Held at venues in Naha, Okinawa, from Nov. 23 to 29, the first Cinema at Sea festival presented an ambitious and carefully curated program of films from Okinawa as well as Japan, the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. A keyword for the inaugural event was “diversity,” as festival director Huang Yin-yu and his programming team reached beyond major film production centers to places and peoples underrepresented in world cinema.
“We don’t have separate fiction and documentary awards,” Huang says in an interview at Naha’s Sakurazaka Theater, a main festival site. “One reason is that a lot of islands make very few fiction films. Also, many islands have minorities living there without much of a chance to have their voices heard in cinema. It’s easier for them to start with documentaries. So it’s very important for us to include them. As someone with a documentary background, I believe cinema is cinema.”
One example of this programming policy is “God Is a Woman,” Swiss-Panamanian director Andres Peyrot’s documentary that examines the complex feelings the Kuna, indigenous people living on Panama’s San Blas Islands, have about an unreleased documentary made about them in 1975 by acclaimed French filmmaker Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau. Kuna elders interviewed by Peyrot recall Gaisseau’s stay — and his exoticizing approach to their culture — with a mix of nostalgia and criticism. However, when they finally see a print of the film at a public screening, four decades after Gaisseau shot it, their reaction to seeing themselves, as well as long-departed relatives, is simply moving.