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Tokyo Festival Says It Is Listening to Women

Calls for greater female representation and advancement are being made loudly in the West, and latterly in Japan. The Tokyo International Film Festival claims to be listening.

Major film festivals have long been male-dominated, with relatively few women among the top ranks of festival directors, programmers and, in the competition sections, filmmakers.

Tokyo is no exception: All of its directors as well as nearly all of its head programmers have been men since its start in 1985. Women filmmakers have appeared in its competition and other major sections, but the gender balance on this year’s program still skews heavily male.

TIFF director Takeo Hisamatsu voices his support for women’s participation in both the festival but the industry as a whole. “I have been seeking out the views of both my female staff and industry professionals,” he says. “It’s an issue of deep concern to me and I am trying to find answers for what we can do as an international film festival.”

TIFF programming director Yoshi Yatabe insists that there are “no gender borders” in the selection process. But he acknowledges that: “When women directors are in an environment that hinders their filmmaking, that is definitely a problem we have to address.”

Yatabe points to “21st Century Girls,” an omnibus film screening in this year’s Japanese Cinema Splash section, as an example of TIFF’s support. Director and producer U-ki Yamato is a woman, as are the 14 young directors contributing to the project. “I was greatly moved by (Yamato’s) stance and selected ‘21st Century Girl’ as a special screening,” he said.

Currently, the head programmers of all TIFF’s main sections are male, but Yatabe notes that his two predecessors were women, as are many of the programmers working with him. “They are programmers I trust, who happen to be women,” he says. “I don’t respect their opinions just because of their sex.”

A woman on the TIFF staff who asked to remain anonymous commented that “There is no gender gap between the men and women programming for TIFF – there may in fact be more women.” “By extension, I believe there is no need for special treatment of women,” she added.

But she also noted that many of the female staffers at TIFF are working under “unstable conditions” – meaning temporary contracts rather than full-time employment.

Another female staffer explained that “TIFF tries to find talented filmmakers. They don’t apply the filter of gender. All that matters is the quality of the finished film and the talent of its creator.”

Another private sector executive, who previously had a long association with TIFF, points to the historical paucity of women in the festival’s top programming ranks. “TIFF never thought of nurturing or focusing on women’s power,” she told Variety. But the problem goes deeper. “The Japanese industry as a whole, should hire more women in executive positions, under fair conditions. And provide better workplaces for working women, with a job, family and kids.”

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