Festival to screen Taiji dolphin-slaughter film

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Bowing to international pressure, the Tokyo International Film Festival announced Wednesday it will screen the controversial award-winning American documentary about the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, at the nine-day event in October.

The decision to screen “The Cove,” which has already soured relations between Taiji and the town of Broome, its sister city in Australia, attracted attention following media reports that it had been rejected for what the film’s director called a “hypocritical reason.”

When organizers on Wednesday announced the lineup for the 22nd annual film festival, TIFF Chairman Tom Yoda singled out “The Cove,” explaining the decision to include the documentary was made after the festival had reached an agreement with the movie’s producers to take full responsibility should any problems arise from the screening.

“We had initially decided not to include this movie out of concern that it may bring controversy, but we have received a lot of international criticism,” Yoda said.

He added that festival administrators carefully studied the issues involved, such as the right to freedom of expression. Yoda did not elaborate on what he meant by “controversy.”

Because the decision was made at the last minute, “The Cove” was listed in a supplement to the official program handed out during the news conference.

“It’s a really good day for dolphins and Japanese people,” director Louie Psihoyos told The Japan Times by phone from Sweden. “Japanese people for the most part do not know about the high levels of mercury in dolphin meat. This film will hopefully once and for all settle the argument these animals shouldn’t be eaten for food because of extremely high levels of mercury.”

The 90-minute documentary won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January. It has yet to be released in Japan but has been shown overseas, including in the United States and Europe, where it has received favorable reviews.

In August, The Toronto Star quoted Psihoyos as saying that TIFF had rejected the documentary.

In the Aug. 5 article, Psihoyos quoted an unnamed festival director as saying the festival was funded in part by the government, which did not want “The Cove” to be shown. The director added, however, that it would be highly hypocritical not to show the movie at the festival, whose theme this year is protecting the environment.

In response to an e-mail inquiry by The Japan Times, Psihoyos declined to reveal the name of the festival director.

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, however, TIFF spokeswoman Sanae Koyama told The Japan Times that even though the film festival is partly funded by the government, this has no bearing on which films are selected for screening.

In addition, the festival does not reveal which movies are under consideration, she said, out of respect for the makers whose movies are rejected.

“We receive over 700 movies for consideration, and so it is impossible to give reasons why each movie was accepted or rejected. Many also do not want it known that they have submitted their work to the competition. For many reasons, we just don’t give out the information regarding which movies are being considered or rejected for showing,” Koyama said.

While applicants must follow certain submission rules, the details such as the criteria of the selection process are not shared with any parties, Koyama said.

This year, TIFF received a total of 743 nondocumentary movies for consideration, from which 15 were chosen.

Organizers have not yet decided under which category “The Cove” will be shown.

The organizer did not reveal how many films were initially considered for noncompetition categories.

The movie prompted the local council of Broome, a town on the coast of Western Australia, to vote unanimously to suspend its sister-city relationship with Taiji.

In late August, the local Japanese pearl festival in Broome was threatened with cancellation when some sponsors withdrew their support.