U.S. docs big in Japan fest

Three of the 15 feature-length documentaries competing for big cash prizes at the fourth biennial Yamagata Intl. Documentary Film Festival (Oct. 3-9) are American made. They are “Crumb,” by Terry Zwigoff; “Hoop Dreams,” by Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx; and “Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business,” by Helena Solberg, a co-production with Brazil. Other U.S. titles, although in non-competitive sidebars, include “Song Journey,” by Arlene Bowman and “A.K. A. Don Bonus,” by Sokly Ny and Spencer Nakasako.

The jury includes U.S. filmmaker Barbara Hammer; Tracey Moffatt, Australia; Kudo Eiichi, Japan; Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan; and Tarr Bela, Hungary. A separate jury of two – Wong Ain-ling of Hong Kong, and Tamra Masaki of Japan – will award the Ogawa Shinsuke prize of $5,000, named for Japan’s famed late documentary director.

New this year are special invitational works, called “Seven Transfigurations in Electronic Shadows,” including Bowman’s “Song Journey,” “Spiritual Voices” by Russia’s Alexander Sokurov, a docu on the recent Kobe earthquake and seven titles from Artavazd Peleshyan of Armenia.

Located in northwest Japan, Yamagata fest is dedicated to the spirit of American documentary pioneers Robert and Frances Flaherty; Yamagata’s grand prize is named after the Flahertys.

Asian buyers are a major presence at the Yamagata event, which is supported by the Motion Picture Assn. of Japan, Foreign Film Importers/Distributors of Japan, the Japan Film Library Council/Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, Japan Assn. of Cultural Film Producers, the Japan Foundation and the city of Yamagata. The festival’s director is Kazuyuki Yano, assisted by co-ordinators Markus Nornes and A.A. Gerow, both Americans, and Seiko Ono and Yukio Fukushima.

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