Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2021 Goes Virtual From October 7–14

Tickets are on sale for the 17th edition of the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF), which runs from October 7th to 14th.

Since its inception in 1989, this biennale event, located in Northeast Japan, has cultivated a distinctive identity rooted in its strong connections to its host city as well as a reputation as one of the best documentary festivals on the international circuit thanks to its programmes that incubate and showcase a wide variety of talents. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 edition sees it heading online for the first time in its existence. Despite going virtual, the festival will continue to bring films, filmmakers, and film fans together through its huge selection of titles, Q&As, symposiums, and more.

After digging through over 1,000 entries submitted from around the world, the full programme looks impressive as it showcases new talents and veteran directors. This wealth of films will be only on offer to viewers in Japan, although some events are available to view internationally and with English interpretation. All films are scheduled to stream at a set date and hour on the festival’s streaming site and prices are good as one programme costs just 1,300 yen. Tickets must be bought ahead of screenings and films will be available until one hour after the scheduled end time. So, for films listed to screen from 12:00 to 14:00, you will be able to view the stream between 12:00 and 15:00.

The official programme has many highlights, some of which are covered below:

International Competition

15 feature-length works were selected for this section and they will compete for a number of prizes that will be decided by a jury that includes up-and-coming director Mari Asato (Under Your Bed) and Mark Schilling, film critic for The Japan Times.

Inside the Red Brick Wall

This year’s line-up features City Hall, the latest feature from Frederick Wiseman who gives viewers 274 minutes of American democracy in action as he observes the activities of Mayor Marty Walsh and his administration at Boston City Hall as they address pressing issues in a diverse society, Inside the Red Brick Wall which reveals the political faultlines in Hong Kong, as captured by a group of anonymous filmmakers who follow worn out and anxious youth protestors fighting increasingly impossible odds, and the more intimate Miguel’s War which utilises animation and fiction as it roots through the mind of the titular lead, a gay man scarred by Lebanon’s Civil War.

New Asian Currents

The New Asian Currents programme has eighteen films competing for a number of prizes that will be decided by two-person jury team Nanako Hirose (book-paper-scissors) and Bora Lee-kil (Untold). Titles include Abdallah Al-Khatib’s Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege takes audiences into a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria and the hardship and death the people trapped inside endured, and Ants Dynamics by Directors Xu Ruotao and Wang Chuyu who follow a group of workers who were wrongfully dismissed by their employers who choose to battle for restitution through artistic means.

Cinema with Us 2021

This is a special program dedicated to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, a space for filmmakers to take the first step of sharing through film the ongoing situation there and [a way of] fostering new connections to bring audiences face to face with the weight of the disaster the its various connections.

Alone Again in Fukushima 2020

Among the four films are Alone Again in Fukushima 2020 which sees the results of director Mayu Nakamura’s revisits to Naoto Matsumura, a native of the area who stayed in the exclusion zone to look after farm animals, and the changes to the location and all who dwell in it, while Kazuki Agatsuma’s Madeleine Dreams follows a confectioner in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, as he begins baking again, and the volunteers who have gathered to support and share in his dream.

Perspectives Japan

Perspectives Japan introduces five films that depict issues related to Japan from unique perspectives. The five titles in this program range from hot-button social issues to deeply personal viewpoints. Ian Thomas Ash’s Ushiku exposes the harsh reality of Japan’s immigration system as revealed by secretly recorded interviews with detainees at the titular Ushiku immigration centre while Whiplash of the Dead, by Haruhiko Daishima, weaves together memories of protests through interviews with people involved in the “first Haneda struggle” of October 1967, and Transform!, from director Tomoya Ishida, explores physical disability and modes of expression through filmmaking.

Yamagata and Film

The Yamagata and Film special programme is dedicated to showing Yamagata, the deep-rooted connections between the locale and the film world, and the culture that has emerged and evolved in the region over the decades. A Movie Capital by director Toshio Iizuka is a record of the first YIDFF and shows the various ways the festival has been given shape by global changes such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, and many other contemporaneous events, while Satoshi Watanabe’s The Buddha Mummies of North Japan delves deep into an ancient Yamagata tradition as it opens up the world of belief through an introduction to rare funerary rites of transformation through the practice of becoming a “living buddha” via self-mummification.

More information on the films and events can be found at the festival website.