Following the 31st TIFF Closing Ceremony, the five members of the International Competition Jury and the festival’s award winners sat down with the international press to share their impressions.
The first half of the press conference was devoted to the five members of the International Competition Jury, with Jury President Brillante Ma Mendoza making the opening remarks: “First of all, I’d like to thank the jury members for their work and the wonderful time we had together. We’re all happy with the winners, there were no arguments or fighting, and we had fun.”
Hollywood producer Bryan Burk said, “This is my first time participating as a juror and I have four great new friends and saw some amazing movies. I look forward to everyone discovering the films that they haven’t yet seen, particularly the award winners.”
Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti remarked, “The interesting part of this experience for me is that the five of us come from different countries, speak different languages with different cultures; but as soon as we met and spent time together, we were best friends. The unity that we shared and work that we did together was wonderful. I will really miss the four of them.”
Said Hong Kong producer-director Stanley Kwan, “I keep saying that there are two places that I feel safe and secure: the first is being a director on the set, being protected by my crew. The second is sitting in the theater, watching films. It was my great honor to be here, watching 16 films with these five jurors. We had great times. We had certain common ideas about the films we chose [for awards].”
Added Japanese actress Kaho Minami, “This was my first experience as a juror at an international film festival, and I’ve made wonderful friends with these wonderful filmmakers. We all treated each film with love and had great discussions. This experience is a huge encouragement to me in my career. Cinema is compelling, whether as a jury member, as an audience member or as an actress on set. I look forward to getting back on set, and to continuing my relationship with these four great people. I feel like the world is closer now.”
Asked what the specific elements were that led to the decisions for the awards, Mendoza said, “Every day we watched three films and then discussed them. We were not strict and formal, but we discussed what the merits of the films were, and eventually, we came up with the best five, and that’s how we decided which films would receive the awards.”
He elaborated, “It wasn’t easy to decide on which awards we were giving to each film; but the Grand Prix winner was a unanimous decision. From the five films we [short-listed], we then distributed the other awards based on their merits.”
Pressed to explain whether Amanda was given the Grand Prix because of the story, the theme or the quality of the film’s aesthetics, Burk said, “Kaho said, ‘It’s Amanda!’ It really affected all of us. The performances were very powerful, the screenplay was powerful. It could have taken many directions and not worked, but in the end, it all came together, and we were all very moved.”
There had been a comment during the ceremony that the director was “very Japanese,” and Minami was asked what she thought. She answered, “I never really felt that the film was Japanese in a sense, but it’s about people who are left behind. The story is portrayed in a delicate way. Even though there is heartbreak, there’s an emotional void, you still have to eat, go to school and live your life. The film delicately depicts the human heart and how [this family] struggles.”
Since the four main awards went to European films, the jury was asked why no Asian films had won. Alidoosti said, “We are in Asia, yes, and many of the films are here. But as we said at the opening press conference, we promised to forget about which country the film came from. We never read synopses before we watched a work. I think this was the right way to approach it. My preference would be to give all the awards to Asian films, since there are so many Western festivals. But we aren’t here to distribute awards [based on country]. I hope that Japanese films will be way more successful in this festival as well as others in the future. But if a film is in competition, it must be understood that it is in competition with films from elsewhere.”
The Award winners were then invited onto the stage during the second half of the press conference.
The Japanese Cinema Splash Best Film Award had gone to director Katsumi Nojiri, for his dramedy Lying to Mom. Nojiri, making his directorial debut after a long career as an assistant director, was asked how it felt to present his film to an international audience. He answered, “I was worried about whether this could be understood by an international audience, but the award may be proof that it can. This is a very Japanese family, with Japanese issues, like a hikkikomori recluse, suicide and not a lot of communication between family members. It seems to me that families overseas talk with each other more.”
He was also asked about the actress Mai Kiryu, who won the Tokyo Gemstone Award for her role in the film. “I was very happy about her receiving the award,” he said. “She’s really grown as an actress. During the shoot, she struggled a bit, but I’m sure this award will give her more confidence. I’m sure she’s going to be a great actress; I have high expectations for her.”
Nojiri also spoke of his own award. “I was also very happy to receive this award for Best Film. It’s a small-scale film and I was hard on my crew, very demanding on the set. I’m happy to thank them with this award. But the biggest gift for us all will be for people to watch it.”
The new category of Japanese Cinema Splash Best Director Award had been split on its first outing, by veteran Masaharu Take for The Gun, and first-time director Seiji Tanaka for Melancholic.
