A Movie Capital 映画の都 Dir: Toshio Iizuka (1991) [Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival]

A Movie CapitalYIDFF A Movie Capital Case

映画の都ー山形国際ドキュメンタリー映画祭’89 Eiga no Miyako – Yamagata Kokusai Dokyumentari- Eigasai ‘89

Release Date: March 25th, 1991

Duration: 98 mins.

Director: Toshio Iizuka

Writer: N/A

Starring: Hiroshi Teshigahara, Shinsuke Ogawa, Stephen Teo, Peggy Chiao Hsiung-ping, Raquel Gerber, Jon Jost, Katheryn Taverner, Alan Adelson,

Yamagata Site

The Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF) is now a treasured biannual event that brings together filmmakers and audiences in programmes designed to showcase films as well as generate new talents and works. This commitment to cultivating community engagement and individual talent was present in the intentions of organisers and attendees from its inception as seen in A Movie Capital, an informative and enjoyable record of the inaugural YIDFF, Asia’s first documentary film festival.

A Movie Capital

A Movie Capital was Toshio Iizuka’s debut work after being part of pioneering filmmaker Shinsuke Ogawa’s Ogawa Productions for around 20 years and working with the collective on documentaries covering topics like the Sanrizuka Struggle. As Ogawa Productions were working in Yamagata prefecture, they were best placed to help organisers establish and document the inaugural YIDFF in 1989 and Iizuka comes off as the right pick for the job as he marshals the assembled footage to create a film that locates the event’s place in history and its meaning to participants.

The festival was commissioned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Yamagata city administration. Ambitious in scope, it featured 221 films from 36 countries and a wide variety of guests who were flown in from around the world. Documenting all of this must have been quite an undertaking for Iizuka and his team, which included Ogawa on editing duties, but they channels different aspects into a coherent experience by using narration and intercutting key footage from other filmmaker’s films and vignettes from day-to-day activities in chronological order that mimics the festival experience. 

Iizuka opens with a prologue dedicated to politically-driven Dutch documentary director Joris Ivens. We learn from the narrator that he fostered new talent and endeavoured to find new ways of presenting documentaries. Iizuka convincingly makes the case that Iven’s ideals were shared by YIDFF’s organisers and participants as he assembles the footage in the remainder of the film to show how the festival became the nexus point for connections that led to creativity between international filmmakers and between the film world and the Yamagata region.

In a heart-warming montage, we see the people of Yamagata preparing the city for an international event as volunteers place posters in public places, bronze statues for awards are cast via traditional methods, and the kids of Takiyama Primary School marching band practise hard for an opening ceremony involving cinematic luminaries like Hiroshi Teshigahara.

Building on this sight of civic engagement, the film seamlessly segues into a more fly-on-the-wall style as it shows some of the films and the people attending. This sequence makes it feel like becoming part of the audience and going to various screenings and talks which we can see are a rich variety of topics: World War II – Lodz Ghetto (Dirs: Katheryn Taverner, Alan Adelson) – ongoing conflicts in Communist countries – The Invincible Ones (Dir: Andrzej Marek Drazewski) – and the place of black people in Brazil – Ori (Dir: Raquel Gerber). The impromptu Q&As caught on camera crackle with liveliness and curiosity as both local cinephiles, thirsting for information, and international directors, eager to explain, are shown talking deeply about the works, samples of which we get to see. As they talk, they overcome language barriers and share ideas and this gets across the importance of the festival as a physical space that allows cross-cultural interactions and the ability to discuss challenging topics.


Indeed, the festival found itself perfectly placed to be that space as it came into life at a time when innovations by SONY and JVC saw the rise of camera equipment/camcorders that allowed people to document more easily what was going on in unique ways as the world was wracked by political events like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the repression of peoples by authoritarian regimes.

YIDFF found itself subject to the very same forces as seen in the Tiananmen Square Incident footage smuggled out of China and handed to organisers and also in how guests are being detained in their countries, one director, for example, was on trial for making a film about the Gwangju Massacre in Korea. The resulting panel discussions, with missing members, and off-the-cuff interviews are places of frank discussions of political situations and it drives home the fact that the festival and the filmmakers are inextricably linked to the world around them

From this awareness and active engagement with the medium and political subjects comes an interesting but defining moment when a talk about documentaries in Asia brings up the lack of Asian films in the Competition section at YIDFF. This, along with the constant questioning over what a documentary is and what it can do and how they can help the world, gives rise to a pledge of solidarity to help broaden the scope of and strengthen the ties of documentaries in Asia and in a wonderfully circular way, we understand that participants are staying true to the ideals referenced earlier in the film. Having found YIDFF as an important chance to meet other filmmakers, we see on screen a grassroots movement formed and, as time has revealed, furthering its goals is something that the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival has continued to do.

And so, an entire documentary festival covering huge swathes of history and shaped by momentous events that would define the age, is brought to our screens in this vital documentary that is always easy to follow and quite inspiring.

A Movie Capital is one of 10 films from the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival that are available to stream worldwide (excluding Japan) on DAFilms. Their availiability lasts for 3 weeks from January 17 to February 06, 2022 and THE FIRST WEEK IS FREE!

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