[KineJapan] YIDFF 2019

Markus Nornes nornes at umich.edu
Sat Oct 19 22:49:23 EDT 2019

Oh yes, I heard from several people that the magic lantern event was great.

There were also some symposia on archiving, and a workshop on converting
16mm to digital.


On Sun, Oct 20, 2019 at 11:33 AM matteo boscarol <matteo.boscarol at gmail.com>

> Thank you for the wonderful report Markus, AN/NESIA was really
> outstanding, and I was surprised how at the Japan Wartime program, during
> Night Mail’s screening, people were clapping and almost shouting with
> excitement.
> Let me add one more thing, among the satellite events, I was lucky enough
> to attend a special screening of *gentō (*magical lantern)
> “documentaries” shot in the Miike mines during the big strikes of the
> 1950s. The event took place at the Yamagata University on the typhoon day.
> These “magic lantern screenings” were accompanied by a benshi-like
> narration. A big thank you to the organizers: Koji Toba, Hana Washitani
> (her narration was fantastic) and two more people (I’m sorry but I don’t
> remember their names now).
> It’s a fascinating subject.
> You can read more here:
> https://doi.org/10.3390/arts8020064
> and here:
> https://doi.org/10.18917/iconics.11.0_27
> Regards
> Matteo Boscarol
> ボスカロル マッテオ
> 記憶ただ陽炎のゆらめき
> - Documentary in Japan and Asia
> http://storiadocgiappone.wordpress.com
> - Film writer for Il Manifesto
> http://ilmanifesto.it
> On Oct 20, 2019, at 9:51, Markus Nornes via KineJapan <
> kinejapan at mailman.yale.edu> wrote:
> The Yamagata festival ended a couple days ago. During the festival, I kept
> some notes and I through I would collect them here to describe how it went.
> This was the 30th anniversary of the festival, and there were some
> retrospective events. Fewer and lower key than I expected, but I’ll save
> that for the end.
> The overall takeaway: Yamagata remains the most exciting film event in
> Japan. I’m partial, of course, but it’s a fact. Surrounding the competition
> and Asia Program are unique (sort of…more on that later) retrospectives
> that show both canonical and rare films. The quality of projection is very
> high, and the festival has proven committed to projecting films *on film;*
> as usual, even venues that are nothing more than museum meeting rooms had
> 16mm and 35mm projectors showing archival prints.
> And one thing that becomes more palpable with every festival is the
> rejection of a market or pitching forum. Thank god. And thanks to this, the
> festival stands out as a true celebration of cinema. Finally, it’s as
> friendly and as welcoming as ever. Komian Club, the pickles restaurant that
> the festival takes over every night, remains—as Oda Kaori put it at a 30th anniversary
> event—“non-discriminatory” (*musabetsu*); the entire festival gathers and
> celebrates together into the morning every evening. It’s great. What a
> great festival.
> Attending any film festival involves the usual hard decisions about what
> to see and what to miss, and the feverish running from venue to venue. I’ll
> make that dash around the festival below. These are rather scattershot…..
> International Competition: The foreign filmmakers and programmers are
> always scratching their heads over the selection. I don’t know if the
> festival even realizes how strange the slate looks year after year. But the
> festival has remained committed to a democratic selection process that
> involves a wide mix of citizens and professional film people, and no top
> curator making final decisions. So, naturally, strange films rise to the
> top and it’s somewhat ragtag. Also, some festival friends tend to get
> favored treatment in a tiny 15-film slate construed from thousands of
> entries. A good example from this year is *Living the Light—Robby Müller.*
> The foreigners were, like, why??? But Müller was a friend of Ogawa
> Shinsuke’s. He was a talented filmmaker, but still (similarly, people
> wondered about a previous festival’s Müller retrospective, when there are
> living filmmakers who changed the course of documentary history).
> Other festival friends this year include Wiseman (*Monrovia*), Patwardhan
> (*Reason*), and Wang Bing (*Dead Souls*), who have been in this tiny
> competition before. Reason was a respectable choice—it’s a major,
> harrowing, Patwardhan film about nationalist violence. In one unforgettable
> sequence, three nationalist agitators call for the audience to “crush Anand
> Patwardan’s bones”; the camera pans and shows the director shooting among
> the press, and he gets a question in: “I’m right here. You want me, come
> and get me.” He’s a brave man in a dangerous spot. As for Wiseman, his film
> has already made festival rounds; but he’s hugely popular in Japan. Same
> with Wang Bing.
