Every other year, the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (this year from October 3 to 9) resurfaces and provides a showcase for non-fiction filmmakers from Japan and across Asia. Interest in the genre has flourished among independent producers in recent years, although few from the region are known in North America or Europe. Asako Fujioka, coordinator of the festival’s New Asian Currents section, says she had no shortage of submissions from which to choose. Focusing on the works of up-and-coming independent filmmakers, she selected 41 docs, but says she drew from a pool of 500 good films.
Successful entries to New Asian Currents include Pansy and Ivy, a 60-minute film about two sisters who have been disabled since birth, from Korea’s Kye Un-kyoung; My Migrant Soul, about a young man who leaves Bangladesh to work in Malaysia, a 35-minute project from Bangladesh’s Yasmine Kabir; and Along the Railroad, 125 minutes about homeless youths living alongside the railroad tracks that run through China’s Baoji region, from Chinese director Du Hai-bin.
While the Yamagata Festival has always spotlighted Asian documentary talent, the event also includes an international competition – a regular feature since its inception in 1989. This year’s entries include such high profile films as Kate Davis’ Southern Comfort, an American feature that earned top prizes at the Sundance Festival and Toronto’s Hot Docs. While Yamagata is far from the other stops on Davis’ festival tour – which includes Berlin, Edinburgh and Sheffield – Davis plans to attend the Japanese fest. Says Davis, ‘Although I hope to meet programmers from Japanese television stations, my decision to go is personal and artistic, as well as a business decision. This will be a chance for me to get to know a strong group of international filmmakers over the course of ten days, within a culture completely foreign to me.’
Some of the other films in Yamagata’s international competition are: Crazy, from Dutch director Heddy Honigmann; Gaea Girls, Kim Longinotto in the U.K.; Grandma’s Hairpin, Taiwan’s Hsiao Chu-Chen; and The Land of the Wandering Soul, Rithy Panh, France.