, and what the expected role of a filmmaker–juror is.
We felt helpless when confronted with preposterous realities and unchanging situations, and encouraged as we encountered transient beauty and films that offered the power of solidarity.
As viewers and as filmmakers, we jurors decided to award films that commit to a determined look at life against the odds, making a big step forward while respecting exchange, and films that broaden the potential and role of the art of cinema.
We are disappointed that we could not meet the Asian filmmakers who created these wonderful films in person, due to the online form of this year’s festival. But we sincerely hope that we will be able to see each other next time, as we go on with our filmmaking and film viewing in our respective places. Thank you for allowing us to realize that we can connect and come together through cinema.
• Ogawa Shinsuke Prize
Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege
- LEBANON, FRANCE, QATAR / 2021 / 89 min
Dir: Abdallah Al-Khatib
Some may question the meaning of watching a film shot in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria from 2013 to 2015, in Yamagata Japan in 2021. But with this film, the director allows the time in the Yarmouk refugee camp to become a “common time” shared by all of us. What is life? What are the forms of freedom? Where is peace? What is human dignity?—Asking these questions makes us understand that they are still valid and important. We’d like to express our respect for the people of the Yarmouk refugee camp who long for beauty by singing, shouting, and coming together despite their precarious and unpredictable state. We also commend the film production team.
• Award of Excellence
Three Songs for Benazir
- AFGHANISTAN / 2021 / 22 min
Dir: Gulistan Mirzaei, Elizabeth Mirzaei
Without a single unnecessary shot, the shortness of this 22-minute film feels as ephemeral as a half-life in a camp for internally displaced persons with no freedom, and I could not look away, even for a moment. The young protagonist who makes bricks every day dreams of one day entering the army. His songs and displays of affection towards his wife are pure. His behavior is juvenile and sometimes perilous, but the camera eye that captures the loving couple is surprisingly warm and beautiful. Our hearts tightened to think of the four years’ blank that is missing from the film. We’d like to send our heartfelt admiration for this jewel of a film that is the product of a long term commitment to people living in Afghanistan.
• Award of Excellence
- IRAN / 2021 / 76 min
Dir: Jafar Najafi
This film depicts the dilemmas of a nomad couple with wit, irony, and humor. The ambition of one woman who aspires to be a makeup artist is a challenge to Iranian patriarchy and a strong engine pulling the narrative forward. As we see her embarking on the search for a second wife for her husband without letting polygamic tradition or societal pressures discourage her, we are made to question our own preconceptions and reimagined new forms of family. Introducing rich language that a fiction script could never emulate, this love-hate drama of a married couple is novel entertainment that goes beyond the conventional documentary framework.
• Special Mention
- MYANMAR / 2021 / 13 min
Dir: Nan Khin San Win
We applaud this film that not only shares a personal experience, but also utilizes an innovative approach to reconstruct memory and rewrite history. Moreover we support the director’s determination and courage to move forward in life by making this film.
- Writing With Fire
- INDIA / 2021 / 93 min
Dir: Rintu Thomas, Sushmit Ghosh