> But Wang Bing deserves some highlighting. The thing is well over 500
> minutes when you include intermissions, so it fills an entire theater for
> an entire day—and they showed it twice. You have to admire Yamagata’s
> courage to show films this long, especially when the competition is so
> small (Wiseman’s film was 143 and Patwardan’s was 208 min). They also
> showed his West of the Tracks and Feng Ming, both of which took top awards.
> I love those films, but this one did nothing for me. I’m willing to admit
> it might be because I watched it at home streaming, rather than in a
> theatrical setting I had no control over and with a crowd (the Yamagata
> audiences were huge and a majority stayed to the end). I found *Dead
> Souls* dull and repetitious, a mere string of (often poorly-shot)
> interviews. I was grateful that it didn’t show the disturbing ethical
> lapses of his recent films. But the whole affair was lifeless and could
> have been accomplished in a 2-hour film. Obviously, the jury disagreed.
> They gave it the Flaherty grand prize.
> Suwa was on the jury and I cornered him at the closing party to ask what
> turned his proverbial crank. He has some decent reasoning: the 8 hours
> stringing together various POVs on the same physical space and time had
> this strange, cinematic dynamic. An accretion of details, sometimes
> contradictory, that intermingle and work off each other in a manner he had
> never experienced in cinema. OK. I guess I can imagine that, but I
> certainly didn’t experience it. WB himself was a no-show. Wang Bing has a
> rep for suddenly dropping out of programs that people put their treasure
> and sweat into, most recently at Wellesley last year. But here Yamagata’s
> devoting two days of theatrical real estate to his film, and imagine how
> much money it costs to subtitle an 8 hour film. What made this no-show
> particularly obnoxious was the fact that he was just in Tokyo a couple
> weeks ago for a small, minor gallery installation. In a message to the
> awards ceremony, he said he was simply too busy. But it’s hard not to
> imagine that the difference between Yamagata and that tiny gallery was that
> the latter is trying to sell his work for tens of thousands of dollars. I
> guess he felt no upside to attending Yamagata.
> In contrast, screenings of Makino Takashi’s *Memento Stella* were
> prefaced by a heartfelt message to the audience where the director
> explained how desperately he tried to work around typhoon flight
> cancellations to get the festival from Berlin. He even offered a profound
> thanks to the programmers for their efforts to show his work. *Memento
> Stella* was never going to win an award, and the film has been ravaged in
> social media. But those writers were expecting “documentary” in the
> conventional sense, and this is a Makino film. And one of his best. It has
> connections to *the* world, but the film is a trippy, starry trance
> film-of-a-documentary. Suwa and I talked about this one, too. We were both
> thrilled to see Yamagata include it in the competition. After all, one of
> Yamagata’s legacies in Japan has been to smash conventional notions of the
> nonfiction form.
> Onward: Wakai Makiko’s New Asian Currents program was as strong as ever.
> Although the international competition filmmakers rarely get it because
> they are focused on their competition, the Asia program remains the heart
> and soul of Yamagata. Unfortunately, frenetically rushing from program to
> program, I only saw about four of the films, but I liked all of them. The
> title that I heard dropped more than any other was probably the special
> invitation of Mickey Chen’s *Boys for Beauty,* which was shown in tribute
> to the director following his untimely death. My fave was Oda Kaori’s
> *Cenote*. It was a stunning experimental doc she shot in the freshwater
> sinkholes of Yucatan. The film alternates between underwater photography
> and more ethnographic images on the ground above. The former were sensuous
> and haptic and reminded me a lot of the experience of *Leviathan* (incredibly,
> these razor sharp images were shot on iPhone); unlike *Leviathan*, the
> images of people up on the ground focus on faces and give some sense for
> their life (happily, these grainy images were shot on Super-8). Oda also
> had an art exhibit connected to the film at a local gallery.
> The sidebars were of the usual high quality. The cleverly titled AM/NESIA:
> Forgotten “Archipelagos” of Oceana, by Hama Haruka and Greg Dvorak, had a
> wonderful structure: Crossings, Lands, and Bodies were “three archipelagos”
> containing the films. Most of the films were from the last 5 years, but
> they also showed a sound version of the 1933 *Lifeline of the Sea, *one
> of the first long-form documentaries in Asia. These were tightly programmed
> to play off each other in their brackets and get people thinking. For
> example, imperial era *Lifeline* was shown back to back with Sekiguchi’s *Senso
> Daughters*, and peoples’ breath was taken away when Japanese songs from
> the *Lifeline* era were sung in the later film. This kind of
> thoughtfulness was evident in the catalog as well, for instance putting the
> colonizer in brackets when listing the source (eg., Hawai’i [USA]). This is
> Yamagata smart. I love it. The program came with a great catalog with
> essays and poetry. I haven’t cracked this one, yet, but look forward to it.
