Tokyo Film Festival Jury Speaks Out on Gender Parity

Tokyo film festival jury - H 2018
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"Everybody has to play a role" and "we are proceeding with very small steps," the two female jurors said, while producer Bryan Burk offered, "There is no shortage of talented women that should be up here, far more talented and respected than myself."

The jury of the 31st Tokyo International Film Festival met the press on Friday, highlighting that progress towards equal representation of women at the Japanese event and other festivals is being made, but only slowly.

The jury for the main competition is led by Filipino director Brilliante Mendoza, who is joined by U.S. producer Bryan Burk (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Westworld), director Stanley Kwan from Hong Kong and two actresses, Iran's Taraneh Alidoosti and Japan's Kaho Minami.

In the #MeToo era, Asian festivals have been dragging their feet on the 50-50 by 2020 gender parity pledge that was launched in Cannes and has been signed by a slew of fests.

It was no surprise in that context that one question on Friday focused on the small number of female-directed efforts in the Tokyo competition — namely one, Brazilian Gabriela Amaral Almeida's The Father's Shadow, out of 16 movies — and the responsibility of festivals and juries worldwide in ensuring better representation.

"I think everybody has to play a role in this equal representation," said Alidoosti. "But we are jury members, and we have to work with what we've got. If we can can call this a problem or an issue of women being the minority among filmmakers, that is because women are the minority … everywhere."

She added that "these things have to get resolved with little steps, year by year, step by step." Noting that festival staff had told her that this year marks the first time the event had two female jury members, she concluded, "So maybe that can be a step."

The second female jury member also focused on the gradual progress. "In our world, it would be natural to have this proportion at 50-50, half-half," Minami offered. "But this year, we have two members of the jury, and maybe next year we might have three, and maybe the next year or in the future we might have a female jury president [which has been the case only once in the fest's history]. I believe we are proceeding with very small steps."

The Tokyo festival overall is taking "gradual steps" towards offering more female-made movies in its lineup, the actress argued, noting the stronger representation of female filmmakers outside the competition. "It is a festival that is reflecting what is happening in the world. So I hope and anticipate that those issues would be reflected."

Minami also mentioned how Cate Blanchett spoke out for women at Cannes, adding that "it’s important that we speak up" and "we are seeing these improvements" and more awareness.  

“I’m just upset that we have to continue to [address] these questions, and I look forward to not having three female jurors, but having five female jurors represented, and not just one year, but many years," Burk said. "In recent memory, my favorite American movie about Japan was made by a female director, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. There is no shortage of talented women that should be up here, far more talented and respected than myself."

He concluded: "It’s crazy that we have to be asked these questions. I understand that we have to keep making it a point. Hopefully these questions will go away, and it will become the norm that we are having diversity of gender and races and countries."

Mendoza in his response noted that "it’s a very political question" and that he is all for "equality and representation," mentioning that 10 of his 13 films are "all about women empowerment" and highlighting that the Philippines is a "matriarchal country" having had two female presidents.  

"But a film festival is a film festival," he added. "We decide [winners] on the film, not on the gender." Mendoza lauded the fact that "slowly there is a woman presence everywhere, and the mere fact that there is awareness is a big factor." Festivals now being aware of a long-running issue "is a big leap," he added. "Eventually, we all want, of course, women to have representation everywhere."

Tokyo competition programming director Yoshi Yatabe said Friday in a conversation with reporters that the festival received about 1,800 submissions, and while he could not break out how many were from female directors, he said that "I can feel it is not a lot and I feel it is not enough."

Yatabe continued: "If the number of submissions by female directors is less than [that from] male directors and if it comes from the fact that maybe there is a barrier or obstacles for female directors to make a film compared to male directors, this is a problem."

So how does Yatabe pick films for the Tokyo competition? "When I do the selection, usually I don’t know the sex of the director before watching the film. I just watch the film. If I like the film, I go checking the director’s background," he explained. But with just 16 slots for competition selections, he emphasized that "I am not really trying to have eight male-directed films or eight female-directed films. What matters for me basically is the quality of the film, of the result."

Concluded Yatabe: "I am always trying to encourage and help female directors. But if I choose a female director only [because] she is female, it’s not fair for the male director doing good work."

All jurors said on Friday that they were looking forward to seeing great movies. "I always think sitting in the theater, the big theater, watching a film, gives me a very secure feeling," Kwan shared. "So I am looking forward to watch these 16 good films."

Asked how he and the jury will decide on the main award, Mendoza said it will be about "applying the cinematic language" more than simply "liking" a movie: "We are not just watching like an ordinary audience. ... It is important that we combine what is a moving film and at the same time if the film was able to apply the cinematic language."