Wednesday, October 17, 2018

How to make Tommy Lee Jones smile

/ 12:10 AM November 04, 2017

Tommy Lee Jones—Photo courtesy of Tokyo International Film Festival

TOKYO—For the most part, one of the invited journalists’ most “pressing” tasks at the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival was persuading head juror, American actor-director Tommy Lee Jones, to crack a smile.

Every time he made a public appearance, whether at the Opening Night party or the jury’s press conference, he would often be greeted by photographers’ incessant request: “Smile, Mr. Jones.”


And he would oblige every time. Whether the grin was made grudgingly or not, the fact remains that Jones has carved quite an impressive career out of portraying “grumpy old guy” characters—the “Men in Black” franchise, “In the Valley of Elah,” “Lincoln” and “The Fugitive,” for which he won an Academy Award for best supporting actor in 1993.

Make no mistake about it, though. Jones, who won best actor in Cannes for his big-screen directorial debut, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” in 2005, certainly knew how to turn on the charm.


He explained that, as head of the jury, he’s looking for movies that exemplify “good film craft…that lead viewers, if not drag them, to understand each other.” These are films that “make an impression…beyond their country of origin.”

Tommy Lee Jones at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo fest (Photo courtesy of Tokyo International Film Festival)

Since the jury is composed of five different people from five various countries, it’s inevitable for them to have divergent points of view, as well.

But the basics transcend borders, Jones asserted. For starters, he elaborated, “the movie has to be in focus. It needs a coherent narrative structure, the colors…all the elements need to cohere.”

Provocative cinema goes beyond propaganda and bravado, and delves into the “human factor.” This year’s jury, he remarked, is not saddled by a “political agenda.”

Jones, who graduated cum laude with a degree in English from Harvard University, insisted that cinema is far too complex to be summed up in one word. “If cinema could be reduced to a word, none of us would be rolling our cameras.”

Tommy Lee Jones (third from left) with the jury members (from left) Japan's Masatoshi Nagase, France's Martin Provost, China's Zhao Wei and Iran's Reza Mirkarimi (Photo courtesy of Tokyo International Film Festival)

Tommy Lee Jones (third from left) with the jury members (from left) Japan’s Masatoshi Nagase, France’s Martin Provost, China’s Zhao Wei and Iran’s Reza Mirkarimi (Photo courtesy of Tokyo International Film Festival)

He instead offered a scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Pierrot le Fou,” in which director Samuel Fuller waxed poetic about cinema as “a battleground. Love. Hate. Action…emotion.”

Before the press conference could end, however, Jones came up with an alternative definition of cinema. “I actually do have one word: Money,” he jested. “You have to spend a lot of it to make a film.”


A few hours after the press con, Jones visited the Kabukiza Theater for a pictorial with renowned Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo XI.

In the middle of the photo call, two foreign photographers ended up in a fistfight as they scrambled for the perfect spot to take pictures.

Seeing the mêlée, Jones beamed and quipped: “Do that again!”

Now, they know what makes Tommy Lee Jones smile. Cinema is a battlefield, after all.

Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo XI (left) and Tommy Lee Jones at the Kabukiza Theater (Photo by Bayani San Diego Jr.)

Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo XI (left) and Tommy Lee Jones at the Kabukiza Theater (Photo by Bayani San Diego Jr.)

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