Film Director at City College

Donna Maranto and Donna Maranto

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The World Cultures Program this week showcased a young film director, Aaron Woolfolk, as he is promoting his first full-length feature film, “The Harimaya Bridge.”

The film was shot in Japan and features the Kochi Prefecture, a rural community not often visited even by Japanese citizens.

Woolfolk was raised in Oakland and attended UC Berkeley, where he graduated with a double major in ethnic studies and rhetoric.

He was then accepted to the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program and taught junior high school English in Kochi Prefecture. After a year, he returned to New York to attend Columbia University, where he earned a master’s of fine arts degree.

Woolfolk said one of the basic goals of this project was to get away from the cinema formula, which favors depicting cultural superiority and normal bias that is eminent in most diverse cultural situations. “I wanted to show regular people, not stereo types of Japanese culture, and to show rural Japan, the countryside,” Woolfolk said.

Also, he said it was important in this movie for him to show the international experiences of African Americans, which would be something different. Actually, where he filmed, people in the community often did double takes and there were fender benders because it was the first time they had seen a black person.

During his program, attendees viewed several clips from the movie, as well as one of his first short-film productions, “The Station.”

The loyalty to his vision was well recognized in this example, as a foreigner exchanges in conversation with two Japanese girls, with one of them getting the wrong idea as he engages in simple horseplay with her friend.

Apologies ensued at the end, and the misunderstandings because of language difficulties and suspicious imaginations are not taken to the next level where serious problems could occur. However, the message was well presented.

One of the stars of the film is Danny Glover, who Woolfolk remembers as being very professional and known for supporting young artists. While shooting in Japan, Woolfolk commented that Glover was very kind and would always offer those watching the filming “a moment they will remember” by signing autographs and posing for pictures.

The “Harimaya Bridge” presents basic conflicts – parents vs. child with cultural prejudices clouding over the drive for happiness – but the strength of the movie is more about how people live their lives, how they really are in their environment and their reactions to dramatic conflicts.

The major influences for this director are Akira Kurusawa, Spike Lee and Ang Lee, not necessarily from any one of their productions, but more because of the body of their work and their style of presenting a dramatic situation.

His next project is a light comedy situation in the American South and will also include collaboration with Glover. His film is currently being shown throughout California, including Irvine; however, as far as San Diego, a showing here is still in the works.

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