If you are making short films, or aspire to making them, the Web site www.con-can.com has everything in the world to offer: advice, support, the opportunity to get your work seen and critiqued and, the chance to win $10,000 in the online CON-CAN Movie Festival.
The man behind the enterprise is Masahiro Yoshino, chairman of Media Research Inc., in Tokyo’s Sendagaya Ward, who rises smiling from behind his desk to extend his hand.
“Five years ago I had the idea for CON-CAN, and created a Web site,” he explains. “But I didn’t really know how to develop it, so last year I brought on board a number of expert enthusiasts. The result is a new Web site and an up-and-running movie festival with a three-year plan from 2009.”
So meet the CON-CAN team: Pakistan-born Nofil Iqbal, with experience in money markets, cable TV and a passion for entertainment; programming director Hiroyuki Tanimoto; Alex Suzuki, who is in charge of festival marketing; and PR manager Nobuo Shiobara, who spent 15 years with Honda.
Oh, and general assistant Megumi Wyatt (her husband is British), who pops up at the last minute for the photo.
“Yoshino-san’s idea for an online movie festival was inspiring,” Iqbal further explains. “What we have done as a team is provide the focus. Now CON-CAN has a clear and strong message, providing an interactive platform where movie directors and audiences become one.”
CON-CAN, which uses two kanji for its logo, the first reading “soul” and the second “to watch,” is a global Web site allowing movies to be enjoyed anytime anywhere.
In May, there was a selection of films available for viewing from countries as diverse as Italy, Africa and China, including a 16-minute short from Japan, by Yoshiki Uematsu, about a wheelchair-bound father who slips out of his house early in the morning, unobserved by his sleeping family. What does he do? Who does he meet? Check it out.
There was also a bittersweet comedy from Singapore called “The Girl in the Red Sarong,” and a couple of animated shorts. Right now, there is a different selection altogether.
The maximum length for a short submitted this year is 30 minutes, exactly. (Iqbal: “If we accepted 31, we’d have to consider 32, right?”)
All submissions go through Tanimoto, who grew up in Colombia and graduated from Tufts University in Boston, Mass. He joined CON-CAN Media Plaza eight months ago and has since spent his time sifting through over 500 entries for this year’s revised ground-breaking competition.
“It’s so easy now to make movies with desktop editing software,” he says, adding that he goes through a lot of eyedrops being glued to his computer screen each and every day. “Until recently, filmmaking was a costly process, with Hollywood and Bollywood spearheading the way. Now that’s changed.”
The availability of digital processing means that anyone anywhere can make movies, sending messages directly, without having to go through the mass media. “Those countries with problems of censorship have a valuable tool at their disposal.”
Tanimoto’s job as internal reviewer is to recommend the best 80 films to be judged in the audience competition and the CON-CAN competition. These movies are then uploaded in four groups of 20 at a time, over a period of several months, with subtitles in Japanese and English.
“Primarily, CON-CAN is concerned with concept and theme to the highest of standards. At the same time we’re looking for personal expression, originality, creativity and social value.”
In the audience competition, the shorts are rated by members of the CON-CAN Web site. (Anyone can sign up for free.) Based on these ratings, one movie from each of the four categories (A,B,C and D) will be nominated for the global audience award, with cash prizes of $500.
At the same time, a preliminary jury will be selecting the best 20 shorts overall. After which these will go before the CON-CAN international jury, which decides which film wins the CON-CAN grand prix, and also two nominated tamashii awards. (Tamashii is another reading for the character for “soul.”)
At the award ceremony in Tokyo in November, a cash prize of $10,000 and a trophy will be presented to the winner. The two runners-up will each receive a cash prize of $2,000 and a plaque. All flights and hotel accommodation will be paid for.
“Our jury members are an impeccable bunch, including filmmakers, critics, professors, editors and producers,” says Iqbal proudly. “They include Japan’s Teruyo Nogami, production manager for Kurosawa Productions, and Jukka Pekka Lasskso, director of the Tampere International Short Film Festival in Finland, which, dating from 1970, is the oldest in the world.”
C ON-CAN is already collaborating with regular film festivals in Japan — International Animation in Kanagawa, International Animation in Oita, and the Kyoto International Indies Film Festival.
Alex Suzuki, who went from an international school in Japan to Illinois to immerse himself in U.S. mid-West culture, has always been a movie buff.
“What I really like about CON-CAN is that it’s not only a festival. We offer the world of filmmaking so much more.”
He loves the Internet for having no boundaries, which means CON-CAN has no boundaries. Media Research already has a family-like atmosphere. CON-CAN extends this globally, welcoming creators, directors, editors, everyone and anyone who is passionate about film to come together.
“CON-CAN is a creative space for learning, communication and the exchange o f ideas,” Suzuki adds. “We’ll give advice on musical copyrights, editing, lighting, everything in fact a filmmaker needs to know. And age is irrelevant. With digital equipment you can make films if you are 8 or 80.”
Because film festivals are often sponsored by governments, they tend not to last. Instead, CON-CAN is creating a business model and a cash-flow program for the future — selling to mobile phone carriers, for example — with revenue to be shared with directors.
“The challenge is to be accepted as a real film festival by the industry,” Tanimoto says, his colleagues nodding in agreement. “The jury speaks for itself. Now we have to educate the wider public, the world.”
With short movies gaining appreciation, and more and more people wanting to try their hand at filmmaking to get personal messages across, CON-CAN seems to be on to a winner.
Next year, it is hoped to attract filmmakers from India and Africa. And Tanimoto believes he has already spotted an amazing talent in a young Peruvian woman from a remote region of that South American country.
“You can see what is happening in a certain time and place through the filmmakers’ creative vision. You can see the true color of a country,” Alex adds.
Two bits of advice from the CON-CAN team: Sign up as a member and vote now for the film you like best on the current site.
Also, if you have a film in the making or feel inspired to give it a try, you have until December to get your submissions in for next year.