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Hawaii Int’l Film Festival, Part Two: Wisdom from Women Making Movies; Honorees Yue Sai-Kan and Koji Yakusho

Hawaii Int'l Film Festival, Part Two: Wisdom from Women Making Movies; Honorees Yue Sai-Kan and Koji Yakusho

Following Part One of our Hawaii International Film Festival coverage, we turn to the fest’s China Night gala honoring Yue Sai-Kan, the Women Make Movies panel and Career Achievement Award recipient Koji Yakusho’s take on the state of Japanese cinema. It’s all below:

Among HIFF’s Creative Labs was Women Make Movies: The Future is Now, which in addition to celebrating Women Make Movies‘ 40th anniversary, had executive director Debra Zimmerman leading a panel with female filmmakers discussing their work and experiences, and offering advice to fellow women filmmakers.

Here’s eight key points:

1. Lisette Marie Flanary’s (“One Voice,” “American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawaii”) advice to filmmakers, “Be tenacious and passionate.” She acknowledges it can take a long time to find confidence as a filmmaker, and stresses you must be in love with your idea and story (and prepared to spend many, many years with it).

2. Debbie Lum, whose film “Seeking Asian Female” is at HIFF, started out as a editor before falling into the doc field. She feels being obsessive compulsive can be a plus as a filmmaker, and believes that the documentary medium suits women well because of the long gestation period and their innate ability to nurture.

3. Theresa Navarro (who acts and helped produce HIFF’s “Daylight Savings” and “Yes, We’re Open,” and admits “all the films I’ve been in are about sex or food”) advises that its supremely important to understand the relationships in this business, and to recognize that your reputation precedes you.

4. Navarro, as well as the others, hammered home the fact that being a filmmaker today involves fundraising and an outreach plan. Promoting is simply part of the job, and if you’re looking to Kickstarter, you better have a game plan.

5. Ruth Bolan, producer and exec director of PIC (Pacific Islanders Communications; they give grants to films by and for Pacific Islander audiences) says her biggest advice to filmmakers is not to be afraid of ‘No,’ and expect to hear it several times before you hear yes.

6. Boland advises its wise to be collaborative and find the right team, “Work with people who are better than you and scare you” and you’ll get better results.

7. Also, notes Boland, while some barriers to entry into the medium have fallen, all the things that make a great movie have stayed the same. Just because more people have access to the tools doesn’t mean the quality has improved. Democratization is exciting, but it’s collaborative and you need extremely skilled individuals to tell a strong story. Boland says “Standards shouldn’t be exclusional, they should be aspirational.”

8. Flanary enjoys the prevalence and ease of smaller format cameras, particularly for the documentary formart: “they make for more intimate filmmaking; big cameras freak people out.”

Zimmerman admits that the 40th anniversary of Women Make Movies is “a little sad, because not much has changed.” She shared some depressing statistics that highlight just how few women are directing documentaries, and far less still in the narrative field. She hopes in ten years they are back celebrating 50 years and have better statistics to report, but in the meantime she is encouraged by Sundance’s Keri Putman who is committed to studies that will look at WHY the view for women filmmakers is still so grim. An organization called Women Moving Millions is also looking into extensive research that will dig deeper than the current measuring sticks out there.

Of course women aren’t the only ones struggling to get their films made and recognized. And Hollywood trends extend far beyond mainland USA…
Japanese actor Koji Yakusho, who received the fest’s Career Achievement Award and stars in HIFF’s “The Woodsman and the Rain” (as well as some fifteen films that have screened at past editions of HIFF) spoke about Japan’s changing film landscape at his press conference. “Original screenplays are becoming very rare and that’s very unfortunate,” he notes through his translator. There’s an extreme polarization of large films and super small films, which are becoming less and less successful there. But, he says, he “tries not to think out box office” when he chooses his projects, like “The Woodsman.”

While Yakusho has a far wider audience in Japan, he’s also worked on American productions like Inarritu’s “Babel” and Rob Marshall’s “Memoirs of a Geisha.” The biggest difference between Japanese and American productions, he feels, is the “luxurious” length of pre-production on American films, as well as the large crews and extended shoot schedules (He understands that Marshall is said to work at a particularly slow pace.) “But as an actor, once you’re in from of the camera, the work is the same,” he says. He does think there’s something to be said for Japan’s compactness and efficiency.

HIFF’s Gala event, China Night, honored Chinese media icon and entreprenuer Yue Sai-Kan with a HIFF lifetime achievement award and featured a fashion show led by Miss Universe China 2012, Diana Xu. The event benefits HIFF’s Academy for Creative Media, a film student exchange between Hawaii and Shanghai Universities. Another one of HIFF’s programs, the Kupuna Lens, holds workshops for residents over 60 to learn how to create their own short documentary films that screen at the festival. Filmmaker Flanary also teaches that program.

This year’s HIFF also features a Studio Ghibli retrospective; a Green Screen documentary section; New Chinese Cinema (including “Shanghai Calling” and “First Time”); Spotlights on India (including “Invoking Justice”), Japan (“Architecture 101”), Korea (“In Another Country”), Taiwan, Philippines and Pacific Islanders; EuroCinema Hawaii (Christina Petzold’s “Barbara,” Germany’s absorbing Oscar entry, as well as Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone”); American Indies (“I Am Not A Hipster,” “I Am A Ghost”); World Cinema (“Holy Motors,” “Teddy Bear”); and the New American Filmmakers section.

Among the NAF titles are Sean Baker’s “Starlet” and Musa Syeed’s Sundance Audience Award winner “Valley of Saints.” The section is presented by the Vilcek Foundation. Exec director Rick Kinsel tells us “[the] program has proven to be an ideal showcase for bringing widespread attention to the remarkable work of immigrant filmmakers, both in front of and behind the camera. Through our partnership with HIFF, we have presented more than twenty-five films and introduced numerous talented film professionals with diverse backgrounds not only to the audience in Hawaii but also to film lovers all over the United States through the NAF National Film Tour.”

Honolulu locals can still get tickets for these films and more here.

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