Take, whose lead actor, Nijiro Murakami, received the Tokyo Gemstone Award for acting in the film, commented, “Mr. Murakami really took up the challenge of doing a role that not many actors would want to do, he’s not empathetic. He put his heart and soul into it, and I’m very thankful. I think it was all about timing, which was excellent, and I was able to cast this young actor, just 20 years old, in The Gun. I want to thank him for existing at just the right moment. The more I think about it, the more I think filmmaking is all about timing.”
Tanaka said, “My story is set in a Japanese bathhouse, the quintessential Japanese cultural element and I thought it might bode well with the international audience. But no one even mentioned the bathhouse, they just praised the performances and the story and the protagonist’s struggle.” Asked how his cast and crew had reacted to the announcement of the award, he admitted, “This was my first experience taking part in a film festival, so when Mr. Take got the award first, I just watched him. I didn’t pay any attention at all to the cast and crew. Afterwards, they were all waiting, and we were all very happy.”
The Spirit of Asia Award by the Japan Foundation Asia Center went to Huang Huang’s feature debut Wushu Orphan, the tale of a new teacher and a wayward student in inland China. The director was asked about the amazing performances of the child actors: Was the one who escaped from the school a professional?
Huang replied, “None of the children are actors, they are actual students of the martial arts school in the film, essentially playing themselves. As for the character who escapes, it was a difficult search until, one day, I saw a student being scolded by a teacher, and thought, ‘This is the child we should use.’ His character is actually as you see it in the film. His grades aren’t good in real life, and he transferred from a wushu class to an acting class, which didn’t help.”
He went on to say, “As a young director, I feel I’m at a fork in the road. You go one way, you can strive for artistic excellence. The other way, you strive to make commercial films. Having received this award, I think I’ll stick with my style and not allow myself to be sucked into big commercial filmmaking.”
A First Farewell, a portrait of a Muslim farmboy caring for his Uyghur mother, which marks the directorial debut of Lina Wang, took the Asian Future Best Film Award. She commented, “When my name was announced, it was quite a surprise and my mind went a bit blank. I would like to thank the people at TIFF. After seeing past recipients of TIFF awards, you can see that a lot of attention is paid to the aesthetics of the films. And I would also like to say that this award will be shared with the children you see in the film.”
Asked what her relationship to the Uyghur are, Wang responded, “I am of the Han people, and I set the story in the region where I was brought up. My father is a cameraman, and when I was a child, I used to ride on his bicycle with him when he went to shoot the Uyghur. So there’s a spiritual connection between me and the people of the Uyghur region.”
Director Junji Sakamoto’s Another World, the story of a PTSD sufferer returning to his rural hometown and reconnecting with his childhood friends, took home TIFF’s coveted Audience Award, boding well for the film’s theatrical opening in Japan next February. Taking the stage, the director commented, “When I got into the Competition section here, I thought for a split second that I wanted the Grand Prix. But having participated in many international film festivals, I always envied the winners of the Audience Awards. Not having known there was an Audience Award in TIFF’s Competition category, I was really happy to receive it.
“I’m also relieved because when I cast [megastar] Goro Inagaki, it was on my shoulders to make as high-quality a film as possible. I felt a heavy sense of responsibility. I feel like I was being tested by my [whole] cast and crew, and now I can go to them and say, ‘It was okay, right?”
Asked what he thought about the Tokyo International Film Festival, since it was the first time he’d participated, Sakamoto replied, “It’s the only international film festival where I don’t have to pack a bag. I have limited English communication abilities, so when I go to festivals overseas, I have limited opportunities to interact. I’m like a wallflower at parties, hoping no one comes over to talk with me. So this was really enjoyable, being able to interact with audiences outside the theater.”
Since Sakamoto has focused on male protagonists throughout his career, he was asked whether he would soon depict a female protagonist. “I’m always trying not to copy myself and make the same film over and over. I’m often taking on genres that I’m not used to, such as The Projects, which partially takes place in outer space, and Ernesto, which takes place in Cuba. So I think I may go into another direction again, going beyond borders. But I don’t know whether I’ll have a female protagonist. It’s all about fate, rather than intent.”
Director Ralph Fiennes, better known for his acclaimed career as an actor, took home the Award for Best Artistic Contribution for his sumptuous biopic of ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev, The White Crow. Fiennes’ producer, Gabrielle Tana, was asked about the challenges of bringing ballet to cinema. “I just want to say again how thrilling it is to receive the award, and I’m sure Ralph will feel the same. I’m waiting to call Ralph about it — he’s in New York right now. It was a lot of trial and error, and we had to reshoot things so that it was captivating in the way we wanted it to be. We worked with a great cinematographer and a great choreographer. It was a challenge, but I think we managed to get there.”