> Another sidebar was Tsuchida Tamaki’s Double Shadows 2. Like its
> predecessor, this was a cineaste’s fun feast of films about film. There
> were a few classics that have rarely been shown in Japan (*Showman,
> Meeting Marlon Brando, Chronicle of a Summer*), along with a worthy new
> film or two (Kim So-young’s *Goodbye My Love, North Korea, Chuck Norris
> vs. Communism*). A highlight was a tribute screening of *On My Way to
> Fujiyama, I Saw… *by Mekas. This was also the festival’s opening film. I
> missed the opening ceremony, but the introduction by Kimura Michio (the
> farmer poet that invited Ogawa to Magino) was the talk of the festival. He
> had met Mekas on that 1983 trip to Japan, and contrasted Mekas’ nostalgia
> for his home to Kimura’s own hatred for his own village. This program, by
> design, is a grab bag of cool and interesting films yet, unlike AM/NESIA,
> does not make the effort that went into programming felt. Thankfully, there
> is a very serious catalog, filled with top writers and a great section on
> Mekas. I’d seen most of the films, so I spent my time elsewhere.
> Another major program was Morita Noriko’s The Creative Treatment of
> Grierson in Wartime Japan. If Double Shadows 2 was a cineaste world, “the
> 30s program” as people were calling it, was an historian’s world. I heard
> one disparaging comment calling it “that dissertation program”; true, it’s
> the topic of the curator’s dissertation. But it was anything but stale.
> There were a set of carefully chosen frames that teased out the global
> connections and synchronicities going on in the late 30s and early 40s when
> documentary was taking its conventional form. I’ve never seen such a
> program attempted anywhere, and thought it was very successful. It pitted
> canonical documentaries like *Drifters, Housing Problems* and *Turksib* against
> their Japanese counterparts, some of which are rarely shown canonical docs,
> and others unknown films which have not been screened since their initial
> release. Everything was projected on film, which was occasionally
> eye-opening (foreign curators I talked to were delighted at both the chance
> to see early Japanese doc and the proper projection of classics that made
> them rethink the films). And the special catalog, with essays by
> Kinejapaners Naoki Yamamoto, Anastasia Fedorova, Aaron Gerow and myself
> (also Okada Hidenori) amply showed how the theoretical discourses around
> documentary were far more advanced than anything going on in the West (ie.,
> Rotha and Grierson). There were good talks as well; I was particularly
> impressed by Anastasia Fedorova’s discussion of *Turksib* and the equally
> imperialist* Hakumo-sen* (as well as her contribution to the catalog).
> One of the more unusual programs was Home Movie Day. This was part of the
> global home movie day celebration, although it took place a few weeks
> early. The venue was the Forum, and independent cineplex. On the surface,
> the Forum looks like any other multi-screen cineplex; however, its roots
> sink back to the independent screening movement forged by Ogawa and others.
> So it was wonderful to walk into the theater and see a battery of Super-8
> projectors set up in the back. The first film was startling. It was 20
> seconds of a clock tower at night, followed by what looked like colorful
> strips of films running down the screen; it was accompanied by the director
> crouching in the front of the screen with a tiny music box playing a paper
> strip. It was startling because this was the festival trailer that opened
> every screening. It was a charming, lovely trailer and truly wonderful to
> see a live performance in Super-8. This was followed by various home movies
> brought in by directors visiting the festival, including John Torres from
> the Philippines, Oda Kaori, and others. As you might imagine, this was hit
> and miss. But the climax of the program was fantastic. Onishi Kenji, the
> Don of Super-8 in Japan and projectionist for the evening, showed his
> documentary on the 2013 festival. It was, as usual, filled with fast-motion
> clips of familiar faces and stunningly beautiful, hand-developed Super-8.
> And this was followed by Sato Makoto’s rarely screened Super-8
> documentary/fiction/home movie, *Megami-sama kara no tegami* (*Letter
> from the Goddess*). Oh, and the young ‘uns in the audience were treated
> to a stuck projector and film meltdown! The MC actually had to explain what
> they were looking at. Onishi called from the back, “No worries. It happens
> all the time.” Charming.
> The festival offered a new edition of its 3/11 series, Cinema With Us
> 2019, programmed by Hosoya Shuhei. There was a relatively small selection
> of films, with an equal selection from Taiwan (especially by Huang
> Shu-mei). Also a 3-hour symposium with Wood Lin, Komori Haruka, Aikawa
> Yoichi (who is researching the Ogawa Pro screening movement) and media
> theorist/historian Kadobayashi Takeshi. There was some talk about the
> program is making the problem of forgetting palpable. Fewer films than
> before. Fewer audience members. It will be interesting to see how the
> festival deals with this inevitable trend as 3/11 recedes into the past.
