The international crowd at the NHK Awards Party tonight was the perfect place for me to brush up on my languages. Amidst noodles, fountains, and large origami cranes strewn over the tables, I tried to say a thing or two to each of the award winners — Russia's Andrey Zvyagintsev, Japan's Daisuke Yamaoka, Mexico's Amat Escalante, and USA's Benh Zeitlin — in his own language, and quickly found myself tripping over my tongue. It didn't help that they were being awarded for their own amazing words.
The annual award recognizes and supports four visionary filmmakers from Europe, Latin America, the United States, and Japan on their next films, and the projects sounded diverse and exciting — and even undescribable.
I spoke with Amat Escalante from Mexico about his script, and when he struggled a bit to describe the topic, we looked to Alesia Weston, Associate Director of Feature Film Program, to help explain. We came to the conclusion that it's too difficult to explain, but decided that most people's perception of foreign film was something involving a girl, a dog, and a bicycle anyway. During his award speech, Escalante said quite poignantly: "I'm very bad at speaking about it, so maybe I'll show you in a few years."
Russia's Andrey Zvyagintsev and I exchanged pleasantries in Russian about whether or not he liked Utah, and I spoke briefly to Benh Zeitlin in English, though that wasn't coming out perfectly either, so I took his picture and let him go celebrate his win with his friends.
When I met the Japanese contingent, I broke out my "hajimemashite" ("how do you do?") and asked if they'd had a chance to see any films yet. Yes! Get Low checked off their list. Daisuke Yamaoka asked me through his interpreter if I'd seen Enter The Void (I suspect he reads this blog). I told him my thoughts on it, how it had grown on me over time. "I'm the Japanese Gaspar Noé," he said (again: through an interpreter. Japanese is not my strong point of the four). I asked him if his film would be along the same lines. No, he said, but some people say he looks like Gaspar Noé. I told him he'd have to grow a mustache and he'd nearly be there.
His co-writer Yugo Eto taught me a much more useful phrase in Japanese than "hajimemashite": "mo kari maki." It means "how's business?" and apparently business is good for all four. They were winners!