Sunday, August 17, 2014

Snorting doc

Perhaps I am a masochist.  Why else would I be releasing a new film, '-1287' (INFO), next month, with two new feature documentaries currently in production while still traveling with and promoting last year's 'A2-B-C' (website English/ 日本語)?  It's either that or I have some kind of addiction: much as a coke addict puts all of their money up their nose, I put all of mine on the screen.  Given the choice of buying food or one more memory card, I would go for the memory card and eat the paper packaging.  That's normal, right?

In any case, I am, as the Japanese expression goes, "貧乏暇なし", literally translated as "there is no leisure for the poor", which means I have neither the time or money to do anything even remotely naughty.

Recently, a colleague who has helped me with getting the word out about 'A2-B-C' and who spends a great deal of time working on nuclear-related issues, asked if me putting out a new film about something other than the children being affected by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima meant that I was no longer going to work on raising awareness about this issue.  It felt strangely like the suggestion was that me working on something other than the nuclear disaster was some kind of affront to those who have been helping me with my work in Fukushima over the past three years.

Just to be perfectly clear, here is my response to such a black and white way of thinking:
  1. I am filmmaker.  Full stop.  I make lots of films about lots of things, and I feel that this is what makes the work I do about the nuclear disaster speak to people.  If I only made films about nuclear disasters, the films would be very different from what they are, and I suggest they would be more affected than effective.
  2. The films I make which may not be directly related to the nuclear disaster will serve to keep my work about Fukushima in the news by drawing attention to my previous work (such as  'In the Grey Zone' website HERE and 'A2-B-C').  In no way will releasing a film not about Fukushima take away attention from my work about Fukushima.  In fact, it is quite the opposite: having a new film in competition on the international film festival circuit and in the news will make for a perfect platform for me to talk about my continuing work in Fukushima.
Now that that is off my chest, here are a few highlights of upcoming screenings of my films:

After screening in the 2014 Newburyport Documentary Film Festival (STORY), 'A2-B-C' has been invited to take part in two encore screenings in the coming weeks.  News article HERE, Facebook event HERE.
August 24 and September 7, 2014: Massachusetts, USA
'A2-B-C' screening in Newburyport Documentary Film Festival Encore screenings
Post-screening Q&A via Skype on August 24th!

Next month, 'A2-B-C' will be screening in Australia at Monash University.  Official event link HERE.
September 18, 2014: Melbourne, AUSTRALIA
'A2-B-C' screening at Monash University
Post-screening Q&A via Skype!
In September, I will be traveling to Europe for the World Premier of '-1287' (details coming soon!).  While there, 'A2-B-C' will be screening in the Berlin edition of the Uranium Film Festival (info HERE).  In May, 'A2-B-C' held the South American Premier in the main festival in Rio de Janeiro (story HERE).  Schedule and funding permitting, while in Europe I hope to be able to pop over to Berlin for the screening.
October 1, 2014: Berlin, GERMANY
'A2-B-C' screening in the Uranium Film Festival Berlin
Attendance pending

After returning from Europe, I will come home to Japan briefly before heading off to Singapore where I have been invited to present 'A2-B-C' at an academic conference entitled Exposure and Effect: Measuring Safety, Environment and Life in Asia at the Nanyang Technological University.  Details coming soon!
October 11, 2014: Singapore
'A2-B-C' screening at Nanyang Technological University's conference:
Exposure and Effect: Measuring Safety, Environment and Life in Asia
In attendance
I will then immediately be off to Taiwan where '-1287' will be be holding the Asian Premier in the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival (INFO).  Screening scheudle coming soon!
October 9-19, 2014: Taipei, TAIWAN
'-1287' screening in Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival
In attendance
Community screenings of 'A2-B-C' will continue throughout the autumn, with several groups in North America arranging screenings, including:
November 2, 2014: Los Angeles, USA
'A2-B-C' screening at Alvis Showroom (LINK)
Details coming soon!
And the newly created French version of 'A2-B-C', with subtitles graciously donated by Janick Magne, will be premiering in Quebec.
November 18, 2014: Montreal, CANADA
'A2-B-C' screening at Concordia University
Facebook event HERE, more details coming soon!
In between, trips abroad I will be busy here in Japan working on two new films and assisting on a course at a top university in Tokyo (more details soon!).  Meanwhile, the domestic screenings of 'A2-B-C' in Japan will continue throughout the autumn.  Details on all the domestic screenings are here 日本語, while the highlights of the screenings at which I am scheduled to be in attendance are:
September 14:  Nagano
September 20: Oita
October 4~:  Fukui
October 24: Chigasaki
October 26: Wakayama
Thank you all so much for your continued support and encouragement!