> There were other programs I didn’t have a chance to get to. Reality and
> Realism: Iran 60s-80s, Perspectives Japan (recent domestic docs), Yamagata
> and Film (also an ongoing program), Yamagata Rough Cut (workshopping docs
> by young filmmakers in rough cut form), Chris Fujiwara and Kitakoji Takashi
> ran another film criticism workshop, and Fujioka Asako programmed Rustle of
> Spring, Whiff of Gunpowder: Documentaries from North India. The latter was
> in conjunction with the establishment of a film archive in northeast India,
> where political unrest has made such an institution impossible up to now.
> Another event that caused a lot of buzz was a small program of
> documentaries on butoh dancer Ono Kazuo, climaxing with a live performance
> by dancer (and festival interpreter!) Kawaguchi Takao in the ruins-like
> attic of a nearby primary school; I heard it was breathtaking. There were
> also a few symposia celebrating Yamagata’s new status as a UNESCO Creative
> City.
> Oh yes, and it seems the Fins threw some money at the festival to promote
> their country…by constructing an honest-to-god Finnish sauna in front of
> one of the venues. Unfortunately, you needed both time and a swimsuit.
> What am I missing?
> One relatively new thing were satellite events held at night at cafes
> around town. They had this kind of thing in the past, but in 2019 they felt
> more organized and ubiquitous. Some of these showed films. Others were
> organized by other documentary festivals, or journals like *neo-neo* and
> *F/22*. These were really uneven. Some were virtually empty. Others were
> packed, drawing spectators from the official, ticketed events. In this
> sense, while it was interesting, it might also be a little self-defeating.
> The festival is doing a bunch of these themselves (Taiwan party, karaoke
> night), and they tend to be more meaningful and well-attended.
> Ah, once again the festival published the free *Sputnik* magazine.  This
> is produced by a team led by Tsuchida Tamaki, with editors Okuyama
> Shinichiro, Nakamura Daigo, and Nakamura Masato. Billed as a “YIDFF
> Reader,” it includes essays on nearly 30 of the festival films, and by
> prominent scholars and critics. What a wonderful idea. There is still a
> daily newspaper, but *Sputnik* has heft because its prepared over the
> summer. The writing is solid and critical.
> And did I mention that *Sputnik*, like all festival publications and
> every single screening and symposium, is bilingual? Where there are other
> languages besides English and Japanese, there are always interpreters/subs
> as well. It’s by far the most international festival in Japan, putting TIFF
> to shame (as Aaron often points out).
> Another thing worth noting is that Yamagata’s celebration of cinema spins
> off to the rest of Japan after the closing ceremony. The festival selects
> some directors to hold screenings in other parts of the prefecture. And
> then quite a few directors are tapped for screening events at universities
> and institutes around Japan. Sharing the documentary love.
> The festival also held tribute screenings for friends of the festival who
> passed away: in addition to Mekas and Chen, there were Nelson Pereira dos
> Santos, Tamura Masaki, Barbara Hammer, and Peng Xiaolian. And, sadly, Ogawa
> Shinsuke’s wife, Shiraishi Yoko, passed away the day before the festival.
> Word spread mid-festival, although I’m unsure if there was a tribute or
> not. There was also a beautiful catalog offered at the venues for Miyazawa
> Hikaru, one of the core masterminds of the Yamagata Festival. He died last
> year at aged 64. Miyazawa-san was a fixture at YIDFF, and an activist
> supporting local film culture through independent screenings. Everyone
> missed his presence very much. The catalog features tributes from scores of
> people who appreciated his efforts to make Yamagata a “Movie Capital.”
> That phrase sounds a bit ridiculous, but it comes from Ogawa Shinsuke and
> the title of Iizuka Toshio’s 1989 documentary on the first YIDFF. This was
> shown, along with its 2005 sequel, as part of a modest celebration of the
> 30-year history of the festival. Director Iizuka Toshio gave an interesting
> discussion about the films. He described how this was his first attempt at
> directing, and Ogawa gradually took the project over during postproduction.
> (I was there; it was ugly.) And one of the toughest things for him was
> seeing Ogawa go on and on and on about how he wanted to encourage and
> support Asian filmmakers. Ogawa even talked about creating a kind of
> transnational collective of directors in Asia. Iizuka would listen to these
> monologues, which are sampled in *A Movie Capital,* and feel distress:
> Why, he thought, doesn’t he try to raise up directors in his own collective
> first!??!
