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Gaze into the future: Kiriko Mechanicus

Every year, newly graduated filmmakers complete their training in good spirits and with unbridled enthusiasm for sharing their new ideas with the world. And then there are the autodidacts, who find their own way in the wonderful world of film. We speak to these new makers, whose names may forever be among the classics of tomorrow.

By Michael Oudman29 February 2024

Blik op de toekomst: Kiriko Mechanicus © Alex Pandora

© Alex Pandora

In an ideal future world, Kiriko Mechanicus (1995) envisions enhanced interaction between film audiences and the subjects portrayed. Film has been the cornerstone of her life since childhood. "I first encountered 2001: A Space Odyssey at the tender age of five, accompanied by my mother. She instilled in me the importance of revisiting the film every five years, and thus far, we have faithfully adhered to that tradition," she reflects from Iquitos, the Peruvian region that served as Werner Herzog's base for filming Fitzcarraldo. Fellini's works were also considered essential. Now, as a documentary filmmaker herself, Kiriko recalls her graduation project, A TOMATO TRAGEDY, which earned her a wildcard from the Dutch Film Fund.

© Lisa van der Rhee

"Before attending the Film Academy, I pursued an education in history. During that period, I discovered the allure of storytelling and resolved to make it my life's pursuit. It dawned on me that the stories that resonated most deeply were those recounted by exceptional educators, albeit not necessarily the definitive truth, but rather their interpretation of events. For me, storytelling serves as a conduit to connect with the lives of those who came before us. While I briefly contemplated a career in history, I soon realized that my stories belonged on the screen."

“While studying history, I discovered the allure of storytelling and resolved to make it my life's pursuit.”

Kiriko Mechanicus

With a background in historical studies, it's unsurprising that Kiriko gravitates towards documentaries over fiction. "There's an inherent intrigue in documentaries; you're never quite certain what will unfold, sometimes truly feeling as though you're getting to know someone intimately by observing their speech and mannerisms. Through documentaries, we narrate history, fostering a deeper understanding of the present." Kiriko cites Joshua Oppenheimer and Khalik Allah as inspirations, particularly for their films The Act of Killing and Field N*ggas, which delve into the darker aspects of existence. "People often request cheerful documentary recommendations from me, but alas, I rarely oblige."

Kiriko graduated from the Dutch Film Academy in 2023. Her graduation film,A TOMATO TRAGEDY, delves into the plight of illegal and effectively enslaved African tomato pickers in the southern regions of Italy. However, due to the sensitive nature of the subject in the mafia-controlled south, none of the tomato pickers consented to being depicted visibly in the film. Despite warnings against pursuing such a project, Kiriko remained undeterred. "Many cautioned that it was too perilous. We ourselves posed a significant risk, arriving with our cameras like foreign intruders."

still A Tomato Tragedy (Kiriko Mechanicus, NL 2023)

still A Tomato Tragedy (Kiriko Mechanicus, NL 2023)

The synopsis of A TOMATO TRAGEDY immediately reveals its focus on social issues. But does Kiriko aspire to effect change through her films? "I certainly hope they have an impact, though the reality is that I often leave screenings without feeling as though I've accomplished much more. I contemplate the nexus between social change and film, or art in general. In practice, these realms seem disjointed, despite their interdependence. It appears as though the burden of effecting change is placed upon the viewer, whereas the artwork itself should serve as a catalyst for transformation. It's disconcerting to witness vast sums circulate around films depicting poverty."

“I contemplate the nexus between social change and film, or art in general. In practice, these realms seem disjointed, despite their interdependence.”

Kiriko Mechanicus

Kiriko reflects on Renzo Martens' Enjoy Poverty, a documentary that challenges conventional perceptions of poverty by encouraging impoverished communities in Congo to exploit their circumstances for artistic expression. "It's a brutal and unconventional approach, yet arguably the most candid portrayal of Africa from a Western European perspective. Ultimately, Martens demonstrates with White Cube how art can effectuate change, as evidenced by the establishment of a museum on reclaimed land, where locals craft art from chocolate, subsequently showcased at prestigious venues like MoMa and the Venice Biennale. Witnessing such transformative power inspires me to dedicate a portion of my life to harnessing film's potential for social change." At every screening of A TOMATO TRAGEDY, leaflets are distributed soliciting donations for Casa Sankara, an organisation founded by former tomato pickers to provide refuge and fair employment. They have bought land in Italy where they grow tomatoes honestly, and offer shelter to 500 tomato pickers. They want to use the donations to build a new launderette."

