Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Interview: Chris MaGee co-programmer of the Shinsedai Cinema Festival (Part 2)

In part two of my interview with Shinsedai Cinema Festival co-programmer Chris MaGee, we continue our conversation about this year’s festival. MaGee provides insight into the film selection processes as well as some of the guests who will be attending the festival. For those of you who missed part one, that discussion can be found here:

Now in its 4th year, Shinsedai has made some bold changes in everything from moving the festival venue to The Revue Cinema downtown to having a more prominent online marketing presence. Would you say that this the most important year for Shinsedai?

Chris MaGee: I would say that you're very right in saying that this would be the most important year for the festival. The reason being that this year Shinsedai is probably the closest to our original conception of the event that we've ever had. We're not the Toronto International Film Festival, that's for sure. Nor do we want to be. They do what they do beautifully. What we we've always wanted to is reach the widest spectrum of film lovers in the city with the most compelling sampling of film from Japan; but at the same time keep the event small enough so that not only Toronto movie-goers but our visiting guests from Japan feel like this is the best night out at the movies that they've ever had. Yes, we specialize in Japanese films, but at the end of the day these are amazing films. Period. How often are audiences going to get to see a documentary like The Naked Summer, this exploration of the strange but utterly gorgeous world of butoh dance? When do Toronto audiences get a chance to see the kind of Japanese animation like the kind we'll be featuring in our Beyond Anime programme? And then there is our Pink Film Double Bill, the first time that these erotic independent films will be screened theatrically in the city. This doesn't happen very often.

I'm glad you mentioned The Revue Cinema as well. I mean, it's celebrating its 100th anniversary! To play even a small part in the history of a Toronto institution like The Revue is an honour. The flipside of that is that we're reaching out to a whole new audience. Imagine the stress of throwing a big party for a whole bunch of amazing people, but people you don't know... yet. "Yet" is the operative word though, because we feel pretty strongly that after this year Toronto audiences will know just how fun and eye-opening the Shinsedai Cinema Festival is.

How do you go about selecting which films will be screened at the festival? Is it all based on submissions you receive or do you go to other film festivals to scout for films that would suit the overall feel of Shinsedai?

CM: It's a mix of both submissions and films that we actively solicit. The final line-up goes through numerous incarnations as the year goes on and Jasper and I swap films back and forth over the Atlantic, although there are always a few films that hit you right away. One of those for me was End of the Night written and directed by Daisuke Miyazaki, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's assistant director on Tokyo Sonata. I actually met Miyazaki through a filmmaker friend at a party in Tokyo last fall and the minute I watched it I knew I wanted to share it with audiences here. Then you have films like our closing night film Tentsuki which I found out about through another friend in Japan, but that I had to track down a screener of so we could consider it for this year. And it turned out to be great and surreal and it ended up making the cut. On average we either solicit or have submitted about 120 films, both features and shorts combined. We feel a bit brutal cutting that number down to the completed 12 screenings slots. There are a lot of really amazing films that for various factors don't end up making the final cut. But there's always next year!

In the past, Shinsedai has had the privilege of having several award winning directors appear in person to introduce their films. Who are some of the confirmed guest that we can expect to see at this year’s festival?

CM: This year I think we've got one of the most exciting guest rosters that we've ever had, and we've had some amazing folks visit Toronto for the fest. We're very excited to have Yu Irie, the director of our opening night film Ringing in Their Ears making the trip to the city. Irie is probably one of, if not the hottest young director in Japan today. He got his big break in 2009 when his hip-hop film 8000 Miles (Saitama Rapper) won top prize at that year's Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival. Since then he's made two sequels to that film, plus Ringing in Their Ears, which is this amazing comedy/ drama based around real-life rock band Shinsei Kamattechan.

Another guest we're very excited about is Sakichi Sato, whose comedy Zero Man vs. the Half Virgin is screening on July 13th. Sato is a face that many fans of Japanese film would recognize. He's played roles in everything from Takashi Miike's Gozu to Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1, but it's his accomplishments behind the camera that are even more remarkable. Sato wrote the screenplays for Miike's Ichi the Killer and Gozu, plus he wrote and directed the underground cult hit Tokyo Zombie. I mean, Sato is a lovely guy, but his imagination is... odd.

Rounding out the guests are Daisuke Miyazaki, who like I mentioned wrote and directed End of the Night. His film is like a neo-noir hit man drama, and if you love the work of Takeshi Kitano you'll love Miyazaki's film. Also there's the very talented filmmaker Kotaro Terauchi whose half-hour short film Mrs. Akko and Her Husband is screening as part of our Yubari Fanta Special. This is probably one of the most honest, warts-and-all depictions of marriage that I've ever seen. Sometimes very funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but truly amazing stuff.

Lastly, for those who may have very limited knowledge of Japanese cinema in general, what are some of the titles in this year’s festival that you would recommend as a nice introduction into the world of Japanese independent cinema?

CM: All of them!! Once you go through the cutting and compromises that we have to go through to pull the line-up together you really build a relationship with each film, so it's hard to choose just one or two without feeling like you're being unfair to the others. Plus it's hard to say any one film could represent the world of Japanese independent cinema. It's such a diverse playing field.

I will say that I would feel people would be missing out if they didn't see the amazing work in some of our short film programmes like Beyond Anime and From the Great White North: Yubari Fanta Special. Sometimes people shy away from short film programmes and they really shouldn't, especially in these cases. I'll also say that people shouldn't miss our special screening of the 1938 horror film Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen or Battle Girls & Bondage, our Pink Film Double Bill. The former because it truly represents the roots of the Japanese horror genre, and most importantly all box office proceeds from it will be going to Tohoku relief; and the latter because I think that folks will be talking about the Pink Film Double Bill screening for a long time after the fest. The content of the films is one thing. They're sexy! They push the envelope! But we're also offering a discount at the door to anyone who shows up dressed in adult fancy dress or outfits inspired by the adult world of pink films. Makes me wonder who I'll be sitting next to in the theatre. That alone is reason to come out.

Advanced tickets for the Shinsedai Cinema Festival officially go on sale tomorrow.

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