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ducers Associations and an ‘interna- tional’ tag that felt unjustified. During the Yoda era, TIFF and contents market TIFFCOM have worked hard to rein- vent themselves and raise their global profile. It has worked. TIFF now selects and rewards films

much earlier, sometimes first, in their tours. Competition submissions have increased 41% from 690 to 975 submis- sions since Yoda took over in 2008 and the Sakura Grand Prix’s generous $50,000 purse remains intact (the deadline for submissions is July 13). And 2011 saw TIFF move to the third

leg of the chairman’s stated “hop, skip and jump” strategy. “Last year in par- ticular the quality improved, and our international relationships continued to deepen,” states Yoda, who reveals 2012’s motto as ‘The power of film. Now!’.

Master of reinvention F

TIFF chairman Tom Yoda tells Jason Gray how he has worked hard to strengthen the festival’s international competition and profile

ilm festivals do not always improve with age. But as the Tokyo Inter- national Film Festival (TIFF)

approaches its 25th edition this October the milestone represents annual upgrades in stature and quality for one of Asia’s oldest film events, which began purely as a local distributors’ showcase. As the popular and tireless promoter

of TIFF and Japan itself, chairman Tat- sumi ‘Tom’ Yoda returns for his fifth year to lead the charge, and will remain chair- man until March 2013. The earthquake and tsunami in 2011 marked a turning point. “I told people at Cannes last year that

everything would be fine in Tokyo by October. Being the first edition after March 11 there was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, but following our ‘Believe! The Power of Film’ motto we weathered those times,” explains Yoda. Drawing on its proactivity as the

world’s most eco-friendly film festival (its signature green carpet has since been copied) TIFF stepped up to help the stricken Tohoku region. Donations were raised through the Arigato Project, launched in Cannes and continued in

n 4 Screen International May 2012

‘TIFF has strengthened its international relationships and been able to call on great people as jury heads

and members’ Tom Yoda

Shanghai in the run-up to October. Free screenings were also held for survivors in Sendai. “We are truly grateful for eve- ryone’s support from around the world,” says Yoda. Regarding this year, he says: “The

situation has obviously calmed down a lot now.” The number of tourists visit- ing Japan from overseas bears this out. April showed a 92% increase over the same month last year, back in line with 2010 levels. For much of its history TIFF’s nag-

ging problem was a competition line-up that seemed an afterthought, existing only to maintain its accreditation by the International Federation of Film Pro-

Awards with winning ways France’s Intouchables took the 2011 Grand Prix and top acting awards before becoming a French cinema phe- nomenon and $330m box-office hit. Many scoffed at the 2006 grand prix

going to OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies from the at-the-time unknown team of director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin who went on to conquer the world with The Artist. Yoda-run dis- tributor Gaga Corporation picked up rights for the silent film well before it became an Oscar heavyweight. Locally, since the gaze of TIFF’s Japa-

nese Eyes programme turned from mainstream to indie efforts in 2008, several film-makers have gone on to great success. Keiichi Kobayashi’s 2011 prize-winning About The Pink Sky sub- sequently garnered a competition slot at Sundance this January. This year, UK producer Jeremy Tho-

mas will serve as an executive adviser on the competition line-up for the third year running, with Yoshi Yatabe return- ing as programming director. “TIFF has strengthened its international relation- ships and been able to call on great peo- ple as jury heads and members. That’s also helped us put together a strong line-up. Expect us to be even more aggressive this year,” explains Yoda. “Japanese people are generally shy,

Japanese Eyes best picture award winner About The Pink Sky

but we can’t just stay in Tokyo. We have to go out into the world and meet peo- ple, hug them, have dinner, watch films together. Close contact with people in our industry is key.” n


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