Once an obscure corner of a film world dominated by the fantasies of Hollywood, documentaries are now drawing more attention from both paying audiences and wider society. And the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, whose 15th edition unspools from Oct. 5 to 12 in Yamagata, has long been broadening awareness of the form in Japan and Asia.

Launched in 1989 and held biannually, the festival was not the most obvious candidate to become Asia's most important documentary event. Located on the Sea of Japan side of the northern Tohoku region, Yamagata is hardly a filmmaking hub. But a core of dedicated professionals has made YIDFF not only a showcase for the latest documentaries from Japan, Asia and around the world, but also a venue for fans, scholars and filmmakers that generates discussions, publications — and new films.

"The Yamagata festival is known for the food, the sake and the exchanges that occur there," says Haruka Hama, director of YIDFF's Tokyo office. "People get together to eat, drink and talk about new films. And directors often get ideas for their next projects."