The Olympic Games, the Coronation of the Emperor and the COVID pandemic have each thrown up challenges to the normal functioning of the Tokyo International Film Festival in recent years. But the festival’s chairman Ando Hiroyasu was bullish about this year’s 35th edition, when he spoke to Variety.
Is the festival truly ready for a return to full-scale operations and the return of foreign visitors in the new venue?
TIFF has overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and is returning to full-scale operation for the first time in three years. Among the things that I put my efforts into this year are: Expansion of the venues, the revival of the Kurosawa Akira Award and the return of foreign guests.
Three large cinemas, Toho Cinemas Hibiya, Marunouchi Toei and Marunouchi Piccadilly will join last year’s list of screening venues. The expansion of the screening venues enables an increase in the number of film screenings from 86 films last year to 111 films in the main nine sections, allowing audiences to see a wider variety of films. The festival is also adding the Marunouchi area for the related events
The Kurosawa Akira Award has returned to TIFF this year after 14 years. Honoring the renowned auteur’s legacy and ongoing influence, the award is presented to filmmakers who are making extraordinary contributions to world cinema and are expected to help define the film industry’s future. (As announced earlier, the award will go to Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Japanese director Fukada Koji.)
We resume inviting guests from abroad in earnest this year, something which we were not much able to do due to COVID-19. This should stimulate interactions between filmmakers from Japan and around the world, at the festival.
Japan lifted its border restrictions as recently as Oct. 11, 2022, meaning that there are no longer any restrictions on the international guests’ activities. If they are suspected of being infected with COVID-19, we will arrange a PCR test immediately.
Did the 2021 edition act like a dry run for 2022? What lessons (positive and negative) were learned?
Over the past two years, TIFF has been struggling with the pandemic, but has made efforts to utilize online measures while maintaining the basic in-person events. I would like to see further leaps based on this experience.
Are you expecting local audiences to be 100% back to normal?
Tickets are still on sale at the moment and we don’t know the final outcome, but we are confident that audience numbers will increase from last year.
Given that TIFF is now back as an in-person event and Japan has removed inbound travel restrictions, does it make sense that TIFFCOM is still online-only?
Unlike other major international film markets, TIFFCOM does not have a dedicated venue of its own. While TIFFCOM has been expanding year by year, we have faced difficulties in securing an appropriate venue. The choice of international convention halls and hotel banquet rooms in Tokyo and its neighboring cities is very limited. And we have to set the exact dates and make a booking, a year or two in advance, before the venues are all booked up. Their strict cancellation policies don’t allow us to be flexible. Therefore, we decided to hold this year’s TIFFCOM online.
How has the role of film festivals changed in the post-pandemic, increasingly streamed era?
Partly because of the pandemic, the global growth of streaming services will have a considerable impact on the operation of future film festivals.
But we also place great importance on the physical movie experience. The original purpose of the TIFF Lounge, that of providing a place where filmmakers can interact, will finally be realized this year after the pandemic. Talk sessions by filmmakers from around the world will be held and will later be streamed on TIFF’s official YouTube channel.
Since last year, TIFF is partnering with Prime Video once again to present the Amazon Prime Video Take One Award , which aims to discover talented new directors through an open call for short film submissions. As a new initiative this year, we will be streaming the finalists’ films on a special Prime Video website prior to the festival to allow more people to view the films.
Should TIFF be doing more with TV series? Or is the festival pushing back against further encroachment by Amazon, Netflix, Disney, etc.?
Compared to last year, the number of TV series is almost the same.
What are the risks that the Tokyo IFF runs by inviting the Ulrich Seidl-directed film “Sparta” where there were allegations of impropriety and child exploitation during production?
When selecting films for Tokyo, it is impossible to research all the behind-the-scenes production of every film, so we focus on the quality of the film itself. As for ‘Sparta,’ we are aware that the Toronto Film Festival canceled its screening, but as far as I know, it has not been confirmed that the child actors and their guardians asked for that. We made the decision to go ahead because there was no specific reason to cancel the screening. Tokyo does not invite directors other than for the competition section, so we are not expecting this director to be here.
How is Japan’s changing #MeToo environment having an impact on the festival? How well is TIFF doing, fulfilling its gender equality pledges?
We signed the gender parity pledge called ‘Collectif 50/50’ which promotes gender equality in film festival selection committees, directors, cast, staff, etc. on March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day. TIFF was the first major Asian film festival to sign the pledge. The male-female ratio of this year’s jury is 50:50, and 42 out of 74 staff (57%) working at TIFF are women.