Much Peace,

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Minus 1287 and counting

It's been pretty quiet this week as the Obon Holidays in Japan (INFO) are a time when many Tokyoites return to their hometowns in the countryside and many businesses close.  The holiday has also brought a lull in the screenings of my documentary 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語), which will start picking up again next week (SCHEDULE 日本語).

Quietly in the background I have been working on a new documentary called '-1287' (WEBSITE), pronounced "minus-one-two-eight-seven", which I wrote about most recently in June (HERE).  Although the news was still under press embargo at that time, we had just received several positive responses from film festivals based on the rough cut, and this helped give the post-production team and me an extra push as we were in the final stages of putting the film together.  The film wasn't even finished yet, and we were already receiving offers to screen it!

Today, the Asian Premier of '-1287' was officially announced by the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival (News Release HERE), and so I can finally talk about it.  And stay tuned, because there is even more good news on the way!

It is a huge honour to screen in Taiwan, a country that over the past six months has become a kind of second home to me (highlights HERE and HERE), and it is extremely humbling that '-1287' is one of the 15 films selected for the International Competition category.

The Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival takes place October 9-19.

Thank you all so very much for your support and encouragement!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Hiroshima Day 2014

August 6: Hiroshima Day

The atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima 69 years ago today at 8:15 in the morning.

Today, activist and second-generation Hiroshima hibakusha, victim of radiation exposure, Mr. Kaneoka, planned two screenings of my film, 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE).  Mr. Kaneoka, 66 years old, was born in Hiroshima just three years after bombing, to a father who is a hibakusha.  Since his days as a student activist when films were all on 35mm, Mr. Kaneoka (in PHOTO below) has planned private screenings of films about political/ world issues and brought them to people living in small towns without proper cinemas.  His mission has been to not only give people living outside of large cities the opportunity to see these films but also to come together and discuss the issues brought up in the films during talk sessions following the screenings.

The two screenings today were in the Saitama Prefecture cities of Yanasegawa and Shiki, and I was invited to attend and talk part in the post-screening discussions.

During the first screening in Yanasegawa, Mr. Idogawa, the former mayor of Futaba, was in attendance, and it was an honour to finally have the opportunity to meet this brave man.  After the nuclear meltdown, Mayor Idogawa was the only mayor to evacuate completely his town prior to receiving direction from the national government, and his tireless efforts to protect his townspeople have been documented in several films, including the documentary "Nuclear Nation" (directed by Atsushi Funshashi, whom I meet from time to time at places such as THIS).

Mayor Idogawa has recently received severe criticism for speaking out about health problems he attributes to radiation exposure, including severe nosebleeds (something about which the mothers in my film also talk).  To the ire of the government, he has even posted pictures of his bloody noses on the internet (Mainichi news article HERE).  As he knows infinitely more about the issues brought up in my film than I do, during the post-screening Q&A, I asked Mayor Idogawa (far left in PHOTO below) to share some of his experiences and knowledge with those in attendance.

A note of special gratitude to documentary filmmaker Satomi Horikiri (in PHOTO below) whose own work also documents Mayor Idogawa's efforts.  Not only did she invite him to today's screening, but she also generously took the photos in this blog entry.

Especially considering the locations and the small population of the towns where the two screenings were held, the attendance was great, and at the end of the day Mr. Kaneoka was extremely pleased to report that over 120 people had participated in the events.

Hiroshima Day 2014: a time to reflect, to share and to never forget about hibakusha, the victims of radiation exposure.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Even the Birds Need to be Loved

The inaugural Lake Champlain International Film Festival (WEBSITE) will take place in November in the newly renovated Strand Theatre in the city of Plattsburgh, New York (ARTICLE).  While this will be the first edition of the festival, it already holds a special place in my heart: I graduated from Plattsburgh State University in 2000 and watched films in the Strand when I was studying film with Professor Dr. Jon Chatlos, who inspired me to follow my heart and pursue making films.

As part of the events leading up to the festival, an evening of short film screenings was held this evening in Plattsburgh.  I was asked to contribute one of my films by my Plattsburgh-based friend and colleague Jason Torrance, who requested "something lighter (that) will fit the tone of the night".  Wanting to support the event, there were just two small problems: (1) I do not generally make short films (which I find harder to make than feature-length documentaries because there is less time to develop the story); and (2) I do not generally focus on stories that are "light".  I instead tend to focus on things like homelessness/ drug abuse INFO, death VIDEO, a nuclear meltdown VIDEO twice (!) VIDEO, and death.  Also twice. VIDEO
But then I remembered a short documentary I had been commissioned to make several years ago, one that I had planned on screening after re-editing it for a general release.  But when the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima in 2011 happened, all of my other projects were put on hold, including this one.

I sent the film, called 'Even the Birds Need to be Loved' to Jason along with the following Director's Statement.  Tonight it was exhibited publicly for the very first time in Plattsburgh.

