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Provincial Film Festivals Showcase Local Talent (January 13, 2005)

The Twilight Samurai
Filming The Twilight Samurai (Shinshu Ueda Commission)
In Japan, there's no such thing as a typical film festival. The events range in scale from the Tokyo International Film Festival, which attracts some of Hollywood's biggest stars, to small local gatherings where short films by amateur moviemakers are screened. The events' locations are similarly wide ranging. While the film festivals in the big cities tend to get much of the attention, there is also a rapidly increasing number being held in provincial areas throughout the country.

Support from Many Quarters
Some 108 film festivals are known to have been held throughout Japan in 2004, an increase of 25 from 2002, according to the Pia Research Institute. The festivals' essential role is to showcase filmmakers' latest works. It is an increasingly important job, as the number of filmmakers has skyrocketed in recent years, due largely to the spread of digital technology, which has made filmmaking easier than ever before.

The government and the entertainment industry have come to view film festivals as trade shows, where Japan's movie-making technology can be effectively sold to the world. The government encourages many of the festivals by providing funding. In particular, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry offers support as a means of helping filmmakers to develop their content and promoting exports. The Agency for Cultural Affairs is also becoming increasingly involved. In fiscal 2004 (April 2004 to March 2005), the agency gave financial assistance to 43 festivals. Just two years earlier, that number was only 13.

Many film producers from all over the world seem to be impressed. They come to Japan to attend the festivals, apparently looking for the inspiration and fresh ideas that will enable their production firms to produce something more than just another Hollywood sequel.

Regional Festivals Also Popular
Japan's major annual film event is the Tokyo International Film Festival. At the 2004 event in late October, 351 films were screened to a total audience of 176,000 moviegoers. Outside the big cities, meanwhile, regional film festivals continue to attract decent-sized crowds of their own.

Typical of these regional events is the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, held in the city of Yubari on the northern island of Hokkaido. In 1990, not long before the festival was inaugurated, Yubari's last coal mine closed, and city authorities were looking for a way to revitalize the regional economy. The annual event has since been held 15 times, and the February 2004 festival attracted a record 27,000 attendees. The event's success in giving an economic boost to a former mining town has inspired other provincial communities to stage their own film festivals. In many cases, the events have given the towns and cities a chance to make effective use of the grand halls and other facilities built during the years of the bubble economy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

To their relief, these local officials have also found that film festivals tend to be much cheaper and easier to stage than most other large-scale events, such as concerts and recitals, as there is no need to enlist the services of large numbers of musicians or other specialists.

Some of the local authorities do much more than bring in the films and screen them. They actively encourage filmmakers to use their regions as movie settings and then use their film festivals to play up the locally shot movies, giving the events a heavy local flavor.

That was the case at the Ueda Jokamachi Movie Festival in Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture, which began in 1997. Two films shot in Ueda, Tasogare Seibei (Twilight Samurai) and Supai Zoruge, were screened there. The city authorities subsequently discovered a rise in the number of tourists to the city - many of them fans of these movies.

The popularity of regional film festivals is an indication of the vibrant regional cultures that flourish outside Japan's major cities. It would be no surprise to see some of the original films screened at these festivals serving as the inspiration for future Hollywood blockbusters.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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