WORDS BY KHALID STRICKLAND a.k.a. BLACK PACINO
Filmmaker and Columbia University graduate Aaron Woolfolk didn’t set out to make history with The Harimaya Bridge, his critically-acclaimed first feature film. But since he’s the first African-American to direct a feature film in Japan, with a near-exclusively black and Japanese cast, it’s a noteworthy achievement.
The script for Harimaya Bridge impressed famed actor Danny Glover, who became its executive producer and acted in one of its lead roles. Ko Mori, a prestigious Japanese film producer and distributor, also took stake in Bridge and got the movie on silver screens in Japan. The film is now being screened at venues in the United States, including the San Diego Asian Film Festival. Harimaya Bridge will also be screened at the New York African Diaspora Film Festival on December 6th and 13th. Both screenings will be at the Thalia Theater at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway (at 95th Street) in Manhattan.
Harimaya Bridge is the story of a father who travels to Japan because his son, who had a job there teaching English, perishes in a traffic accident. Daniel Holder, portrayed in the movie by Ben Guillory (Color Purple, Tuskegee Airmen), despises Japan because his father was killed in a brutal fashion while fighting the Japanese in World War II. But during his visit to the Land of the Rising Sun, Daniel discovers the life-altering secrets his son left behind.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Woolfolk and below the jump, he reveals the inspiration for his debut feature.
“I originally went to Japan on a J.E.T. (Japanese-English Teaching) Program before I got out of college and I really loved my experience there; I was out there for a year. I had originally planned to stay out there for three years but then I got into film school after my first year and they wouldn’t let me defer. So I had to leave Japan after only one year and I went to New York for film school. But I’m still thinking about Japan and I was also thinking about my career as a filmmaker. So I tried to find a way to combine the two. For my thesis project in film school at Columbia, I went to Japan and shot two short films just to show it was a viable option to go there and shoot films. I did that and it went really well.”
Woolfolk also explained how he landed Danny Glover, one of Hollywood’s most esteemed actors, to stand behind Harimaya Bridge and become a partner.
“I applied for a developing grant from the Walt Disney Company. To apply for that grant you need to have a sponsoring organization. So I got turned on to Robey Theater Company, which is a theater company that Danny co-founded with Ben Guillory, who ended up starring in the film. He and Ben Guillory, they go back like forty years. They started acting together as young men in San Francisco in the late 1960’s. So I applied for this grant through Robey Theater Company and I got to know Danny; he got to know me and my work. I wanted to get him involved and Danny is very supportive of young filmmakers, especially young black filmmakers with the voice that he likes, so he really got behind this project.”
Although the film is universal and has been praised by people of all races, Woolfolk aims to broaden the territory of black filmmakers.
“I wanted to do a story that put black people on the international stage. There’s so much more to the black experience than we usually get through films and TV here. I’ve had that experience; I’ve known so many other black people, both African-American and African, who have had the experience of living and working overseas. So I wanted to show that. A lot of times, Hollywood gets comfortable with the little boxes they put us in and they don’t want to experience any of the other boxes. So you get the comedies and stuff like that, which I don’t have a problem with. My big thing is that there’s such a wide range of the black experience and I want to see all of it.”
If expansion is the goal, then Harimaya Bridge is a groundbreaking start.
Check out the trailer for Harimaya Bridge. When this movie is in your town, give it a whirl and support diverse, quality cinema.