Two months ago, I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the six participants to take part in ‘Working Title’ workshop–a training and development for film curators and screening professionals organized by Japan Foundation Asia Center. Together with the five participants (Alexander Matius from Kinosaurus, Indonesia, Patrick Campos from UPFI, The Philippines, Jo Andrew Torlao from Film Development Council of The Philippines, Toru Endo from Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Japan and Kanako Nakanishi from Kawasaki City Museum, Japan), we spent nine days in Tokyo attending intensive lectures and screenings under the mentorship of film critic and film programmer Chris Fujiwara and the festival director of QCinema Ed Lejano.
I had previously programmed some films in Cinephilia, Kuala Lumpur but the experience itself wasn’t sufficient for me to claim myself a programmer without really cultivate the practice and its ideology from the very core: what is film programming?
On the first day of the workshop, Chris Fujiwara delivered a lecture on “film programming as contextualization”. Film programming isn’t all about curation. Insights into finding different approaches to create “context” were discussed and debated. Among the contexts, we consider the nature of the space, who are the audiences, when the films will be screened, why is it necessary to screen the selected films, the country’s cultural aspects and political circumstances, and the meta-dialogue and intertextuality between the selected films. Among a plethora of other factors, the abovementioned factors are the basic determinators of “context(s)” and settings of a program before it takes shape.
Designing a program is not all a film programmer does. A film programmer is also in charge of tedious administrative work such as obtaining screeners, dealing with screening rights, screening fees, shipping arrangement, and sometimes involve negotiating screening terms and condition. Ultimately, film programming is a deliberate design with an underlying premise, whether or not it serves to achieve a “goal”.
The role of film programmer as gatekeeper was brought up and followed up by the issue of “ethical responsibility” that a film programmer should have come across on the most fundamental level. Through design, the context(s) given can sometimes limit the parameters of how certain films can be interpreted. The sequence of films forms a narrative within the program. For example, watching some films before the others can, with or without intention, dictate how the latter are interpreted and felt. It also influences how the former is re-interpreted and felt. However, we must not deny the fact that each audience carries a different cultural background and personal experiences. These two elements are so strongly intertwined with the process of watching and “feeling” a film that they give way to possible interpretations to rebel against or function outside of the context(s). Most importantly, a film program (a well-thought-of one) opens up another space for speculations, henceforth allowing new encounters with films and re-exploration of films.
On the second day of the workshop, we made an excursion to Mori Art Museum. We were there to study the installation ‘Synchronicity’–a collaborative artwork by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Hisakado Tsuyoshi where the former dealt with dreams, memories, ghosts, folklore, and political movement of the Northeast Thai region of Isan and the latter re-created the historical events using computerized light, sounds, and wind. We benefited from the excursion by extending a little of the trip to watch a series of Akino Kondoh’s animations that were screened simultaneously at MAM.
Aaron Gerow, an associate professor at Yale University who is specialized in both Japanese Cinema and East Asian Languages and Literature, gave us a comprehensive lecture on the history of Japanese experimental films. The lecture was done alongside with the screening of Japanese experimental films in a chronological order dated from the 1960s. 14 remarkable experimental filmmakers were introduced to us. From Eikoh Hosoe, Donald Richie, Shuji Terayama, Jun’ichi Okuyama, Hiroshi Yamazaki, Toshio Matsumoto, Takashi Ito, Keiichi Tanaama, Taku Furukawa, Nobuhiro Kawanaka, Hiroyuki Oki, Junko Wada, Takashi Ishida to Atsushi Wada, their works were re-visited through the lenses of political movements (especially during postwar period) and development in art scenes that marked the glorious times of Japanese experimental films. Some films were made to rebel against the authority, some represented the artists’ voice, others experimented filmmaking and created breakthroughs using the medium. After the lecture, I grasped the background of how the beginning of Japanese experimental film transitioned to the birth of digital age through the evolution of Japanese underground cinema, structural film, art animation, diary film, and female filmmakers in 1990s. Our task was to design a program from these films and present them at mini-symposium.
‘Working Title’ workshop took place in conjunction with the 32nd Image Forum Festival. Most of the activities were held at Shuji Terayama Hall at Image Forum, Shibuya. Koyo Yamashita (one of the directors at Image Forum) gave us an introduction to Image Forum and how has this cinematheque progressed since its inauguration in 1987.
