Film festivals can be the product of one person’s passion, but that person is rarely a regular invitee to that most prestigious of festivals: Cannes. Director Naomi Kawase, who has both won Cannes prizes and sat on Cannes juries, fits that description as the executive director of the Nara International Film Festival (NIFF), whose fourth edition will be held Sept. 17-22.
A native of Nara, where she has set many of her documentaries and fiction features, Kawase has described the festival as her way of giving back to a city that, despite its proud history as Japan’s ancient capital, has long taken second place to nearby Kyoto.
Held at venues in central Nara, the festival features a six-film international competition, the Nara-wave student film competition, outdoor screenings under the stars at Nara Park, showings of new and classic films at a revived version of the Obama-za, Nara’s first theater, a film/ceremonial event at the 1,300-year-old Kasuga Grand Shrine to celebrate its recent restoration, and screenings of animated shorts from the Kineko International Children’s Film Festival in Tokyo. In other words, a bit of something for everyone, from kids to tourists who want to see films while taking in the local sights.
Naturally, Kawase has her own signature section, a showcase of films from the Cannes’ short film competition and its Cinefondation program for young filmmakers. She will also conduct a two-day film workshop. The title? What else but The Road to Cannes.