This spring, Biola University premiered its first-ever feature-length film, Cicada, produced by faculty, students and alumni of the cinema and media arts department. Directed by professor Dean Yamada — whose previous short films Jitensha, Persimmon and Mujo no Kaze were also made in collaboration with Biola students — Cicada recently won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Biola Magazine spoke with Yamada about the film, the award and his unique success in making award-winning films with Biola students.

Cicada is the first feature-length film created by Biola’s cinema and media arts program. Can you briefly describe the process for making the film?

In the summer of 2012, my wife, Leilani, and I traveled to Japan with 10 Biola students and three alumni to produce Cicada. We partnered with a production company in Tokyo, and together our small team of filmmakers shot a 100-minute film on a miniscule budget in 20 days. A Hollywood blockbuster generally takes months to shoot and millions of dollars to produce, but we did it using a fraction of the time and cost. Not many university film programs are tackling feature films, but Cicada is the first of two feature films we have shot in the past two years.

How was the process of making Cicada, being feature-length, different from the process of making the shorts you’ve previously made with Biola students?

In the past, my students and I would take about six days to shoot a 20-minute film. For Cicada, we had 20 days to make a 100-minute film, so we needed to shoot more pages of the script per day in order to complete the film on time. Because our shooting schedule was so tight, there was no room for error. Also, our previous short films were shot during the freezing temperatures of January, whereas Cicada was shot in the middle of the summer. Tokyo’s summers are notorious for their suffocating humidity, vicious mosquitoes and inflexible downpours. Thankfully, we only had one rain delay, but one of the students counted over 250 mosquito bites on her body.

What is Cicada about? What was the impetus for making it?

Cicada is the story of a discordant group of adults who throw a birthday party for a young boy who is being bullied at school. Following the success of our short films Jitensha and Persimmon, we believed we could continue to raise the bar by taking this model of production and applying it to a longer form project. We again collaborated with writer Yu Shibuya, actor Yugo Saso and composer Dana Niu of Jitensha and Persimmon, and invited three alumni to provide leadership and experience for the 10 students.

Cicada won the grand jury prize recently at the 30th Annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. What was that experience like?

Leilani and I have been attending the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival since our days in grad school, so we have much respect for this particular festival and the filmmakers who have come through it. Winning the grand jury prize was definitely humbling and a bit overwhelming because there were so many good films in competition, and our film is a small, quiet story made with my students without the benefit of a decent budget.

What’s next for Cicada? Are you showing it at more film festivals?

We have submitted Cicada to more festivals for the fall season and are hoping for the best. Our next festival stop will be at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, where my graduate thesis film The Nisei Farmer picked up the grand prize for best short film. Our goals are not only to find an audience for Cicada, but also to build up its festival pedigree. Ultimately, we want to secure distribution so that our film can be seen by a greater number of people.

What’s next for you in terms of filmmaking? Any new projects in the works?

As for our next project, Leilani and I wrote the script for a feature film we shot last summer in Indonesia. Through the support of a Biola alumnus who runs a studio in Jakarta, we again traveled with eight current students (two of which had just finished their freshman year) to shoot the cinema and media arts department’s second feature-length film. We are currently in post-production and hope to debut the film in the spring of 2015. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with my students, work with international teams and create art that will have a lasting impact.


Cicada from Dean Yamada on Vimeo.