We were honored to meet the founder and president of Image Forum Katsue Tomiyama who is now in her 80s, still actively engaged with a lot of events taking place at her organization. We saw her every day in her shiny red sneakers, supervising the staffs and talking to people. Purely from the interaction with the staffs and audience, Katsue-san opened up my eyes to see her dedication and passion she has for Image Forum, all because of the love for cinema.
The six of us were also given the opportunity to be mock-up jury at the festival. We spent our nights watching films that were competing in East Asian competition apart from attending lectures, talks, and networking parties. Thanks to this opportunity, we learned both the fulfilling and rending moments of being a juror. Some films are too good to the extent that we had to give them up to come to terms with the vision of this festival, hoping that they will win awards at other film festivals. Some almost made it to the borderline and needed a push. Since each of my team members had silently nominated one or two films, we spent the evening discussing rigorously which films to select and forego. The dilemma of giving a chance to the highly-potential ones or the excellent ones made the decision-making even tougher.
The mini-symposium was held on the 12th of August (Sunday) at Image Forum. The hall was packed with film critics, filmmakers, staffs from JFAC, and the public. Aaron Gerow was sitting at the far corner of the hall, looking attentively at our programming notes and the selection of films (Appendix 1). We had Chris acting as the moderator and Asako Fujioka the translator. Before presenting our programme, the six of us talked about the situation of independent cinema in our home country.
Speaking of film programming in Malaysia, this field of expertise is lacking professional training and education, resources, manpower, and sensibility at the public’s end to watch something that’s not in the mainstream cinema. Other than facing financial problems, independent screening spaces fail to be self-sustainable in terms of upkeeping the space and getting the crowd to attend the screenings. Some audiences still believe that films are nothing more than an entertainment. The worst thing is that some audiences actually confuse film programmer with producer or director. I believe that this is no one’s fault because every party plays a part in nourishing a culture and the ecosystem in my home country is not ready yet to evoke a sense of understanding in this field of expertise. It is a long-term struggle for independent cinema to grow in Malaysia and the matter lies not on how we start it but how to keep it going. With the emergence of different screening spaces in recent years, I believe that we can make a move forward by focusing on how to consolidate different organizations and efforts to bring the crowd together rather than paying attention to only what’s happening in each own’s organization.
My time in Tokyo was fruitful and very much enriched by what I have seen, learned and felt. The crowd of audiences and filmmakers who attended the mini-symposium, screenings and Image Forum Festival ranged from 20 year-old to 80 year-old. Both young and elderly people are actively making experimental films and participating in competitions. Filmmaking is not something that this crowd pursues when life is comfortable or when making a living is easy. It is something that’s ingrained in their everyday lives and it is sometimes used to address uncomfortable issues.
I would like to thank Atsuko Morimune from JFAC for working hard and taking good care of the participants and mentors, Asako Fujioka from Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival who acted as the observer and translator, Chris Fujiwara, Ed Lejano, fellow participants, and new friends whom I made in such a short time. ‘Working Title’ workshop is still ongoing and part two will take place in Manila (March 2019).
Program 1: Di\VISION
Programmers: Patrick Campos, Elise Shick, Toru Endo
This program, as the title signifies, embodies the macro-theme of ‘seeing visions’ and the micro-theme of ‘divisions,’ in its many forms, that are prominent in the three films. Made at different historical moments using different techniques, the moving images of labyrinths, doors, navel, bomb, horizons, the Sun, and the cosmos are juxtaposed to launch multi-directional dialogues. The program interrogates the myth of origins that develops into polarities of gender; nature and manmade infrastructures; reality and imagination; and creation and catastrophe. The open-ended possibilities of unifying these elements can give birth to either something new or the division that we are all too familiar with?
- Navel and A-Bomb (1960) | Eikoh Hosoe | 11 mins
- The Labyrinth Tale (1975) | Shuji Terayama | 15 mins
- Heliography (1979) | Hiroshi Yamazaki | 6 mins
Program 2: Brake/Break
Programmers: Jo Andrew Torlao, Alexander Matius, Kanako Nakanishi
A collection of animations that plays with forms, styles, and methods discussing different themes which criticize and comment on social norms and social systems in the specific year of its creation. With their timelessness, one can also connect these issues to present-day Japan, and even relate it to present-day Southeast Asia.
- Gestalt (1999) | Takashi Ishida | 7 mins
- Day of Nose (2005) | Atsushi Wada | 10 mins
- Coffee Break (1977) | Taku Furukawa | 3 mins