She was also asked about Fiennes’ acting in the film. Said Tana, “We always thought he’d be great in it, and I think he always knew it was a great part. Finally, we got to a place with the financing and he finally agreed to do it. He had so many people in the dance community who had known Alexander Pushkin, who said to him that he was the only one who could have done it.”
Asked about why Fiennes’ Russian was so strong, Tana explained, “Ralph had worked in Russia, working on a film called Two Women a few years ago. After that, he actually spent a lot of time working on his Russian with a teacher, then spent a few months being immersed in the language for this film. He had an amazing dialogue coach during the shoot. [The film’s star] Oleg Ivenko, when he started the film, had no English at all. He spent a lot of time every day during the shoot, and I saw him two weeks ago, and he’s gobbled it up and it’s extraordinary how good his English is now.”
Italian helmer Edoardo De Angelis, who won the Award for Best Director for his The Vice of Hope, a riveting neorealist tale about a human trafficker who has second thoughts, appeared also on behalf of his wife and leading actress, Pina Turco, the festival’s Best Actress Award winner. Turco was back in Italy, attending her sister’s wedding. De Angelis was asked about the origin of the story. “Strangely, I can’t remember how the idea came about,” he said, “but I remember it was a very cold winter with a sense of death surrounding me. I wanted to light a fire and give birth anew to nature, and I got the idea of someone giving birth to someone or something.”
Commenting on the film’s visuals, he said, “This precarious balance between beauty and ugliness is what attracted me to that location, where in the same frame, we can find both. It’s a fight, and you never know who will win.
The protagonist is saved in the film by someone is not family, but a stranger. Asked whether that’s what he wanted to convey, the lack of family structure, he said, “I would say family is life-or-death important, since they’re the first filters on our world. Home is where no one hates you, where there are loved ones and people are waiting for you. You’ll find the flames of love, and if you have a place like that, it’s home.”
Asked about working with his wife, De Angelis said, “To deeply love someone is to have access to the hidden parts of this person, perhaps one that s/he hasn’t yet discovered themselves. Pina gave that hidden part to the shooting and helped make this into a film that we can give as a gift to our audience. As to the doom and darkness that you see in the film are parts of our characters, but they give you hints that we must act to change the situation.”
The Special Jury Prize went to Michael Noer for Before the Frost, which also took home the Best Actor Award for Jesper Christensen, who was not present in Tokyo, but had appeared on a video feed during the Award Ceremony. Christensen plays a poverty-stricken farmer in the 19th century in the film, and the director was asked about greed.
Noer responded, “Without having kids, I wouldn’t have had the same understanding and sensibility about the father. It’s a work of fiction, a fable, but as a parent, I could relate to making sacrifices. If life is a tree of life, where I’m a son and a father and hopefully someday a grandfather, then to be aware of that, and to stay on the right side of the moral force — which [the character] Jens does not — is a vital part of being a parent. I could also relate to the fact of having some ambitions on behalf of my children. Since it’s a fable, we wanted to set it in a different time. You don’t have to go back very far in time, even in a culture like Denmark, where we consider gender equality to be very important, to find gender inequality.”
Producer Matilda Appelin commented, “We’re very happy and super proud to win the Special Jury Prize. I screamed out loud. Also, to get Jesper Christensen’s award made us super happy because he does an amazing job in the film.”
Added producer Rene Ezra, “We’re very, very honored. The film hasn’t opened in Denmark yet, and to bring the good news home to the people we worked with will help us promote the film, and the wonderful work that Jesper and so many others have done under Michael’s direction.”
On working with his star, Noer said, “In many ways, Jesper as an actor and on a personal level has such a sympathetic appearance. He’s very open and charming, so we wrote the film to him. We wanted to make a Danish Western. He’s the sweet version of the American Clint Eastwood. We let a man we like do very bad things, combining light and darkness. We could never imagine anyone else playing this role. We were proud and happy, and I loved working with him.”
Concluded Noer, “We’re living in times that are heavy on information but lacking in historical knowledge. That’s why we keep repeating the same mistakes. Often in Denmark, if you look closely into things, you find that people don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s why it was interesting for me to do a work with a lot of research.”
French Competition entry Amanda, about a young man who must take care of his 7-year-old niece in the aftermath of a senseless act of terror in Paris, won both the festival’s top award, the Tokyo Grand Prix/The Governor of Tokyo Award, as well as the Best Screenplay Award by WOWOW. Amanda is writer-director Mikhaël Hers’ third feature, and he appeared twice on video feeds from France during the Award Ceremony, since he had had to return home before the festival’s end.