LA Eigafest is devoted to showcasing Japanese influenced films to an American audience, promoting emerging filmmakers to Hollywood, and enhancing the relationship between the US and Japanese film industries.
Hachi is a household name in Japan, so it was a thrill to be invited to participate in the 2010 Skip City International Film Festival jury. Shy by nature, I was hesitant to accept at first. When I’m out and about, I can mix easily if one-on-one. But, get me before a group of people and I freeze. My teachers would tell my parents that I never said a peep. The idea of being in any type of spotlight was nerve-wracking. I came out of my shell when I left for college. It was do or die time. Would I continue to lurk in the shadows. Or, start living the life of my dreams. So, I decided to go beyond my comfort zone. And, that’s when everything got interesting! So, I put my mental house in order and accepted the invitation. The organization couldn’t have been more accommodating. It was first class all the way. From the flight to my own personal assistant to make sure my stay was seamless. She even showed me the best places to dine. Seeing the World through Films Featuring the cutting edge of digital film technologies, the festival received 810 feature and short submissions from a record high of 85 countries. The mission is to discover and support emerging filmmakers and celebrate the global recognition of digital technology. In the span of a week, the jurors watched the short list of contending films. Lots of films back-to-back. One of the main reasons I love the movies is for the chance to “live” through the eyes of others. To be in their shoes, so to say, if only for the moment. There’s no better way to expand the mind than to experience lives from a different perspective. In discovering commonality, people are more accepting of others. The human race has the same needs and desires. We just need to get pass our fears of the “different.” The Best Film grand prize was awarded to director Giorgio Diritti. His moving story depicts the life of poor town folk engulfed in the horrors of WWII. As seen through the eyes of a mute eight-year-old girl, it packs a powerful punch. Winter 1943. Martina is small child, who stopped talking since the death of her infant brother some years before. She lives in a rural area of central Italy. Her mother is pregnant again and Martina lives for the arrival of her new brother. Meanwhile, the war is getting closer and closer, forcing the people of the village to tread a difficult path, torn between the partisan brigades and the Nazi Army. On practically the same day as the birth of Martina’s brother, the SS start a massive roundup of civilians in the area, an infamous event that will come to be known as the Marzabotto massacre during which more than 770 people were killed in houses, cemeteries and churches. (Palm Springs Internation Film Festival) And The Best Director Award goes to… I was given the honor of presenting the Best Director award to Jie Liu for “Judge” during the closing ceremony event. In a small northern Chinese city in 1997, Judge Tian privately struggles with the loss of his daughter, killed by a stolen car in a hit-and-run accident. On the bench he encounters Qiuwu, a mechanic accused of stealing two cars. Perhaps influenced by his emotional state, the outwardly impassive judge imposes an almost-obsolete criminal law on Qiuwu that sentences him to death for his crime. Desperate to mitigate his sentence, Qiuwu agrees to donate his kidney to a rich businessman dying of a terminal illness, hoping at the very least that his impoverished family may profit from his demise. (Los Angeles Film Festival) After studying cinematography at the Beijing Film Academy, Liu worked as a cinematographer on Beijing Bicycle (2001), which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. The aspiring director was subsequently invited to many other international film festivals including Karlovy Vary, Helsinki, and Toronto. He made his directorial debut with “Courthouse On Horseback” (2006) and subsequently directed “Judge” (2009). Both films were screened at the Venice Film Festival. Another Life Lesson The wide range of topics and immense talent was remarkable. To me, each story was a lesson in humanity. I thought of the intense hours involved in the dreaming, planning and actual production of each submission. I gained a new perspective from a each film. And, to think I almost passed up this opportunity. The more I venture beyond my comfort zone, the more I learn…about myself too. A popular Japanese celebrity was on the jury with me. She came up to say hello. I was surprised she remembered me. We were introduced, briefly, at the Hachi premiere the previous year. The first thing she said was, “I hear you’re engaged”! What? No way! My head spinning, I asked how she heard this. She said I’m well known in Japan due to Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. I was floored! But, that’s how I came to understand the popularity of Hachi… and also about false rumors! Another life lesson. Hachi Love is Everywhere After the awards ceremony, there was a lavish buffet and it was great fun talking to all the nominees and winners! Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is a huge hit in Japan, and I got asked lots of questions about the film. A popular meeting place in Japan, Hachi’s bronze statue at Shibuya Station is not only a landmark, but on the “must-see” list for tourists. Whenever I’m in Tokyo, visiting Hachiko’s statue is my priority. Despite my busy schedule, this time was no different. As usual, enthusiastic admirers crowded around him. There are tons of people trying to get photos with Hachi. It’s intimidating, but the positive energy that Hachi generates makes it well worth the wait. Overall, the experience was everything I could have imagined. Just seeing how many people admire Hachiko and his story made creating such a powerful movie worth it.
