The Japan leg of RESFEST 2006 was held at Laforet, Harajuku from 23-26th November, followed by screenings in Kyoto and Kobe (as well as limited screenings in Sendai and Fukuoka). I caught up with Jeremy Boxer, head of programming, to chat about the history and ideas behind the festival.
Tell us about the history of RESFEST.
Initially, we started as a festival for digital and desktop videos 12 years ago. Back then, our aim was to be a platform for high quality video projection, and to screen electronic or digital-based music videos that weren’t on MTV but were deserved to be seen.
Have there been any major changes over the past 10 years?
The meaning of the term ‘digital’ has shifted. 10 years ago, ‘digital’ meant cutting edge or high-tech. Programs like Photoshop, Final Cut and so on had just come out, and were pretty expensive. Now, these programs can be bought very cheaply, and the quality has improved. This means that the opportunity for young artists has gone up too. Budding artists can create videos with an alternative perspective to the mainstream very easily, with low budgets. Our current society is permeated with digital technology; digital is now the norm, while ‘analogue’ refers to something very old, or of a particular method.
What did these changes mean for RESFEST?
3 years ago, we considered changing the name of the festival from a ‘digital film festival’ to something else. I think our focus has shifted during the 10 years. Now, it’s more about the ideas behind the videos that we’re interested in, rather than how or what you make them in. Back when we started, RESFEST was an outlet for digital films that didn’t get screened anywhere. But now, with the internet and mobile phones providing new means to access digital entertainment, the festival takes on a new meaning, a new focus.
So what is this new focus? Why the need for a digital film festival now?
Firstly, RESFEST offers a global package of the best works out there right now. It’s a filter. People in contemporary society can access some of these videos on youtube, but they don’t necessarily have the time to find the best videos. So we offer the ultimate selection.
Secondly, RESFEST gives you the opportunity to see videos on a big screen. To see something on a big screen is a totally different experience. You see more details. The pacing is different. The sound is different; it’s louder, it hits you hard.
Thirdly, there’s the communal, social aspect of showing up to the venue in person. The cinematic experience of seeing something with the rest of the audience, and hearing other people’s reactions brings a whole new dimension to the videos. Another thing is that the festival brings the creative community together. Filmmakers, artists and various people from the industry come to the festival and see each other for the first time in 10 years. They go and have a drink together, and a new creative project might emerge from that. We’d like to push this aspect of RESFEST further in future – a platform for the creative community to meet.
What do you aim to achieve in RESFEST?
Our main goals have always been to entertain, inspire, and to educate. We’ve accomplished the first two pretty well, I think. From now on, we need to focus more on the third aspect: creative and technical education of young artists. It’s a cycle of sorts: by entertaining the audience and creators with good videos, we aim to inspire them to make equally entertaining and inspiring videos. But some people don’t know where to begin, or need technical advice. That’s where the education comes in. Young artists tend to have too many options and become lost. So it’s important to create limitations for them. Simplicity is crucial – to have one main, good idea, and to develop that. That’s the key to making a good video. Our talk shows by professional filmmakers, for example, are often helpful for creators who are just starting out. This year we have Nima Nourizadeh from the UK (known for his videos for Lilly Allen, Hot Chip, Junior Senior etc) who has a lot of experience making low-budget videos and can offer a lot of insight.
The Japan tour of RESFEST featured a lot of videos made in Japan. What is your impression of Japanese videos and creators?
Japanese creators have a unique voice; they’re very different from other countries. One thing that I noticed is that there’s a lack of budget. The ideas are good, but because of the low budget, the technical aspect of the videos might be limited, and it shows. I guess most of the money goes to J-Pop artists and there’s not much money left for the rest. That doesn’t mean that the videos are bad – if the idea is good, we don’t discriminate. Right now, England and the U.S. are looking to Japan for inspiration. So I think Japanese creators should be more confident about their work. We’d definitely like to see more people sending their videos in.
Many videos in the RESMIX SHORTS program featuring Japanese short films are based on a very distinct Japanese humour. It must be difficult to bring these to an international audience and expect people to ‘get’ the jokes…
Sure, Japanese humour is quite distinct. I think that goes for all cultures. But there are always universal videos that speak to everyone. We try to pick those. For example, “The Japanese Tradition” videos travel very well. When we did a screening in San Francisco, people who saw the film actually began saying “Ottotto!” when pouring sake. They got the joke, it was a hit.
Any comments regarding this year’s RESFEST in Tokyo?
When I asked the audience on the first day of RESFEST Tokyo this year, 80% of the audience had been to a RESFEST screening before. That’s both good and bad. It’s different in each country – in Korea, we have an audience of 15,000 come to see our programs over 6 days. In London, we have 3 screens going at once. In Tokyo, it seems that it’s a pretty exclusive crowd of people who know and love RESFEST, or else people who work in the industry.
What’s next for RESFEST?
This year, we’ve consciously tried to pick a video from each country that RESFEST is held. In future, we’d like to keep pursuing this global aspect, in terms of linking up globally what local communities create. There’ll also be an online version coming sometime soon. We’re finally living in an era where we have the technologies in place to play videos with the quality and accessibility that we need for bringing our festival online. We’re still working on it though. In the meantime, keep sending your videos in!
Jeremy Boxer, thank you for speaking with us!
※Dates for RESFEST 10 in Fukuoka+Sendai (2007):
February 3rd (Sat) – 4th (Sun) Fukuoka Asian Art Museum
February 23rd (Fri) – 24th (Sat) Sendai Mediatheque
Visit the RESFEST website for more info on the festival and tour dates.