Even the Birds Need to be Loved, director’s statement

In January of 2010, I was commissioned by Mrs. Hisa Uno to film a documentary for her husband, Shingo’s, 88th birthday. The couple had been married for 59, years and the documentary was to be a gift for their family. 

When Mr. and Mrs. Uno’s children heard I was filming a documentary about the couple, they contacted me and asked if I would record a series of messages from all of the members of their extended family (including one who would send his from abroad). This was to be a surprise for the elderly couple that they wanted to screen after the main documentary was revealed for the first time.

The previous autumn had seen a big change for me in my filmmaking career. Until then, I had only directed feature documentaries in English, the ballad of vicki and jake (2006, UK) and Jake, not finished yet (2010, UK/ Japan). Although I had been living in Japan for nearly seven years, I had never felt confident enough in my Japanese to work without an interpreter. I knew when I eventually did make a feature documentary in Japanese, that I wanted to conduct the interviews directly with the person with whom I was speaking and not though an interpreter. 

In the autumn of 2009, I began filming what I had thought was going to be my first feature documentary in Japanese. Having been granted access to Ms. Natsuo Fukamidori, one of the most famous post-war “Takarazuka” singers, I began to document the 87-year-old performer. She had never allowed herself to be filmed or photographed out of costume, and her handlers were astonished when she allowed me into her dressing room as she changed, put on wigs and applied her make-up. It was an amazing experience from which I learned so much, but it was unfortunately short-lived; just months after filming began, Ms. Fukamidori suddenly fell ill and the documentary was put on hold. She passed away a few months later. 

When I received the commission from Mrs. Uno, it was not only an opportunity to work on a heart-warming story, but it was also a chance for me to finally make a documentary in Japanese. Filmed over one entire day that I spent with Mr. and Mrs. Uno, the 50-minute documentary was called Jinsei ni Kampai (or To Your Health in English), and was filled with the couple’s retelling of favourite family stories and scenes from their daily life. The extended Uno family gathered together on Shingo’s 88th birthday and watched the film for the first time together along with the messages I had recorded as a surprise for the elderly couple. 

While I was making the documentary, I became aware that while there were some parts that were private and intended just for the Uno family, there was another film inside of that film, one that I wanted to share with the world. With the family’s permission, I re-edited Jinsei ni Kampai into a 20 minute short documentary to which I gave the English title Even the Birds Need to be Loved

As fate would have it, however, before I could complete post-production on the documentary, the March 11, 2011, triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown struck Japan. Before I even knew what was happening, I was heading north towards the no-go zone, and the rest is, as they say, history. 

Even the Birds Need to be Loved is a rough cut, a work-in-progress. Fours years after filming, Mr. and Mrs. Uno are still smiling and enjoying each other’s company. 

Born in Watertown, NY, documentary filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash graduated from Plattsburgh State University in 2000. He has lived in Japan for more than 12 years, and is the director of five feature documentary films. Information on his two films about children living in Fukushima following the nuclear meltdown, ‘In the Grey Zone’ (2012) and ‘A2-B-C’ (2013), as well as his newest documentary, ‘-1287’ (2014), can be found on his website:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eating Nightmares

This weekend saw the unfolding of the Japan-wide theatrical release of 'A2-B-C' continue with the film opening in the Kansai city of Kobe where it will be in residence for the next two weeks at Kobe Art Village Center in the Shinkaichi District (INFO 日本語).  This visit marks the third time I have been to Kobe in the past six months; the first was last December when 'A2-B-C' screened during the PIA Film Festival (STORY), and then I was here earlier this month when I was invited to speak at the University of Kobe (STORY).

Following the screening this evening, there was a formal Q&A as well time to meet with people informally in the lobby.  Among the visitors was an animal called a "baku" ( ばく) in Japanese, or "tapir" in English, which gave me a tea towel.  To be honest, I have no idea how or why the "baku" was there, and living in Japan, you just learn not to ask questions and to accept these completely random things as being totally normal.  

One of the theatre staff members leaned over and whispered to me, "myth has it that 'baku' eat people's nightmares".  

If only they could eat the nightmare that is this nuclear disaster...

Sunday, July 20, 2014


The screenings of 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) around the country continued this weekend in the Nagano Prefecture city of Matsumoto.  It was the first time for me to visit this part of Japan, and I continue to be so grateful for the amazing opportunity to travel with which this film has provided me.

Arriving in Matsumoto yesterday, there was time to take in a few must-see sites before the screenings of 'A2-B-C' in the evening.  Matsumoto is a perfectly-sized city, with nearly all of the historical landmarks, museums and cultural points of interest within walking distance of the train station (tourist information in English is HERE).  

Throughout the city, natural springs bubble up and the cool, clean water can be enjoyed both on the spot and collected in a bottle to enjoy later.  Local residents can often be seen filling up large jugs to bring home, and I filled my own travel bottle to sip while walking around the city; and when it became empty, there was always another spring just around the corner!

