Highlights: Yamagata Festival 2015

The purpose of the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF), a bi-annual festival that takes place in the vibrant, eclectic Yamagata city in northern Japan, is to celebrate the art form of documentary filmmaking and raise awareness of experimental cinema.

Running for the first year in partnership with AsiaCenter Japan Foundation, the YIDFF kicked off on October 8 for seven days of film screenings, open forums, lectures and symposiums, as well as a film criticism workshop taught in both English and Japanese. Throughout the week, films were watched, perspectives discussed, connections made, and lots of sake imbibed. Kampai!

Highlights #YIDFF2015:

Opening Film

Visit or Memories and Confessions (1982), an autobiographical documentary made by Manoel De Oliveira about his cherished Porto house, which he was forced to sell due to filmmaking debts. Oliveira entrusted the film to the Portuguese cinematheque and requested that it be screened only after his death. He died in April 2015 and the film premiered at Cannes in May.

Winners (Main)

International Competition

The Grand Prize: Horse Money  (Pedro Costa)
The Mayor’s Prize: The Pearl Button (Patricio Guzmán)
Awards of Excellence: Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) (Abbas Fahdel) and Silvered Water, Syria Self-portrait (Ossama Mohammed, Wiam Simav Bedirxan)
Special Prize: Us women. Them women (Julia Pesce)

New Asian Currents

Ogawa Shinsuke Prize: Standing Men  (Maya Abdul-Malak)
Awards of Excellence: Snakeskin (Daniel Hui) and Each Story (Okuma Katsuya)
Citizens’ Prize: Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) (Abbas Fahdel)
Directors Guild of Japan Award: My No-Mercy Home  (Aori)

Film Criticism Workshop

Well-known Japanese critics Kitakoji Takashi and Kaneko Yu headed the Japanese workshop, whilst American critic and festival programmer Chris Fujiwara led the English-speaking workshop. Aspiring critics from Japan, Philippines and Thailand attended the workshop and produced one review per day.

Film Criticism Collective

Collective inspired by Filipino-Canadian film critic Alexis Tiosco, who helped to bridge the eastern-western film cultural gap through his ethical writings. Head Chris Fujiwara said: “There’s a need for Asian film critical writing to be made accessible to western audiences. People who write about film can benefit from one another’s work, no matter where they are in the world. There exists a need for better documentary criticism.”

“Experimental Cinema” Symposium

The “Documentary as Experimental Cinema” talk moderated by Chris Fujiwara saw regional critics and directors from Southeast Asia debate on the umbrella term “experimental”, addressing the varying controversies associated with the word and the freedom it offers to filmmakers, particularly in Southeast Asia.

Chalida Uambumrungit (Thailand): “Experimental film has different meanings in different time frames. Non-narrative film is experimental.”

Philip Cheah (Singapore): “New experimental cinema takes a more zen approach, letting the image speak. Audiences must construct what’s said to them. It’s a way for filmmakers to keep their ideas free.”

Teng Mangansakan (Philippines): “Experimental cinema helps render the mythical real and vice versa in a documentary. For Southeast Asians, the fluidity of the form is something we can use to speak volumes about ourselves, our identities, our layers of selves… and that’s probably why our cinema is very rich.”

Melissa Legarda Alcantara

Melissa Legarda Alcantara

Melissa is the editor of SineScreen. She enjoys dark chocolate, film festivals, and finding Freudian undertones where they don't exist. Catch her on Twitter at @melissalegarda.

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