Following the 30th TIFF Closing Ceremony, the five members of the International Competition Jury and the newly-minted Award winners sat down with the press to share their impressions.
The first half of the press conference was devoted to the five members of the International Competition Jury, who once again stressed that their selection decisions for the Tokyo Grand Prize, Jury Prize and acting awards were completely unanimous.
Jury President Tommy Lee Jones commented “I feel like I’m at the wrap party of a movie I’ve just made, since we’ve been working together. It feels just like ending a movie. I’m very happy, I’m happy to have new friends. After having taken all this work into consideration together, I feel pretty good.”
Iranian director-writer-producer Reza Mirkarimi said, “I’m also really happy to have made new friends, and to have seen wonderful films. I believe that entering a film into a festival is, in itself, like winning a prize. It’s incredibly difficult to serve on a jury, with so many different opinions and points of view, and it’s a challenge to see eye to eye. But we did our best.”
French director Martin Provost commented, “This was a memorable experience for me. The films portrayed a lot of anxieties, themes and issues concerning the state of the world, and I hope the world can expect more light and love in the future.”
Said Chinese actress-director Zhao Wei “Vicky,” “I have found TIFF to be a really open film festival, and it was such a pleasure to work with these four people from other countries. I was inspired by the chance to discuss the films with them. Mr. Jones was a wonderful leader and always respectful of our opinions. I also wanted to use this opportunity to tell him that I’m personally a huge fan of his work.” Jones smiled broadly.
Added Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase, one of Japan’s only internationally known faces, noted that “Mr. Jones suggested that we should meet after each screening and share our thoughts on the films, although I’ve heard that most juries only meet a few times during the process. We were thus able to have a really valuable experience. I’d like to add that all my fellow jurors are directors, and I’m the only one who’s just an actor. I hope I might have a chance to be cast in their films in the future,” and he bowed in their direction.
Asked why he’d thought 15 separate meetings were necessary, Jones responded, “First of all, I want to remind everyone that I’m an actor, too, and I need a job.” After the laughter died down, he continued, “I thought we should meet and exchange ideas while each film and our first impressions were still fresh. Somehow, thoughts have a way of growing through expression, so we developed our opinions through expressing them and changing them, based on listening to what the others had to see. It seemed the organic thing to do.”
Mirkarimi commented, “Our sessions were really calm. Tommy Lee Jones presided over us as if he were a benevolent father, encouraging us to share our thoughts. I developed a really good relationship with Mr. Jones, which is just the opposite of the relationship between our two countries [Iran and US].”
Asked how many films they each watch in a year, the jurors had divergent answers.
Said Mirkarimi, “I am the director of a festival as well as a jury member at other festivals, and I watch more than 1,000 films a year.
“I watch only about 300 films a year since I’m too busy with work,” said Zhao, “but I try to watch a film every couple of days.”
Provost said, “It’s difficult for me to calculate, but I enjoy watching a lot of classic films, rather than more recent films. I watch many more new films during the César Awards season in France, so maybe 200 in total.”
Joking that he only watches his own films, Nagase said, “I have a lot of friends who are directors and producers, so I always watch their work, as well as work that’s sent to me by distributors. I’m afraid I don’t watch even 300 a year.”
Jones said, “The Academy Awards are important to a lot of filmmakers, so the people who vote for them are sent screeners. During awards season, I watch 3films a day. During the rest of the year, I probably watch fewer than 300.” Then he concluded on a note of hilarity, as everyone has come to expect: “I wish I were working so much that I didn’t have time to watch any films at all!”
The Award winners were then invited onto the stage during the second half of the press conference.
The Japanese Cinema Splash Best Picture Award had gone to director Hikaru Toda, for her film Of Law and Law. Toda was asked whether she’d told her “cast” about the award. “I’m so happy to receive this award,” she said, “since my film was the only documentary in the section. I was communicating during the ceremony via Line with the two lawyers who appear in the film, and both of them were watching on YouTube, and probably are watching this, too. They were overjoyed.”
She then read brief messages from one lawyer, Masafumi Yoshida, who had written, among other comments, “I hope the film provides an opportunity for people to think about family, love and your connections with others.” Yae Minami, the mother of Fumi’s partner, Kazuyuki Minami, wrote, “I’m so grateful to the filmmakers for taking so much time to make the film, and I hope minorities will stop being excluded in the future.”
Asked about how she selected the subjects of her film, Toda explained, “The impetus for the project was that I was really drawn to their love story, to the fact they accept each other although they’re not the perfect couple. I was also drawn to their work as lawyers, working on challenging cases. I felt that through their private lives as well as their legal careers, I could shine a light on important themes like what it means to be a minority, and what it means to be a family.”
Passage of Life, a timely film about a refugee family from Myanmar trying to make a new life in Japan, took both the Best Asian Future Film Award and The Spirit of Asia Award by the Japan Foundation Asia Center. First-time director Akio Fujimoto admitted that, “I invited the Burmese cast to the ceremony, and I cried after getting the Spirit of Asia Award. But then I realized that we weren’t going to get the Best Asian Future Film Award. So when I was called for the second award, I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy to be on stage with my Burmese cast and crew, because this film couldn’t have been made without their support. The children and their family were very happy as well.”