First stop on my tour was the 400 year old Matsumoto Castle, designated as a natural treasure of Japan (info in English HERE).  It was after five in the evening by the time I got there, so I wasn't able to go inside, but what a majestic setting for this beautiful structure!

In the evening 'A2-B-C' was screened twice by Cinema Select, a non-profit organization established to bring films dealing with current social issues to Matsumoto (INFO) following the closing of the last cinema in the city.

After the second screening of the film, I took part in a panel discussion and Q&A with the audience.

This morning, with a few hours to spare before needing to head back to Tokyo, there was time to visit the former Kaichi School, built in 1876 (info in English HERE).

The city of Matumoto is also the birthplace of "dots-obsessed" artist Yayoi Kusama, and the Matsumoto Museum of Art holds a large collection of her work (info in English HERE).  The courtyard and even the vending machines at the museum are adorned with her famous dots.

After a lunch of local soba noodles (delicious!), I stopped at a spring to fill up my travel bottle one last time before heading back to the station for a train that would take me back to the concrete jungle that is Tokyo.  Pausing to take in the beautiful view and fresh air of Matsumoto, I thought about the Fukushima families in my film who are so concerned about the health of their children and the safety of the food they eat and the water they drink...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Never forget: it's all about the money

On Thursday, I was invited to a screening of "Somba Ke- The Money Place", directed by David Henningson (website HERE) at Seijo University (event info HERE).  The screening was followed by a discussion session called "The Global Impacts of the Uranium Trade" with the filmmaker and moderated by Seijo University's Dennis Riches.

The film documents the Sahtu Dene, a group of First Nation people in Northern Canada, as they are impacted by the affects of uranium mining near where they live.  Uranium mining had been proposed to them as good for their economy and modernization, even though they had lived perfectly fine for thousands of years without television or Coca Cola.  The Sahtu Dene were employed to help transport the uranium while the danger to their health was hidden from them by the Canadian government.  

There are more than a few similarities between this story and the way the Japanese government introduced nuclear power plants into the agricultural communities of rural Japan. 

When filmmaker David Henningson learned that uranium from the El Dorado mine in Canada was used to make the nuclear bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that some of the Sahtu Dene planned to go to Japan to apologize to atomic bomb survivors for unwittingly helping to create such destruction, he knew he had to make a film.  But the film he ended up making was very different from the one he had planned...

Tonight I conducted a Q&A and talk after a screening of my own film about how radiation can affect a group of people, 'A2-B-C', (WEBSITE ENGLISH/ 日本語).  While the theatrical release unfolds around the country (currently screening in the Kansai cities of Osaka and Kyoto, info HERE), private screenings in and around the capital are taking place following a successful six-week theatrical release in Tokyo (INFO).

Tonight's event, called 「3.11を忘れない」"Never Forget 3.11" (INFO 日本語) was the first of a three-part series taking place this year on July 11, August 11 and September 11, where films related to the March 11, 2011 disaster are being screened.  The screening in the 240-seat hall in the ocean-side city of Kamakura, one hour outside of Tokyo, was completely sold-out, and they unfortunately had to turn some people away.  (Since the event was taking place in a public hall, they had to strictly adhere to the fire regulations... no sitting in the aisles and standing in the back as at some other recent screenings of the film).

The event, in its second year, is organized by physician Dr. Taro Sakai and United Christ of Church Pastor Kensaku Iwai with assistance by many volunteers from the local community. 

(left photo) with Dr. Sakai ; (right photo, L to R) a volunteer, Dr. Sakai, Rev. Iwai and his wife
The post-screening discussion was led by local radio personality Ms. Nakatani Natsuko, and although the plan was to have us speaking from the stage, I asked if we could do it from the floor in front of the stage.  I am not an expert, I am simply a filmmaker, and I feel uncomfortable speaking from a level higher than the audience, especially when there are often real experts in the audience who know much more about medical and radiation issues than I do.  To facilitate a more intimate and friendly conversation (as much as is possible with over 200 people), Ms. Nakatani and I descended the stairs.

The audience's questions were varied;  Do I drink the water and eat the food in Fukushima when I go there?  Yes.  What will the long term affects be on the children living in Fukushima?  No one really knows.  What did I think of the rag mag that published an outrageously critical article about me, the film and the mothers that appear in it (INFO)?  While I feel sorry for the criticism the mothers continue to receive, the article helped bring more people into the cinema to see what all the fuss was about, so I say "bring it on"!

No matter what question one could ask about this disaster, whether it is why more people were not evacuated, why non-radioactive iodine was not handed out, why the nuclear plants were not more quake-resistant, why people's homes are undergoing "decontamination" even though it is proven that it is ineffective, why anything, the answer can always be traced back to one thing: money.