Monday, October 6, 2008

TJSFF'08 INTERVIEW: A chat with festival director Akiko Ohata

Interviewed by Chris MaGee

Well, Japanese cinema fans in the city will be getting a real treat this week with the 6th Annual Toronto Japanese Short Film Festival landing once again at Innis Town Hall Theatre from October 7th to October 10th. Throughout the week The Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow will be giving you continued coverage, from the gala opening to reviews, of this exciting and innovative fest that takes audiences off the regular beaten path of Japanese film.

On the eve of the fest I got to chat briefly with TJSFF festival director Akiko Ohata about how the TJSFF has grown over the years and what they have in store for us this year.

CM: It's the 6th year for the Toronto Japanese Short Film Festival. How have you seen the festival grow since it began in 2003?

AO: When we started the festival, I don't think we realized that it was going to carry on for 6 or more years. Our first year was 2003 and we screened 3 programs over 2 nights. Now the festival has grown quite a bit. This year, we're showing 5 programs over 4 nights and also holding a gala party. We are also hosting this year 4 filmmakers from Japan: Tetsuya Kurashige (Ichigo program,"A Room with a View"), Chieko Sakai (Ichigo program, "KANNOU NO NIWA"), Abe Lisa (Mikan program, "Mont-Blancism") and Takuya Fukui (Ringo program, "The tale of the shadow") will be at the Opening Gala Party from 8:30pm on Tuesday 7th, October. I hope everyone will take the chance to discuss Japanese short films with them at the party! All four of them will also be around before and after their screenings too, so that will be another chance
to meet them.

CM: I understand that TJSFF is organized annually in Osaka and then you bring the line-up all the way here to screen. I know the film community in here has come to look forward to TJSFF every year, but I'm curious, why did you pick Toronto as the home of the festival?

AO: Actually, Toronto Japanese Short Film Festival is organized by a registered not-for-profit organization, Japanese Art Festival, which is based in Toronto. But a few of our staff members do operate out of Tokyo, Osaka and Sendai to help hunt for Japanese short films in Japan and send them on to our head office in Toronto.

CM: What does the average year for the TJSFF look like? Do you normally seek out films and filmmakers to showcase or after all these years are you finding that filmmakers are now coming to you for inclusion in the line-up. I know that animator Koji Yamamura has become a regular at the festival.

AO: We put out a call for submissions every spring and choose films over the summer. We also go to a lot of independent film screenings around the world and talk with filmmakers and ask them to submit their films. Yes, it's true some filmmakers are becoming almost like regulars
at TJSFF. Based on the results of our audience surveys, we ask a handful of filmmakers whose work was highly successful to submit their new work for the following year. That way, we do achieve some kind of continuity, and the invitation is hopefully rewarding for the selected
filmmakers. Of course, we try to present films which we think that people in Toronto will enjoy, but we also are curious to see how filmmakers who have participated at past TJSFFs are developing in their work over the years.

CM: Over the past five seasons have there been any high points that stick out in your mind or even specific obstacles that the fest has overcome to bring these films to Toronto?

AO: Last year, to mark the 5th anniversary of TJSFF, we held a party for the first time. We were a little bit worried whether people would come and if they would enjoy it. As it turned out, way more than we expected came – if we'd had 3 more guests, we would have been breaking the
fire code for the venue – and it was a really fun night. I liked the diversity of the crowd – not
only a lot of different cultures were represented, but also a lot of ages and people from different walks of life. One of our filmmakers from Japan and another Canadian filmmaker from Toronto were able to make it too and they seemed really to enjoy the chance to mingle and chat with the audience.

CM: The opening night gala this year features four films by Hiroyuki Nakano. How did this special night come about?

AO: Because all our staff loves his feature film "SF Samurai Fiction" (1998) and we have always wanted to feature his short films. And since he recently made these 4 beautiful-funny-stylish
short films, it was a great opportunity to make it into one program for the TJSFF opening gala!

CM: What things would you like to see happen with the TJSFF in the upcoming years? Are there any specific filmmakers or films that you'd like to programme that you haven't been able to include yet?

AO: There are a lot of filmmakers and films which we would like to introduce. We can screen only a limited number of films each year so it is always hard to make those choices. I wish we could have twice the number of programs at least, and we'll see, perhaps the festival can be expanded further in the future.

CM: There may be people reading this interview who haven't come to the Innis Town Hall theatre to see the TJSFF. What one thing would you tell them to get them excited about this year' TJSFF?

AO: Do you like Animation? Documentary? Drama? Something funny? Scary? Serious? Experimental? Weird? I think it is fair to say that TJSFF has representatives from every
genre. Perhaps the best thing about TJSFF is that you can enjoy 4 to 8 different kinds of films on a single ticket and share the experience with other people who also love Japanese films. All of these films have English subtitles. So, if you're getting bored of watching Japanese short films
without English subtitles on YouTube by yourself at home you should come out to Innis Townhall Theatre between the 7th and 10th of October. It's a chance to see some unique work and most of it cannot be seen anywhere else in Canada. So, let's laugh, cry and think seriously about these films together!

For more details on this year's Toronto Japanese Short Film Festival check out the official website here.

No comments: