Mai Nakanishi Talks Scream Queen Filmfest Tokyo!

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After attending the Viscera Film Festival (RIP) in 2012,  Mai Nakanishi felt deeply moved by the experience. This post-show excitement lead to a sense of empowerment, hope, and action.

The following year, Nakanishi decided to submit her short zombie film, which she co-wrote and produced, No Place Like Home. The film went on to win the award for Best Cinematography.

A few years later,  Mai continued on her mission and successfully launched The Scream Queen Filmfest in Tokyo!

Now in it’s 3rd year, SQFF has become a much coveted stop on the festival circuit for women genre filmmakers. With the loss of Viscera, Mai has made sure to keep the spirit alive – providing women genre filmmakers from around the world opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

We are beyond grateful to Mai for taking the time to answer our questions and, as you will read, provide advice to other people looking to launch events in their communities as well. Mai is a perfect example of the power we all have, if passionate enough, to mobilize and build new opportunities for women in the industry.

Hannah Neurotica: What sparked the idea to launch the Screen Queen Film Festival? and Can you tell us a bit about the mission behind it? 

Mai Nakanishi: Scream Queen Filmfest Tokyo was launched in 2013 in Tokyo, Japan but it originally stemmed from another wonderful film festival called Viscera Film Festival which was an annual L.A based horror film festival for women filmmakers. I got to know about visceraViscera Film Festival when I attended their one-night screening event in Vancouver, Canada and was blown away by some of the shorts that were screened there.

It was very refreshing to see genre films made from a female point of view and so many films had strong female characters opposed to stereotypical representations of women in the horror genre, which was terrific.

Being a filmmaker and a lifelong horror fan, Viscera Film Festival made a quite big impact on me and motivated me to submit my zombie short, No Place Like Home (which I produced in 2012) to Viscera Film Festival.

The short then won Best Cinematography the following year and the whole experience has made me realise how important it is to have a genre film festival dedicated to women in horror. And as I got to know more about other female horror filmmakers around the world and other amazing female centric genre film festivals such as “Stranger With My Face Horror Film Festival”, I thought we should make a platform in Asia too. When I reached out to Viscera to organise a screening in Tokyo, Lori Bowen, who was the former tour coordinator at Viscera helped me tremendously with programming.

Despite our domestic lucrative market for J-horror films, there’s always been an unfounded prejudice towards genre films and genre filmmakers in Japan. And needless to say, if you are a women making genre films, people will look at you like you are a crazy person (which I get all the time!).

So, besides showcasing and promoting female genre filmmakers and their works, my other goal from launching the festival was to eliminate bias against women in horror and to raise awareness of the unique visions women can bring to the genre. Sadly, it’s rare to meet genre filmmakers in Asia but I hope Scream Queen Filmfest Tokyo can help bring the Asian female genre filmmakers out in the light!

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Hannah: Film Festivals are a huge undertaking!  Women in Horror Month just launched the Ax Wound Film Festival  and it was such a wonderful and intense process it is. Do you have advice for those starting festival/screenings that you wish someone told you when starting out? 

Mai:  Congratulations on the launch of the festival! This is really exciting and it’s so great to see more and more female centric film festivals launching!

Shannon Lark, who’s a founder of Viscera Film Festival (and also a talented actress and a film director) sent me a message just a few days before our very first event. She said that the first time around is always going to be small, so I shouldn’t get disheartened if we have a lower turnout. Her advice certainly took a weight off my mind so I would give the same advice for anyone starting festivals!

As you said, running the festival is hard work. For Scream Queen Filmfest Tokyo, I do almost everything by myself from curating films, putting Japanese subtitles, creating publicity materials, booking venues …etc. So it needed far greater amount of work than I’d imagined. But I think if you have passion for it, everything else just falls into place!!

Hannah: As you pointed out, regardless of the the success of “J-Horror,”  the genre as a whole is still not seen as much more the a low-art form in Japan.  Have have found support in your own community? Have you met with any resistance? 

Mai:  I’m truly thankful for all the support I’ve been getting from the genre film communities around the world. We haven’t met with any resistance yet and all the feedbacks from the audiences have been very positive. We are by far the smallest women-centric film festival but I sincerely hope that the festival can help expand opportunities for the contemporary female genre filmmakers. I think we are slowly building up the recognition, so hopefully more people will join us in celebrating women genre filmmakers!

Hannah: Mai, you are an artist/writer as well. Can you talk about what you do when not curating/running the fest?

Abcs_of_death_2_theatricalMai:  Running the festival is pretty much a year-round work as we organize tour screenings throughout the year but besides running the festival, I help curate Japanese films for foreign film festivals as well as assisting acquisition of films for online video platform and Japanese distribution companies.

I occasionally write scary stories for kids and have been working on a number of film projects. Last fall, I produced a sci-fi horror short, Thorn, with a director I worked with for a horror anthology called “ABCs of Death 2.”

The film is on the festival circuit now and has screened at international genre film festivals including Fantastic Fest and MOTELx – Lisbon International Horror Film Festival. We are developing it into a full-length feature and I’m co-writing it, so hopefully we can get the movie made!

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