Short-film campaign celebrates Japan-Canada ties

Project aims to raise profile of B.C. filmmakers and support diversity in filmmaking

After hearing about a similar initiative last year, Vancouver’s Japanese Consulate gave the green light to a Japan-focused project matching independent B.C. filmmakers and local Japanese groups | Ulegundo

Japanese officials and B.C. filmmakers are hoping that a new short-film campaign launched this summer will provide a spark in developing deeper co-operation between Japan’s creative industries and their counterparts in the Lower Mainland.

The “We Heart Canada + Japan 90” campaign – which seeks to attract B.C. filmmakers to connect with Japanese-Canadian community groups to create projects exploring the bilateral relationship for its 90th anniversary – also aims to help Vancouver-based independent artists in the film industry to expand their portfolios and client base, organizers said.

Campaign officials said the idea came about a year ago, when the City of Vancouver conducted a similar effort with the Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) for the Canada 150 celebrations. VAFF organizers mentioned the idea to Vancouver’s Japanese Consulate, which then agreed that a similar, Japan-focused project matching independent B.C. filmmakers and local Japanese groups could work to the benefit of both sides.

Lynne Lee, VAFF’s festival director, said the key for B.C. filmmakers is to get as many opportunities for market exposure as possible, and for VAFF to match up with local Asian communities is a natural fit.

“Helping our independent filmmakers is fundamental to the overall success of B.C.’s film industry,” Lee said, noting Vancouver’s renowned reputation for big-budget Hollywood films is not enough. “More people are realizing that diversity is the only way to sustain interesting and great content.… It has been difficult for independent filmmakers, especially minorities, to have avenues to tell their own stories. But we are seeing more people seeking out these films because they realize we need more of these stories.”

Officials noted the campaign so far has partnered four local filmmakers with four community groups, including the Canada-Japan Council of British Columbia (CJCBC), an umbrella association representing all 11 Japanese-Canadian business associations in the province. (The Japanese Consulate is one of the sponsors of the campaign, along with VAFF and the Japan Foundation in Toronto.)

The filmmakers officially signed contracts to participate on August 3, and each four-minute film will receive $1,000 in support of production. Premiere screening of the films will take place November 1-4 at the 22nd VAFF in Vancouver.

“This is not meant to be just an advertisement for the individual groups and companies,” said Asako Okai, consul general of Japan in Vancouver. “It’s about connecting Japan and Canada - what it means to local entities and how they became part of Canadian society. We wanted to demonstrate the depth of relations through short films, and each of these projects will individually decide how they will pursue that.”

Okai also noted that, through the short-film campaign, B.C. filmmakers can gain experience working with all groups under the CJCBC umbrella, including the local branch of Japanese business associations such as the Konwakai and the Kiyukai, as well as the chamber of commerce and groups dedicated specifically to sectors such as construction (Kenyukai), sake, gardeners and tour operators.

Both Lee and Okai said there is business potential in the campaign spurring B.C. filmmakers to work with Japan as a subject, partner, client or audience, although the exact extent is not clear. Lee added that the success of Black Panther earlier this year at the box office – the Marvel film raked in US$700 million in North America – shattered the myth that a movie centred on an almost entirely minority cast cannot sell in the mainstream.

With another such movie, the romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, hitting theatres this month, Lee said it behooves B.C. and Canada to throw more support behind the diversity of Vancouver’s filmmaking community, not only because of the need for their voices, but also because it appears they can do great business.

“Economically, I think there are more Asian people here – and they are now second and third generation, so they are born and raised here in Canadian society,” Lee said. “They want to see themselves represented, and I do think that these types of content will bring more viewership and therefore more box office.”

Okai also expressed Japan’s interest in having more interactions with B.C. industry associations like Creative BC, which has been active in the Asian market in recent years – mostly focused on China – with the group leading a delegation to the Hong Kong International Film & TV Market in the spring, while also participating in Canada’s industry delegation to China at about the same time.