THE 34TH EDITION of the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) was meant to introduce many firsts — a new venue, a new programming director, and a hybrid program that would most likely be the norm in today’s pandemic reality — and it was, but beyond a revamped film festival, it was also the year where female-led stories reigned.

“More than half of the films [in this year’s festival had] protagonists who are women, and [many are about] women who are fighting against the system,” Shozo Ichiyama, TIFF programming director, told reporters during an online media roundtable on Nov. 2.

“I think there are many filmmakers who are trying to show the injustice in this society from the woman’s point of view… systems that are established by men,” he added.

In the festival’s main competition section alone, eight of the 15 films have female protagonists. Mr. Ichiyama noted in particular Mikhail Red’s Arisaka and Kaltrina Krasniqi’s Vera Dreams of the Sea as films with female-led stories about breaking down the said systems.

Arisaka, one of the two Filipino films competing in the main section, tells the story of a female policeman on the run against assailants after a key witness is shot down, while Albanian film Vera Dreams of the Sea is poignant tale of a woman protesting against a male-dominated society after she learns that her house had been mortgaged by her recently deceased husband due to his gambling.

Another film which talks about the challenges of being a woman is Hommage, a South Korean film by Shin Su-won, that tells the story of a jobless female filmmaker tasked to restore a film but instead reveals the struggles female directors have faced in South Korea.

THE ROLE OF FILM FESTIVALS IN GENDER PARITY
While Mr. Ichiyama admitted that it was not his express intention to have more female-led films, TIFF has been working towards bringing gender parity in the weeklong festival — it’s the first and only film festival in Asia to sign the 5050×2020 pledge which aims to promote gender equality and transparency in film festival selection committee members, film directors, cast, and crew.

The initiative was launched during the 2018 Cannes Film Festival by award-winning French filmmaker Agnes Varda and has been signed by 156 film festivals including Cannes, Berlin, and Venice.

“[Signing the pledge might seem like] it’s just signing to say ‘yes, we will’ but it is an awareness and [creating] awareness into what we need to do… and being able to deal with how gender inequality is happening and how we can try collectively as a film festival to address these issues,” said Lorna Tee, film producer and art curator, during the TIFF’s Future of the Film Industry panel held on Oct. 31. — contributed by Zsarlene B. Chua