Asked how he directed the nonprofessional actors, Fujimoto said, “It makes me happy that so many people have told me it seems like a documentary. I just wanted my actors to enact the story. But they empathized with the characters they played, and was able to capture them as if they were living that story. I wanted to avoid falsehoods, and I think their laughter, anger and tears feel really true. I just captured the moment they were in. That’s why we were able to capture sich authenticity.”
Finnish Competition entry Euthanizer, in which the titular character hires a local man to put his sick pet to sleep with shocking results, won the Best Screenplay Award by WOWOW. Charismatic producer Jani Pösö, who had joked during the closing ceremony that it was the first time he hadn’t co-written the script with writer-director Teemu Nikki, “so of course this won,” had this to say about the honor: “I talked with Teemu [who had left the festival early] and he wants to send his warmest regards to everyone. He was so totally happy. This is our first big prize from a big festival, and we’ve had such a wonderful experience at the Tokyo International Film Festival.”
Pösö recalled the first time he read the script, and he’d thought, “just from the first 10 pages, that it was going to be great.” Asked what type of audience should see his film, he said, “Middle-aged men should see it, because it’s the story of how stupid middle-aged men can be if they have principles that they stick to.”
Director Akiko Ooku was thrilled that her unique romantic comedy Tremble All You Want took home TIFF’s coveted Audience Award, boding well for the film’s theatrical opening in Japan in late December. “My crew started messaging me through Line when they saw we won the award on YouTube. We were so happy to be selected for the Competition and so grateful that our tiny film was picked by the festival. But I admit I thought that, if we did win an award, it might be this one.”
She continued, “This film is aimed at high-maintenance young women, and if they can recognize themselves in the lead character, that would be good. I myself am a rather complicated, mature woman, and recalling my own twenties, I just let the memories explode while writing the script, and forced Mayu Matsuoka to play them. I’ve actually heard from young men who say they can empathize with the character, too.”
Ooku also mentioned that she was happy to see that TIFF sells student tickets for just ¥500, “and maybe we should provide tickets to young people for free, and give them a place to hang out at the festival. We really need to do more to reach them.”
Director Dong Yue took home the Award for Best Artistic Contribution for his Chinese thriller The Looming Storm, his feature debut. Asked how he’d managed to shoot a film in which it was raining in nearly every scene, said Dong, “One hundred percent of the rain appearing in the film is artificial. We had complications because we had to shoot at the location in March, and the rainy reason in that area was in November. Still, we shot for 64 days.”
Asked how it felt to act in the nonexistent rain, knowing that it would be added later, Best Actor Award winner Duan Yihong, who plays a factory worker obsessed with an unsolved murder case in The Looming Storm, Duan, “It was a really hard shoot for me, but as an actor, you just hope for a wonderful end result to the film. It allowed me to come up with different ways to expression emotion in that trying environment.”
The Special Jury Prize went to Crater, whose two Italian directors, Silvia Luzi and Luca Bellino, were the film’s only two crew members. Discussing their approach, Bellino said, “We wanted to be experimental and used non-professionals in the film, as well as including the man playing the father in the screenwriting process. We also shot chronologically, so we could watch the performances and gauge the adjustments we needed to make. The actors took a pure and natural approach, so we would do it all again.”
Local favorite Edmund Yeo, who won the Award for Best Director for his AQERAT (We the Dead), a moving work highlighting the plight of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, was asked about why he didn’t provide any introductory context in his film. “I didn’t want to preach too much, so I stripped out that information,” he responded. “I made the film to ask questions, not to deliver a history lesson. I hope the film inspires audiences to find out more about the Rohingyan plight, so we can all work on this issue together.”
Turkish director Semih Kaplanoğlu, winner of the Tokyo Grand Prix and the Governor of Tokyo Award for Grain, the dystopian tale of a seed geneticist’s search to save the human race, was asked how he felt when he heard his name in the auditorium. He responded: “Quite frankly speaking, it’s hard to gauge your own emotions during the award ceremony, but it’s a wonderful feeling to receive the award. I’m grateful the jury understood [my intentions].”
Asked whether he had to endure many hardships in the getting the film made, he said, “I think it depends on what type of film you’re making, as to whether you can get enough support or not. When it comes to character-driven films, it’s very hard for filmmakers to get funding. In my country, there’s a ministry, the Cultural and Tourism Industry, which supports 50 – 60 shorts and features each year, as well as a state-run broadcaster called TRT, which contributed funding to this film. We also got funding from Germany, France, Sweden and Qatar, so that’s how we managed to make the film. We’re at a time, in Turkish film history, where we have unprecedented opportunities for financing.”
Speaking about the genesis of the project, Kaplanoğlu said, “Needless to say, as you all know, our world is rife with so many problems, and yet we still must live our daily lives. But the situation surrounding us is getting worse and worse. Could it be that we, the very existence of human beings, are the problem? Are we so spiritually misguided, or have we changed so much as a human race, that we’ve so polluted the earth? Where are our roots and where are we headed? In the film, we’re somewhere in between.”