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Support for Asian filmmakers

by Norberto Nunez

Facing nonexistent government support, meager prospects for private-sector funding and even diminishing turnout at box offices, any aspiring filmmaker in Japan might lose sight of their movie-making dreams.

Though there will always be art-for-art’s-sake diehards out there with a ready answer, the Nextframe film festival at least is giving young independent directors of all nationalities more marketable reasons to stay behind the camera.

Nextframe is a touring festival of jury-selected international student films. Founded in 1993 by a graduate student of film at Philadelphia’s Temple University, it has been held in Japan since 1999, organized by Temple’s branch campus in Tokyo.

The festival will hold its first Asian Independent Film Forum this year to spotlight emerging independent filmmakers from Asia who lack commercial representation. The AIFF will be open to student films and all independent productions.

At a press conference and panel discussion for the festival held Friday in Tokyo, organizers and industry representatives offered motivation and advice to prospective filmmakers in Japan.

Japanese studios don’t get involved in any independent production until most of the risk expenses have already been made, according to panelist Naoko Tsukeda, manager of film acquisition and production at Pony Canyon, Inc. With profits hard to come by due to shrinking local theater attendance, foreign markets offer the greatest chance of recouping investments, she said, citing Kitano (“Beat”) Takeshi’s cinematic recognition overseas. By offering screenings at festivals all over the world, AIFF organizers hope the forum will serve as a launch pad for Asian films.

In addition, AIFF organizers see the festival as giving fledgling filmmakers an important place to express themselves through their art.

Panel member Atsushi Ogata, a media artist, agreed that attention should be given to more than just whether newcomers’ movies are catapulted onto the international cinema scene. A lack of exhibition venues, as well as scant opportunities to meet and converse with other artists, can make any artistic pursuit uninspiring, said Ogata, who works predominately in Europe.

With government grants currently not even being given for the practice of traditional Japanese arts, such as kabuki, few are holding their breath for state financial support for filmmaking, admitted panelist Aaron Gerow, an associate professor at Yokohama National University.

Asian independent filmmakers can take heart from Nextframe’s success. Nextframe works have been shown at the Cannes film festival and one has been nominated for an Academy Award. Past festival participants have also gone on to direct commercially released feature films, such as Chris Eyre’s “Smoke Signals” and Kimberly Pierce’s “Boys Don’t Cry.”

At this year’s festival, being held this weekend in Tokyo’s Yurakucho district, 30 films out of 412 submissions received from 30 countries will be shown. In addition, the best of 141 films submitted for the first year of the AIFF will be screened.

The festival opens with a special collection of Nextframe and AIFF films. On the following days, three separate programs consisting of 10 Nextframe films each will be presented. Selected AIFF films will be shown at the end of each regular program.