A 2-day international film festival is taking place this weekend in Tokyo, featuring short films from Japan, Norway, Kyrgyzstan, and more. Damah International Film Festival moved to Tokyo in 2019 in preparation for the 2020 Olympics, but got its start in Seattle in 2001.
But the festival draws more than tourists, short film enthusiasts, and ex-pat cinephiles. Despite being a minority religion in Japan– anywhere from 1.5% of the population or less— the film festival is vying to capture the attention of Japanese Christians.
The face of Damah and one of seven co-founders is Mark Joseph, an American producer born in Tokyo to a missionary family. As Joseph explained in a 2019 interview with the Japanese site Christian Shimbun, the original inspiration behind the film festival was to highlight storytelling through film with a particular interest in those with moral or spiritual lessons like those shown in the Bible. In fact, this ethos is the namesake of the festival; damah, in Hebrew, translates to “parable”.
Damah itself has no official religious requirements for the films nor the filmmakers, but Joseph expressed hope that the festival would inspire Christians in Japan to explore and develop their capabilities in film and other creative outlets.
The organizers seem to understand that a film festival with religious overtones has the potential to limit interest and accessibility for the event, as the website bears no mention of these elements that inspired the festival in the first place. Instead, Damah is simply an event where people can go to watch films with conclusions that lean toward being inspirational and reflective, even heartwarming.
Damah International Film Festival takes place May 13th to May 14th at Hibiya Convention Hall. All films are subtitled in English.