Japanese governmental agencies/film

Mark D. Roberts mroberts37 at mail-central.com
Sun Sep 7 18:56:01 EDT 2008

Mark Nornes' post pretty much captures my feelings about the NFC  
(thank you for saying it so well), and Aaron's post about his recent  
discussions with the NFC staff are very encouraging. I'm quite pleased  
to hear that some of their policies w.r.t. access have changed and  
others are being revised still.

It is not my intention to bash the NFC, but simply to understand the  
palpable disconnect with the research community and to solicit  
opinions about what might be done. Clearly, the NFC is doing an  
excellent job on limited resources, but just as clearly, it is not  
providing the kinds of services that researchers have come to expect  
from such an institution. In the face of the former, it is tempting to  
say nothing, but it seems like a constructive discussion should be  
possible. For example, I agree with Aaron and Mark that the cost for  
viewing videos simply must be adjusted. And access to a flat-bed  
would, as Mark says, make a huge difference. If such a thing were to  
materialize, though, I really hope they would consider installing one  
at Kyobashi, as Sagamihara is almost 40km from Shinjuku. If they are  
concerned about being overrun with requests for use of these  
facilities, the solution is straight-forward: make a schedule that  
they can accommodate, rank requests based upon need (researchers get  
some priority based upon seniority), and book appointments in advance.  
In that way demand cannot overwhelm supply. If they are concerned  
about public access to delicate materials, they can triage the  
requests into "after we give you instructions, you can handle this  
film yourself" vs. "you can handle this film under the supervision of  
our staff" vs. "that one is rare -- only our staff can handle it".  
There are standard ways of handling these services, and I'm sure they  
have far better ideas about execution than I.

On the subject of charter, Alex suggested that the NFC's original  
raison d'être was likely preservation, that screenings were not even  
part of the original plan, and that "The whole structure of the  
institution today is still shaped by this." I guess this depends upon  
how we read "original", but at least since 1995 the charter of the NFC  
at Kyobashi has definitely included screenings. If we take "whole  
structure of the institution" literally and examine their building, we  
find two theaters (310 and 151 seats) with "state of the art"  
projection, and a gallery space. The floor plan indicates that the  
ground floor was intended to be a restaurant, but at some point this  
was evidently converted into a waiting area. So, the promotion of film  
culture with the general public has definitely been part of their  
mission for at least the past thirteen years. The extent to which this  
is really reflected in their charter, I cannot say, but when a  
national institution commissions an architect to plan and a builder to  
construct a 7F cultural center with theaters in downtown Tokyo, I  
would expect the plan to reflect its charter.

Again, the issue isn't the program of public screenings, but their  
support for researchers. My guess is that it's mainly a question of  
budget. To expand services at the NFC, they might need more staff to  
receive researchers, and perhaps more space, maybe even another small  
office somewhere in Tokyo, and all of that costs money. OK, so what  
would it take? Could they offer more services if they had two more  
assistants on their staff at Kyobashi? Would they need another 200m2  
of office space somewhere? Would they need more equipment?

Somewhere, finally, they have a budget for their operation, and if  
they want to expand services, then they need to petition for more  
money. On the other side, I assume that there is somebody in the  
Agency for Cultural Affairs that approves their budget. This might  
happen once a year. Has the NFC asked for more budget and been  
refused? If so, on what grounds? Has the NFC not asked for more  
budget? If not, why not? If, as Aaron points out, the NFC needs to  
change its charter to become a research institution, my question would  
be: what does this entail? And: are there ways that we could help make  
this happen? You know, when organizations say they "don't have  
budget", sometimes this tends to function as an excuse. I have found  
that parent organizations will tend to say "we can't raise your  
budget" as a way to dodge an open discussion of policy. In fact, if  
you get to see the spreadsheet of the parent organization, often there  
is *plenty* of money — it's just going somewhere else.

This is why I have been asking about cultural policy at a higher level  
in the government. My impression has been that the NFC would like to  
expand its support for researchers, and everything that Aaron and Mark  
have mentioned about their recent contacts with the center seems to  
confirm this. If it hasn't happened because somebody in Bunka-cho has  
been saying "no", then a logical step might be to understand why they  
are refusing and try and get some discussion going about their policy.

In fact, Aaron has already started, and for those of you (like me) who  
missed it before, here's his Midnight Eye article:



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