For Kiriko, filmmaking transcends mere production; it fosters a sense of community. "What I cherish about film, whether watching, creating, or engaging with it, is the sense of camaraderie it fosters. In the Netherlands, particularly Amsterdam with its plethora of cinemas, a vibrant community of 'nerdy' cinephiles has emerged. Through my podcast, Celebrating Cinema, and live events, I endeavour to contribute to this community. It's a fulfilling pursuit."

Without film, Kiriko asserts, she would be incomplete. Naturally, she holds opinions on the state of the Dutch film industry. "Bon Bini may be the current favourite among Dutch audiences, but it's a perplexing and racially insensitive film. It's disheartening to witness its popularity. Despite claims that Dutch cinema lacks intrigue, filmmakers like Victor van der Valk prove otherwise. His film Nocturne, stands as a testament to Dutch cinematic brilliance, albeit receiving scant attention following limited arthouse screenings. It begs the question: is there truly a lack of enthusiasm, or are we collectively failing to elevate our standards? The elitism within Dutch cinema culture often dismisses the potential of homegrown productions in favour of foreign alternatives. Both audiences and funding bodies ought to embrace unconventional narratives rather than predictable fare like Bon Bini."

Kiriko acknowledges the challenges of funding independent films, echoing sentiments shared by (guest) lecturers on her course. "Securing financing for documentaries beyond mainstream avenues like NPO or the Film Fund is exceedingly challenging. While platforms like Netflix offer alternative avenues, the reality is that a significant portion of my career will revolve around grant applications." This underscores the Catch-22 inherent in the subsidy system.

"The demands placed upon filmmakers by broadcasters, audiences, and funding bodies are immense. One must justify their project before fully conceptualising it, a daunting prospect considering the unpredictable nature of documentary filmmaking. Reality cannot be scripted; there are instances where subjects retract their participation or alter their narratives mid-production. I respect their autonomy; I enter their homes with the intent of portraying their significance to the world."

“The demands placed upon filmmakers by broadcasters, audiences, and funding bodies are immense. One must justify their project before fully conceptualising it, a daunting prospect considering the unpredictable nature of documentary filmmaking.”

Kiriko Mechanicus

This pressure to justify her work contradicts the ethos instilled on Kiriko by filmmaker Coco Schrijber, who imparted invaluable wisdom during Kiriko's time at the Film Academy. "Coco's unapologetic approach resonated deeply with me. She encouraged me to pursue my vision unapologetically, a sentiment often absent within academic or artistic circles. I aim to maintain that spirit as I navigate my career. I hope she allows me to keep calling her."

Kiriko also heeds advice from fellow filmmakers, such as Aliona van der Horst, who cautioned against crafting films that provide definitive answers. "A film's beauty lies in its ability to prompt questions, allowing viewers to ruminate long after the credits roll. It's a concept I intend to embrace in my forthcoming project funded by the Dutch Film Fund wildcard I received in 2023."

“I was once cautioned against crafting films that provide definitive answers. A film's beauty lies in its ability to prompt questions, allowing viewers to ruminate long after the credits roll.”

Kiriko Mechanicus

Feeling liberated post-graduation, Kiriko revels in the freedom to explore new avenues. Currently in the research phase of her next project, she delves into the phenomenon of 'yellow fever' – the exclusive preference among some men for dating and sexual relationships with East Asian women. "It's a nuanced topic, blurring the lines between racism and sexual preference. While it once incited anger, I now find it intriguing, it's driven by a genuine yet enigmatic desire. As a Japanese woman, I don't have to look far to find subjects willing to discuss this phenomenon. Research, thus far, has been primarily online. The possibility remains that the entire film may unfold within that realm."