Dean Yamada, Director of Cicada: 2014 Heartland Film Festival Interview

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Dean Yamada received his MFA in film production from the University of Southern California. His thesis film, The Nisei Farmer, earned him the grand prize for best short film at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. Dean now works as a professor in Biola’s Cinema and Media Arts Dept., focusing in production and post-production.

HFF: What is your film about, and how did the project come to be?

DY: Cicada is an ensemble film about a group of quirky adults who throw a birthday party for a boy, who is being bullied at school, in hopes of changing his peers’ perception of him.  It follows in the footsteps of our previous short films, Jitensha (Bicycle) and Persimmon, which both have elements of magical-realism. For Cicada, we brought together the same team, which included writer Yu Shibuya, actors Yugo Saso and Masayuki Yui, composer Dana Niu and consulting editor Leilani T. Abad. After we shot Persimmon, we all felt that it was time to take it to the next level and try our hand at shooting a feature.

HFF: What was your role in the production?

DY: I am the director of Cicada. I am also a film professor at Biola University, so Cicada was made as part of a course that I teach in which my wife Leilani and I bring a team of Biola students overseas to make a movie together.  For Cicada, we brought a team of 10 students and three alumni to Tokyo, where we shot the film in 20 days in the summer. During my time as an educator, we have made four shorts and two features in Japan, Germany and Indonesia with six different teams of students. It’s been incredibly humbling, exhilarating and fun.

HFF: Why did you submit to the Heartland Film Festival? Have you been to the Festival before?

DY: Our short films Jitensha (Bicycle) and Persimmon have screened at Heartland. Jitensha (Bicycle) won the Vision Award at the 2009 festival. That Heartland experience continues to be one of my all-time favorite festival memories, which is why I feel particularly grateful to be returning with a feature. I remember audiences came out in droves, hungry for good movies. I’ve never felt so affirmed as an artist as I did that weekend.

HFF: This year’s tagline is “Shift Your Perspective” – what lasting effect will your film have on moviegoers?

DY: I hope Cicada will resonate with audiences. I hope it makes people laugh, cry and think. As with cicadas, there is a shedding of the skin, a transformation that occurs within each of us when we step outside of ourselves.

HFF: What has inspired you to become a filmmaker?

DY: Initially, it was the simple love of movies that inspired me to become a filmmaker. As I began to actually study film, I started to find my voice as a storyteller, and then I realized the power and potential of this visual medium.  Since then, my love of cinema and the power of this art form have fueled my passion for making movies.

HFF: What is something that you know about filmmaking now, but you weren’t told when you started your career?

DY: I knew filmmaking was collaborative, but I did not fully understand how important it is to surround yourself with good people. A crew member’s attitude and heart will go a long ways in helping you realize your vision, and I would rather work with people who are positive and teachable even if it means sacrificing some talent.

HFF: What are some of your favorite movies? What’s your favorite worst movie (you know it’s bad, but still love it)?

DY: My all-time favorite film is The Shawshank Redemption. When it first came out in theaters, I watched it five times because it moved me so much. My other favorites include A Separation, Magnolia, the Before Sunrise trilogy and Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low.

As for the best worst movie, does The Lost Boys count?  A Joel Schumaker movie with the two Coreys. I don’t know if it qualifies as a bad movie, but it’s a classic in my book.  It is so watchable and nostalgic for me.

HFF: How many film festivals has your film been a part of? What do you like the most about the festival experience?

DY: Heartland will be Cicada‘s fourth festival screening. In May, it premiered at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, where it took home the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature.  It is also the centerpiece film at the Guam International Film Festival this month.  Because Cicada is my first feature, it has been a new and exciting experience to watch it with audiences. There is a different feeling taking a journey with a longer-form film than with a short–I have never felt as rewarded as a filmmaker than watching this feature movie with audiences as they laugh and respond to the characters.

HFF: Heartland Film Festival moviegoers love filmmaker Q&As. Let’s say a Festival attendee wants to earn some brownie points—what is a question that you’d love to answer, but haven’t yet been asked?

DY: Hmmm, how about: “How can I buy a copy of Cicada?” or “Can you explain the use of divisions of the frame throughout the film?”


See Cicada at the 2014 Heartland Film Festival:

  • Friday, Oct. 17 – 12:15 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Friday, Oct. 17 – 6:00 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Saturday, Oct. 18 – 10:00 am at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
  • Sunday, Oct. 19 – 3:00 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Monday, Oct. 20 – 4:30 pm at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
  • Wednesday, Oct. 22 – 8:00 pm at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
  • Friday, Oct. 24 – 11:15 am at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Saturday, Oct. 25 – 7:45 pm at AMC Castelton Square 14
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