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Hank Okazaki Brings World's Films To Duke

Exhibitions programmer loves finding unknown gems of movies

Hank Okazaki in front of a poster for a film by John Woo. Photo courtesy of Hank Okazaki.
Hank Okazaki in front of a poster for a film by John Woo. Photo courtesy of Hank Okazaki.

Name: Hank Okazaki

Position: Exhibitions Programmer, Duke Program in Arts of the Moving Image

Years at Duke: 8

What I do at Duke is: Organize the Screen/Society program of free public film screenings at Duke, often with a faculty panel or filmmaker discussion afterwards. We screen close to 40 films per semester. Some are in series, like the "Reel Revolutions" series on popular uprisings in the Islamic world. Others are individual films. We regularly collaborate with departments, programs and centers at Duke, and some of the movies are original programming from the Program in Arts of the Moving Image (AMI).

How I got my job at Duke is: I worked for AMI as a graduate student, when it was called the Film/Video/Digital program. I was doing my thesis on Hong Kong cinema leading up to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from the U.K. to China. The full-time position opened up, and I said, `let me try this.' 

My first paid job was: A summer job on a construction site. I started out taking nails out of boards, cleaning up trash and digging trenches to lay rebar for the foundation.

My dream job is: It's hard to think of something better than what I am doing. I love film. I like bringing things that are otherwise not seen to the attention of the public. Some of the discussions with the audience or filmmakers can be quite moving.

If people want to start a conversation with me, they should ask about: Movies are always a good start. I also like to hear people's stories about other countries and places. I went to high school at a small international school in England. It gave me somewhat of a transnational perspective on the world.

Something most people don't know about me is: I speak a little bit of Cantonese - enough to help me follow the occasional lines in a movie.

If I had $5 million dollars I would: Probably try to be practical because I have this feeling that people who suddenly come into big amounts of money tend to make big mistakes. 

What I love about Duke is: The intellectual atmosphere. I get to pick the brains of specialists in different regions and specialties and turn up some of these unnoticed gems of movies. It is like having an extended pool of collaborators. 

When I'm not at work I like to: Spend time on the phone with family and friends, especially my family out in California.

The book I am enjoying reading is: Thomas Perry's series of Jane Whitefield novels. They are about a Native American woman who helps people whose lives are threatened by criminals escape and get new identities.

A memorable moment at work for me was: We were one of the early non-theatrical venues to screen a Japanese movie, "The Twilight Samurai." After we received the print, it got nominated for an Academy Award. I had to ship the film print overnight to L.A. after our showing so it could be screened for the Academy Award voters. 

Who would you like to read about as a Blue Devil of the Week? Nominate a colleague.