Poor Programming of Film Festivals

Stephen Cremin asianfilmlibrary at hotmail.com
Sun Jul 11 13:06:21 EDT 1999

The list has recently brought up the narrowness of Japanese film programming 
at festivals: especially the overwhelming focus on director "auteurs".  So, 
let me give a defence.  Although they don't contribute to discussions very 
often, this mailing list DOES contain several programmers who do seem to do 
the research.  Most of them are programming within larger festivals and I 
imagine that severely constrains what they can achieve.  Its interesting to 
note, for example, the efforts of several members on the list to share the 
costs of subtitling Toyoda Toshiaki's "PORNOSTAR" for their respective 
festivals.  I'm not denying that most programmers are lazy, incompetent and 
cowardly, occupying an undeserved territory through nepotism, politics and 
other less pleasant forms of corruption, but this list does seem to contain 
some of the better ones.

Although I'm (temporarily) retiring the London Pan-Asian Film Festival, 
their was a year-on-year plan to break the hold of directors as the main 
focus of attention.  Last year was "director" year: bringing people like 
Iwai Shunji, Park Chul-Soo and Marilou Diaz-Abaya to London.  (Marilou had 
to cancel at the final moment because of filming commitments on "Jose 
Rizal".)  These three represent the directors I feel had the best chance of 
international success ... not necessarily because they're the best directors 
from their country.  (Yes, I know Park isn't the best director in Korea, but 
there was the focus on Kim Ki-Young too.)  And, of course, they have the 
best personalities.

Then this year there was the special focus on actors and actresses.  Of 
course Asano Tadanobu - alongside the less interesting Kaneshiro Takeshi - 
is the most likely to break through internationally outside of the usual 
band of martial artists and/or pretty Chinese actresses.  (I've been handed 
four scripts for him in the past month.)  Within the Korean week in August 
there was the intention - within the season on female desire - to focus on 
the most interesting actresses over the past two decades: Lee Mi-Suk 
(1980s), Shim Hye-Jin (1990s) and the new generation just emerging.  But 
despite the support of Korean Air, who had reduced business class tickets to 
under US$1000, general funding has severely compromised that.

Within the Asano week I WAS on the verge of focusing on production designer 
Maruo Tomoyuki at 9pm each day ... largely as an excuse to bring "CURE" to 
London for a single screening.  But it became clear that Ishii Katsuhito had 
as much to do with the art direction on "Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl" as 
Maruo ... and it would have just confused the week for the press and 
audiences.  The plan next year was to focus on another - less glamorous - 
aspect of filmmaking: possibly scriptwriter Izuchi Kishu as a way to 
approach Zeze and the newer generation of pink film directors in a 
"respectable" fashion.  (And of course this would be timed with Izuchi's 
directorial debut, so perhaps I can't get this "auteur" theory thing out of 
my conceptual framework.)  Not sure I would ever have gotten round to 
focusing on Japanese film editors though...

I was also attempting to break away from the focus on auteurs of any kind - 
be they actors, directors or production designers - by noting themes in 
contemporary Asian film.  Female desire in Korean cinema of course being 
something very interesting to explore over several decades and several 
genres.  But something very interesting seems to be happening with female 
Japanese novelists adapted into film, with a much broader range than would 
be expected.  I AM talking about a "banana-free zone".  And of course the 
psycho-horror boom and the general success Asia has had in the past twelve 
months taking on Hollywood: if "Bayside Shakedown" didn't quite beat 
"Titanic" at the box office, then "Storm Riders", "Jose Rizal", "Swiri", 
etc, did.  I do think that the only interesting retrospective for Asian film 
each year is still only taking place in Hong Kong and that needs to be 

Although there is probably much snobbery about anime conventions, I guess 
they're open to the idea of bringing scriptwriters, character designers, 
voice actresses, etc, perhaps because we're so aware of the collaborative 
process that goes into an animation.  Although I haven't actually attended 
one - snob, snob, snob - I do get the impression that they're also less 
loathing of their audiences: another lesson larger festivals can learn from. 
  (Although its always a pain when you think you have the premiere of 
something until you discover that a university in Seoul or convention in 
North England got their first with a pirate videotape...)

For prospective programmers, there is first the lack of information and 
general infrastructre.  Of course, there's no excuse for not being able to 
research scriptwriters, original authors, production designers, composers, 
editors, producers, etc, with the publication of "The Asian Film Library 
Reference to Japanese Film" last year.  (Forgive the plug and general 
blowing of my own trumpet, a character flaw I am aware of.)  But if you are 
planning a retrospective, how do you know which films have subtitles?  The 
Japan Foundation are very secretive about things like this, as are the 
Korean Film Archive and Korean Film Commission.  And its the larger, richer, 
less imaginative festivals who The Japan Foundation and other organisations 
help with providing and making subtitled prints.  (Once again, I should 
stress that I'm the BIGGEST fan of The Japan Foundation, Kawakita, and 
National Film Centre of Japan, although it took several years to build 

Another problem is access to subtitled prints when they do exist.  When 
programming the Asano retrospective I was very aware that I would be dealing 
with the more professional Japanese film companies - Pony Canyon, Bitters 
End, etc - who do answer faxes and want to show their work abroad even if no 
sale is likely.  Again, Izuchi Kishu means dealing with Stance and Nikkatsu 
who are very professional.  Same applies I guess to the season on Tamura 
Masaki in America: knowing that you have, for example, Ms. Komatsu at 
Bitters End to work with removes so much stress.  Perhaps when Toei's head 
of sales retires in six years - his advice - I'll begin planning that large 
season of yakuza films from Ito Daisuke's "Chuji's Travel Diary" (1927) to 
"PORNOSTAR" and "Shark Skin Man" ... but until then it can wait.  The same 
gentleman told me that he ignores any faxes that reach his office which 
don't mention the keywords "Berlin", "Cannes", "Venice" or "US$20,000".  
Access to old films are of course much easier if your festival is rich and 
tasteless enough to become a member of FIFA ... or is that the soccer 
association, I always confuse the two?

Another problem is access during film festivals.  I just received my 
invitation as a guest at Pusan which means I'll be invited to parties every 
evening and have my hotel paid for.  But do I even bother going to the Tokyo 
International Film Festival where I'll have to beg for a pass and then won't 
be invited to a single reception the whole week.  Its not that one doesn't 
want to see films, but parties are the only place to socialise during TIFF 
given the lack of life in the press centre.  And "socialise" means meeting 
sales agents so that they'll answer your fax six months downs the line, 
finding out which directors and actors are good value for money as guests at 
your festival, spreading word-of-mouth on interesting films which would 
otherwise be overlooked, etc.  The only really essential aspect of TIFF is 
what Fujioka Asako, Nishimura Takashi and gang do "outside" the festival the 
same week ... including a VERY inclusive reception.


I do think its a shame that some of the people on this list who are 
intellectually in a much better position than me to programme Japanese films 
don't organise seasons.  But I guess the reason you have so much time to do 
the research is that you don't have to deal with the day-to-day shitty 
politics of securing funding, films and a half-decent box office percentage. 
  But I do think that its an interesting time for Asian film exhibition 
internationally as new festivals and new programmers are springing up from a 
younger generation who grew up with Asian films as teenagers in the 1980s.  
Its also a generation that seems much more into collaboration and 
cooperation than competition and territoriality, as evidenced by this list.  

Stephen Cremin

The Asian Film Library
Suite 19, 2 Lansdowne Row
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United Kingdom

asianfilmlibrary at hotmail.com

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