A major film festival celebrating its 65th anniversary this year took place from the beginning to the mid-August, in the city of Locarno, Switzerland. The first time I visited the city was twelve years ago in the summer of 2000. I was invited as the director of the film Hotaru, which was nominated for the main competition that year. What surprised me most was its outdoor screening venue with a capacity of some 8,000 spectators at the Piazza Grande. During film showings, an enormous screen appeared, and the plaza entrances were all blocked off. It was a truly unique experience to watch a movie while looking up at the starry sky. You would think that it might cause annoyance among the people living around the square. However, the locals were Italian-Swiss; they seemed to enjoy the nightly showings as they sat in their balconies.
On the death of my foster mother, I produced a film about her, titled Chiri, and this movie made its premiere at the festival this year. I was also honored to be featured with a special tribute, "Histoire(s) du cinéma: Naomi Kawase" that showed other private documentary footage of my foster mother. Moreover, a film that Mexican director Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio created for the NARAtive project of the Nara International Film Festival, of which I am executive director, was nominated for the Filmmakers of the Present competition and awarded the grand prize. It was the greatest summer gift I could have received from Locarno, a place I hold dear to my heart.
Although my film Chiri depicts the last two years of my foster mother's life, it seems that people do not see this film as a story about the specific person; rather, after watching it most of the audience start talking about their own mothers. Some would shed tears, wondering what they must have meant to their mothers. I think the closeness in a relationship between a parent and child makes it all the more difficult to understand each other, so people tend to overlook those feelings most of the time. But when something triggers that emotion, it spills out like water overflowing a levee. My foster mother's death was a major turning point in my life. However, when I see Chiri, I feel as though she were still there watching over me; that is the magic and the power of movies. And I feel the power all the more from this film because it tells a very private story of mine.
After the screening, still being under the spell of the film, an attendant Fabio, who took care of me during the festival, invited me to a cottage in the mountains where he remembers spending time with his father. The cottage, on a mountainside overlooking Lake Maggiore, had no electricity and relied on oil lamps for light. There was a simple toilet, which didn't seem to have any proper plumbing. Fabio, who was originally from these mountains, told me that he likes meeting people from other countries through cultural events. And so he works temporarily as a member of the staff for the festival, while serving at an IT manufacturer for living. During the festival, his job is mainly to take care of the guests. At the cottage, we all enjoyed a bottle of wine on the porch, and I realized that just spending time surrounded by nature and doing nothing must be the greatest luxury one can have during a trip.
Then, we had polenta, a local specialty made of corn flour, for lunch at a restaurant in the mountains which is open during summer months only. It tasted like the corn snack "Polinky" that we used to have in Japan. The scenery in the mountains looked like the village where Heidi, Girl of Alps lived. There was a small swing and little girls laughed happily as they swayed it back and forth in the wind. When I close my eyes, I still can clearly see the girls swinging under the blue skies of Switzerland.
Kawase continues to work out of her hometown Nara. She was awarded the Camera d'Or at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1997 for her film Suzaku (1996) as the youngest winner in its history. Her The Mourning Forest was awarded the Grand Prix at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2007. She has directed many documentary films including Genpin. She lobbied for and is now executive director of the Nara International Film Festival (http://www.nara-iff.jp/en/), which will mark its second year from September 14 to 17, 2012. Nippon Archives series, for which she filmed her beloved Nara and many other sights of Japan, is currently broadcast online. (http://nara.utsukushiki-nippon.jp/)