Heartland’s Mission The 18th annual Heartland Film Festival opened with the screening of “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” at The Murat Centre. The ten-day line up of films and special events took place on October 15-24, 2009 with 87 different films around the world brought to Indianapolis. “We believe that one film can move us to laughter, to tears or to make a difference. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is a film that demonstrates that One Film Can.” Heartland’s mission is to recognize films and filmmakers whose work explores the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life. These award-winning films are made up of moments that are emotional and inspiring, causing you to look at your life from a different perspective and be inspired to take action. A Whirl of Activity To start the festive event, a driver greeted me at the airport with a long limousine. It could have fit ten people. All details were covered and attended to beautifully – the flight, hotel, and warm assistance with every detail of my stay. Whisked into a reception upon arriving, every day was packed with events. I even participated in my first live TV morning show interview. I was so nervous, I can barely recall doing it. An Evening to Remember The day of the Hachi: A Dog’s Tale screening, there were two events – one was an intimate cocktail hour with the major screening donors, followed by a larger pre-screening reception where I gave a few words on stage after being introduced by the program director, Jeffrey Sparks. The Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award was presented to me by the president, Jeffrey Sparks. The screening was held in a gorgeous old theatre with tiers of balcony seating, too. After another introduction, I introduced the film that would change the hearts of those waiting to watch. Then Hachi: A Dog’s Tale screened. On the Spot After, I participated in a Q&A on stage. Footlights flooded my spot on the stage and my eyes. Not being able to see the audience, I relaxed and actually was very animated talking about my favorite topic: Hachi! I shocked myself. I’m the girl who froze up in my high school drama class and completely blanked out on my lines. Total white out. I dropped the class. But there I was, the words somehow flowed from my mouth. I was talking about my favorite subject, of course. A reception for all guests followed the screening, and I was overwhelmed with the emotional impact people felt for Hachi. Later, an usher told me one lady left the theatre crying so hard, that she dropped tissues all along the lobby! I heard many stories of how Hachi impacted people’s feelings. Do you have your story?
Washington, D.C., Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki and his wife, Yoriko, hosted a screening of Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. The event was held at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery in collaboration with the Japan Information and Culture Center and the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, DC. Prior to the screening, a reception was held in the main hallway of the Gallery. Guests included the Honorable William Webster, director of the Homeland Security Advisory Board and former head of the FBI and CIA, the Honorable & Mrs. Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, Mr. & Mrs. Larry Echohawk, Assistant Secretary of Interior, and Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Mori, Executive Director of the Japanese American Citizens League. I learned that the Honorable William Webster has a warm relationship with his two dogs. I’ve always respected him immensely, and that increased upon learning of his deep affection for animals. Immediately after the screening of Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, director Lasse Hallstrom and I addressed a wide range of questions from the audience. Lasse has a marvelous sense of humor. When an obscure question came up, he’d turn to me and say “Vicki?” Some of the questions were quite fun, and I really got a kick out of trying to answer them!