BBC My World Competition: Curators Q and A

My World curator Q&A

Asia Asako Fujioka
Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival

Q. What took you into film-making?

What took me out of filmmaking is possibly the question, as I have made just one documentary after several projects as AD, and chose not to be a filmmaker. Filmmakers need daring and decisiveness I wasn’t sure I had it. Programming and organizing film festivals is easier!

Q. When is documentary a better medium than drama to tell a story?

When the unconscious in people and relationships reveal themselves. I remember a documentary about a filmmaker s brother who was suffering from psychological problems, hiding away in his room during the day and battering his mother at night. As the camera became a tool to change the static family situation, I was taken aback in the climax scene, when the mother was unconsciously kneading the son s thigh while pleading and negotiating with him. I believe no actor could have thought of that hand movement, and that sort of thing captured on camera is so telling of how complex human beings are. Documentary situations capture the unpredictability of reality, and documentary filmmaking puts it into context.

Q. What is the state of Japanese documentary? What films are people enjoying on TV and in the cinema?

Japanese documentary enjoyed a period of flourish during the 70s when social activism and social commentary was a big part of people s lives. Today, while activist documentary is still around, the field has diversified. Styles vary from personal and poetic stories, artistic and even experimental (think Cannes Grand Prix winner Naomi Kawase) to music infotainment, historical testimonies, films about faraway countries, and nature docs. Over 80 documentaries from around the world are released in movie theatres each year, to increasing audiences. Public broadcaster NHK TV is strong on nature, famous personalities, and larger social investigative reportages. Commercial broadcasters gear towards more tear-jerking fare, with some going on to show in the cinemas.

Over the past 20 years, our Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival contributed to introducing the public to the wonderful diversity of documentary. The Japanese documentary audience has absolutely boomed this decade since the discovery of more and more docs from the world.

Q. Given the famed politeness and modesty of the Japanese, is it difficult to persuade people to tell their stories to documentary film-makers? And what is the best way to do that?

What an interesting question. The best strategy has been to get under their skin over time. Filmmakers take years to form trust relationships with their subjects. That s why Japanese documentary filmmakers often take so long to complete films. It took the famed Ogawa Shinsuke and his crew sixteen years living collectively in a small Japanese village to make four films. Having said that, rural people in the olden days were wary of outsiders. Today, even urban people are wary and super-conscious of the camera they have seen enough gossip reports to know the power of the image. Documentary is changing because of this.

Q. Do you have any practical tips for people hoping to submit documentaries for My World?

I hope to find films that are complete in their shortness and not trailers to longer stories. Original perspectives override technical finesse for me, and I hope people who usually don t get to make films will take this opportunity to tell their own stories.

(Recent entry)

image001Africa Mandisa Zitha
Director of the Encounters Documentary Festival in South Africa

Q. It can be tough getting documentary films out to the public. What is the role of a film festival such as Encounters?

South African audiences have very few avenues of accessing quality documentaries. The major distributors/ exhibitors only release a handful of high profile films annually, and only 1 or 2 DVD stores stock other documentaries. There are 1 or 2 independent cinemas that show more but the programmes are curated by local documentary film associations, and this because of the work done, and for audience developed by Encounters. So, Encounters is the only SA festival solely dedicated to the documentary genre. Although the Festival is an annual event, it provides a space for audiences to see what is happening internationally in the documentary world. \

When the Festival began in 1999, a small event in 1 city, for 1 week, with 23 films, the attendance of 2000 was very encouraging. Now the festival averages 13,000.

Most importantly, Encounters provides local filmmakers with the platform to showcase their works in a cinema environment. The bulk of work for local documentary filmmakers is through television, commissions for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The Festival provides the filmmakers with an interface with the public through Q & A s, opportunities to engage, network, get feedback and garner some media exposure. Our first objective is to develop audiences for the documentary genre, and we endeavour to do so through considered film selection.

Q. What inspired your own interest in documentary?

My encounter with documentaries was unplanned. After years of working for various film industry organisations as a facilitator or project administrator, I developed a passion for the film and television Industry. I then decided to study for a degree in Film and Media at the University of Cape Town. My intention was to focus on scriptwriting for TV and editing. I took up a short course on documentary lectured by a renowned anti-apartheid filmmaker, Lindy Wilson and thoroughly enjoyed it.

However, it was at Encounters that I realised a career in documentaries and developed my true passion.

In South Africa, we have a rich history of making great anti-establishment films (mainly during apartheid). Currently, we are transitioning from this and focusing on other themes; personal and untold histories, culture and tradition, nature, HIV Aids, Xenophobia, youth culture, music, etc. I feel inspired to be at the centre of this transformation.

Q. Do you have any practical tips for people hoping to submit short documentaries for My World?

It is really difficult to tell a great story in a short period of time. My tip would be to focus on one theme/ character/ idea only and use all the filmmaking tools at your disposal to tell it well; sound, pace, music, frame, editing, etc.

Q. How does documentary differ across Africa?

Documentary in Africa is linked and determined by the forces of production prevalent. Limited funding, resources and networks are constraints that limit the scope and production values of the industry. Other factors like lack of Government policies the political climate of some countries that limit democratic principles and dependence on foreign funding, access to international festivals and markets all further limit the scope of the genre.

These are the similarities. The differences are that other African filmmakers (mainly West and East Africa) work between Europe and Africa and are able to adopt a European aesthetic and combined with the unique film language of Africa, develop a style that is successful with foreign markets and festivals. They are also able to access funding and improve the production values of their films.

There is also an emergence of new raw talent that is embracing developments in digital video and editing. At Encounters we have committed ourselves to increasing our African content (beyond South African films) and accept the conditions of African filmmaking as an integral, but not all-determining force for selection.

Our main concern is authenticity; films made by Africans for Africans.

Q. What single thing would help get African documentary stories out to the rest of the world?

We must first create sources of viewing and distribution on the continent and endeavour to develop our own audiences.

Q. What do you think of Hollywood dramas such as Invictus which portray Africa from outsider perspectives ?

Of course South African filmmakers would love to tell their own stories, however this is not a uniquely African problem. Foreign filmmakers have told famous stories in South America, India, Asia, etc.

Those feature film showcase South Africa s film service industry and provide exposure for local actors.

The problem I foresee is that International festivals have increased their content of films about Africa, but very few festivals (beyond those solely dedicated to African films from the Diaspora) really select a significant amount of films made by African filmmakers.

Recent entry

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