This year's festival has particular significance for a number of reasons. First of all, this year marks the launch of a new festival formula, with the event now held in June at the Asahi Hall in Yurakucho, in the Ginza district, one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Tokyo where many movie theaters are located. This change of date and location had been planned for over a year, with the aim of building a partnership with the major national daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun, and appealing to new audiences, including younger, more masculine patrons, thus extending beyond the traditionally feminine audience for French films in Japan and at this event.
The catastrophe of March 11, 2011, clearly made organization of this festival more complicated; however it was quickly decided not to cancel the event. In this difficult context, it was deemed appropriate to take a more restrained approach, such as cancelling red carpet events, and to use the festival as a way to express Unifrance's solidarity with the Japanese people on behalf of the French movie industry.
The artists and industry professionals involved in the event showed their support for this approach, with directors Otar Iosseliani and Jean-Paul Jaud immediately confirming their intention to travel to Japan, and directors Jean-Pierre Améris, Rebecca Zlotowski, and Olivier Treiner, along with the actor Jules Pelissier, accepting to present their films. Luc Besson, who expressed a strong desire to travel to Japan at this important time, agreed to be patron of the event. Japanese audiences showed strong appreciation for their efforts.
The CNC also joined forces for this year's event, with its new president Eric Garandeau making his first visit to Japan and meeting with his Japanese counterparts at the Cultural Agency at the Ministry of Industry, which is in charge of support policies for the movie industry. This year, Japan will launch a support fund for international co-productions and has reasserted its wish to sign a co-production agreement with France.
The 12 feature films and 6 short films selected at the festival were all presented in the Asahi Hall theater (693 seats) and the Toho Nichigeki 3 theater (522 seats), both located in the same building.
All the French artists present were able to meet with audiences at discussions held after each screening, as well as at autograph sessions, which Japanese audiences particularly enjoy. The artists also hosted the French Cinema Café event held in the Asahi Hall, which was decorated for one week in line with the themes of the films selected at the event by Le Pré Verre, a French brasserie in Tokyo.
Audiences showed strong support for the screenings, with attendance exceeding 6,000 spectators in four days and theaters filled to 72% of capacity. The Audience Award was presented to Romantics Anonymous by Jean-Pierre Améris, a film that proved highly popular with local spectators.
The festival's aim to widen its audience was achieved, attracting distinctly younger and more diverse patrons. This could be the result of several factors: the festival lineup placed the spotlight on young auteur directors (Dear Prudence, Lights Out, Tomboy); there was a highly successful cooperation this year for the organization of the event with the young and dynamic team from the Japanese festival Tokyo Filmex; the re-location of the festival to a theater well-known to Tokyo movie enthusiasts; and a promotional campaign that focused on publicity in the Asahi Shimbun daily newspaper and on the highly popular radio station J Wave.
Unifrance Films wished to express its solidarity with Japanese earthquake and tsunami victims by donating a proportion of festival ticket sales to Civic Force, a Japanese NGO actively involved in directly assisting victims, as well as proceeds from the sale of a T-shirt designed for the event with the cooperation of Petit Bateau and the design company Kissing Kourami. Over 1.5 million yens (around 13,000 euros) were thus donated to Civic Force.
Several events added to the festival program. Held to coincide with the festival, the Franco-Japanese Institute hosted a retrospective on Claude Chabrol, whose work attracts strong interest in Japan, even though many of his most famous films have not been released there. Also timed with the event, the Harcourt Studio presented a stunning exhibition of portraits of French actors and actresses, held at the Nexus Hall in Ginza. The director Otar Iosseliani also led a master class at the Tokyo Film School.
Of the 12 feature films showcased at the event, 4 titles have already secured commercial release in upcoming months. French artists from these films took part in numerous promotional interviews with the Japanese media. In this way, the festival serves as a launching pad for films in the lead-up to their release in the months following the event. For the remaining feature films that have not yet found a distributor in Japan, their international sales agents took full advantage of the added exposure offered by the festival to further their negotiations with potential buyers. Special screenings of these films were held for buyers prior to the festival, as well as press screenings of all films in the festival lineup.
The festival also offers a film market, which this year was attended by 25 representatives from 22 French companies, who traveled to Tokyo to meet with Japanese buyers. Held at the Peninsula Hotel located near the Asahi Hall theater, the film market was the setting for many professional meetings resulting in a number of acquisitions. According to participants, this French film market held in Japan is an event that is all the more important at this time, as Japanese buyers are finally showing renewed interest in French fare after a number of lackluster years for French films. The Japanese market remains extremely difficult for foreign films to penetrate, with national productions commanding 54% of the market in 2010. In this context, the film market and the French Film Festival in Japan offer French films a showcase and a location at which a substantial part of the year's business dealings are conducted.
The festival's official website: http://www.unifrance.jp/festival/