Located at the foot of the Zao mountain range in Northeastern Japan, Yamagata (pop. 250,000) launched the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF) in 1989. This event is renowned for being the first international festival devoted to the documentary genre in Asia, and is the longest running event of its kind in the world and recording an annual audience of 24,000. Ogawa Shinsuke, the icon of the Japanese documentary and awarded by the Berlin International Film Festival, was influential in the creation of the festival, turning the city into a major film hub in Japan. The audiovisual sector, including film industry, comprises 150 companies generating a total income of US$441 billion.
Considering film and documentary genres as tools for rethinking societies and nurturing collective memory, Yamagata encourages young people to engage in the sector. In turn, this helps tackle the significant lack of employment opportunities for the young population. The YIDFF is being instrumental in providing film workshops, internships and international residency programmes by partnering with universities, including the Tohoku University of Art and Design. The Renaissance Project also showcases young talented filmmakers whose work focuses on shedding new light on traditional know-how, including of crafts and folk art and of gastronomy.
Yamagata is implementing its Action Plan for Cultural Promotion which identifies creative activities as a key driver for the city’s socio-economic development. The plan provides support for grass-roots cultural activities that contribute to community-building. In the film sector, the Yamagata Film Commission has expanded since 2012 by including seven other cities in order to better serve and support the regional film industry. With an annual average of 60 visiting productions, this initiative has significantly raised Yamagata’s profile as a city of film.
As a Creative City of Film, Yamagata envisages:
- fostering cross-sectorial cooperation through creative tourism to empower and maximise the city’s diverse cultural resources;
- encouraging citizens, especially young people, to take a leadership role in film programming through the Film School for Citizens;
- introducing film education in formal curriculum and encouraging young people to actively participating in the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival;
- implementing the first Japanese residency programme for filmmakers from developing countries;
- expanding the Yamagata Film Package to the World, aimed at promoting film culture, to other Creative Cities from Global South, notably Africa; and
- hosting international conferences on creativity for sustainable urban development, mobilising other Creative Cities to share good practices; and
- producing films emphasising the added value creative industries provide, such as the Renaissance project, which will offer new learning and employment opportunities for young people.