Guest in Focus: Daniel LÓPEZ


In the 2023 edition of the Nippon Connection Film Festival’s NIPPON DOCS section, we are presenting Daniel LÓPEZ’ film UMUI – GUARDIANS OF TRADITIONS.

Daniel López was born in Switzerland in 1970 and moved to Okinawa in 2003. In 2010, he graduated from the University of Arts in Okinawa. He then worked as a photographer, publisher and TV presenter. In 2015, he made his first feature-length documentary KATABUI – IN THE HEART OF OKINAWA (NC ’16). UMUI – GUARDIANS OF TRADITIONS (2022 / NC ’23) was awarded the Grand Prix for Best Anthropological-Ethnographic Film at the 2022 Tokyo Documentary Film Festival.

We thank Daniel LÓPEZ for this interview.

UMUI – GUARDIANS OF TRADITIONS depicts century-old customs from Okinawa. What do traditions mean to you?

Traditions are the roots of identity. They are inherited from the past and a link to the ancestors. In Okinawa, they create a bond inside communities and families. I think that without its traditions, Okinawa would lose its essence and uniqueness.

You have lived in Okinawa for many years. Which event brought you there initially? What about this place particularly fascinates you to this day?

In 2000, I took a sabbatical vacation and left for a long trip to Asia. While in Tokyo, I listened to Okinawa music and decided to visit the island. Okinawa was a place I hardly knew and I was surprised by its cultural differences from Japan.
Touched by the kindness of the people I met, and moved by the beauty of the island’s nature, I felt like I could live there. It was love at the first sight. One year later, I decided to leave Switzerland and moved to Okinawa. Now it’s been 20 years, and despite the changes I’ve seen, I’m still fascinated by the beauty of some parts of the island, as well as the culture and traditions that are alive in the daily life of its people. Yet, I must say I can feel the islands fragility now more than before. This is also a reason why I have made this movie.

(Nippon Connection 2023 – Nippon Docs: UMUI – GUARDIANS OF TRADITIONS by Daniel LOPÉZ)

Your documentary portrays, among many other traditions, the Ryukyu dance and sanshin music. Do you practice any of these artforms yourself?

Although I am very fond of Okinawa’s culture, I don’t practice any of these art forms. Through my activities as a film maker and photographer I’ve been more a witness than a practitioner.

How did the locals react when they heard about your film project?

Despite the fact that the movie was produced during the pandemic, everyone was very cooperative. I think they were surprised by my approach as I didn’t film interviews. We spent long hours talking in a casual way and sharing moments of their daily life. They were often surprised that I was interested in things that are common for them.

Do you already have plans for future films or other projects?

I have a few projects going on. A few months ago, I had my debut as stage director for a musical drama in which we used video in a cinematic way and I’d like to further explore this medium of art. I’m at the beginning of a new project related to a theater play and a fiction movie inspired by a personal experience in Okinawa. Also, in collaboration with the Garaman Hall in Ginoza, I keep on building artistic bridges between Europe and Okinawa through artist-residencies and cultural exchanges.

(Nippon Connection 2023 – Nippon Docs: UMUI – GUARDIANS OF TRADITIONS by Daniel LOPÉZ)

Japan 2022, 75 min
at the 23nd Nippon Connection Film Festival

Check out the trailer here

Don’t miss: Lion Dance From Okinawa
The complete program and tickets are available on the festival homepage.

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