> There was an interesting panel about the history of the festival organized
> by Masuya Shuichi, who has led the festival’s volunteer network since the
> beginning. I was struck by Masuya’s introduction to the 30-year anniversary
> symposium. He brought us back to the Manifesto that was drafted by Kidlat
> Tahimik (who had attended the Oberhausen festival the year of its famous
> manifesto), and signed by the Asian filmmakers at the 1989 festival.
> Kidlat, Ogawa and Co. were complaining that no Asian films were in the
> competition and called for Yamagata to nurture Asian documentary. Well, the
> Asia Program was started in 1991 and mirrored the international
> competition. This became New Asian Currents in 1995; not only did it grow
> in size and stature, but it also became as competitive as the international
> competition. Masuya pointed out there was no way to predict in 1989 that
> the New Asian Currents in 2019 would be swamped by 2,000 entries. Talk
> about explosive growth.
> Masuya also helped us imagine the conditions that led to the creation of
> the festival. Back in the 1980s, it was hard to see films. There was no
> bullet train until 1992, so going to the big city was a chore (I remember
> driving over the mountains over 8 hours to visit with Ogawa or the long
> train ride through Sendai). It was also going to cost you 30,000 for all
> the travel, hotel and food. And because home video was still nascent, DIY
> was the only option. People like Masuya, Miyazawa and other core people in
> the festival would get friends together and rent prints and hold
> screenings. The festival was a natural extension of this.
> There was another tidbit from this symposium that I didn’t know, or if I
> ever did I forgot: the creation of Komian Club appears connected to a
> conversation I had with Masuya at the 1991 festival. I pointed out how
> expensive Japan was for the Asian filmmakers (and poor students like
> myself). A coffee or a beer was a significant purchase, let alone food. So
> the following festival, they founded the Komian Club. It’s now turned into
> one of the loved features of YIDFF.
> Masuya also found Ogawa’s “Movie Capital” hyperbole a bit embarrassing,
> and certainly premature. But in retrospect, Masuya realized that this was
> Ogawa laying down a challenge to the festival to grow into the title. Maybe
> Yamagata is no Paris, but I think it has become a movie capital in its own,
> unique way.
> That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. At the end of his 30th Year
> symposium, Masuya asked for some thoughts from his audience about the next
> 30 years. I offered one or two. Yamagata Documentary Film Festival is
> remarkably rich. At the same time, it has become regrettably predictable.
> In the last decade they took on an odd repetition problem. It remains a
> truly great festival, but one with no sense of surprise. There has been an
> earthquake program in every edition since 2011. They’ve had Taiwan-centric
> programs in 2005, 2015 and now this year. This was the third iteration of
> Islands after 2009 and 2011. Double Shadows doubled this year.  Combined
> with regular programs focusing on a geographical location (Switzerland,
> Germany, Lebanon, Africa, Iran, etc.), there is a sense of deadening
> familiarity about the festival.
> Part of this is a packaging problem; things going on inside the programs
> are more complex and curated than they appear in the PR. In this sense, the
> contrast between this year’s Double Shadows (basically more of the
> same—title + 2) and Islands (really intensely curated with overt,
> thought-provoking structures and creative naming) is striking.
> I realize there are programs that they pretty much need to do every year:
> Perspectives Japan (for the new Japanese work that didn’t make the
> competitions), Yamagata and Japan for local films (new and old), Rough Cut!
> (a really worthy effort that can help produce better films), and I realize
> it’s hard for them to give up the 311 program. But this puts a lot of
> pressure on the other retrospectives to create a sense of wonder and
> expectancy, to open eyes and draw audiences beyond set constituencies.
> I hope they’ll stop doing the same thing over and over again and bring
> back a sense of unpredictability that inspires a giddy anticipation before
> the festival. YIDFF is stuck in a rut—a  really great rut. But a rut,
> nonetheless. The festive sense of “festival” is being taken over by
> predictability and endless reiteration. People have been whispering this
> for many years; I wonder if it ever reached the ears of the festival?
> That said, there are few film festivals around the world that are as rich
> and varied. And if you are interested in Asian film, it’s hard to beat. I’m
> thankful for all the films I had a chance to see (including old films on
> film), all the people I met, and the daily experience of learning new
> things and new ways to think about what I thought I knew.
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*Markus Nornes*
*Professor of Asian Cinema*
Department of Film, Television and Media, Department of Asian Languages and
Cultures, Penny Stamps School of Art & Design

*Department of Film, Television and Media*
*6348 North Quad*
*105 S. State Street*
*Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1285*
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