Monday, June 08, 2015

WERKSTATTKINO

Fresh from the amazing experience of screening in Frankfurt's Nippon Connection and the honour of receiving the audience award for my film '-1287' (STORY), I am in Munich where several of my films are screening all this week at the Werkstattkino cinema.
with friend, film critic, writer and Werkstattkino co-owner, Dolly Kuhn
A gorgeous underground (literally!) cinema that shows awesome films old and new, it is an honour to be screening my films during their Artist in the Focus series.  Screenings will be nightly from Monday to Saturday of this week (SCHEDULE) and will include my films 'In the Grey Zone' (2012, WEBSITE), 'A2-B-C' (2013, WEBSITE), '-1287, (2014, WEBSITE) and a program of my short films, including 'Even the Birds Need to be Loved' (INFO).

Connecting with the Audience

I am so honoured to have been able to share my most recent film, '-1287' (WEBSITE) at the 2015 Nippon Connection Film Festival in Germany this week (INFO).  This festival is close to my heart; after receiving the Nippon Visions Award here in 2013 for my film 'A2-B-C' (STORY), not only did the life of the film, but my life changed, and in ways for which I will be forever grateful.

This year, I was absolutely floored to receive the Nippon Vision Audience Award for the Best Feature Film.  While receiving awards from a jury of one's peers is an immense honour, to receive an award from the voting cinema-goers is absolutely humbling, and I am truly grateful.

「ニッポン・ヴィジョンズ観客賞 2015『-1287』 イアン・トーマス・アッシュ監督」






Its been an amazing experience to attend the 2015 Nippon Connection this week, and  am so thrilled I could share it with my dad.  Here are some of the highlights:

arriving at the festival

with Domo-kun
Group photo

celebrating at the closing party

What exactly this award will mean for '-1287', only time will tell.  This film has not yet been screened in Japan, and more than one Japanese guest in attendance went out of their way to tell me how difficult they thought it would be to screen it back home.  It would seem that both my films and me are always on the edge.  My gratitude to all of you for being my parachute through your continued support and encouragement.

Much Peace and Gratitude,
Ian
Frankfurt, Germany

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Re-Connection

Since returning from screenings in Taiwan 2 weeks ago (INFO), I have been chained to a computer within the depths of the edit suite (thus my relative silence on social media).  I have just handed over the edit to my filmmaking partner Adrian (a.k.a. Uchujin), and we are really excited to be able to share with you more about the film, called MSM, over the next couple of months.

In the meantime, I find myself writing this on the way to the airport.  This time I am on my way to Germany where the German premier of my film '-1287' will take place in the 15th annual Nippon Connection Film Festival in Frankfurt (INFO).  It is an honour to again be invited to screen at Nippon Connection, where the World Premier of my film 'A2-B-C' took place two years ago (INFO).  

'-1287' (WEBSITE) will be screening on the final day of the festival, on Sunday, June 7, 14:45 in the Naxoshalle Kino (INFO).

Following the Nippon Connection film festival, I will be traveling to Munich, where my films 'In the Grey Zone" (2012), 'A2-B-C' (2013), '-1287' (2014) and several of my short films will be screening in the "New Asian Cinema" program of the Werkstatt Kino 2015 (INFO).
  • June 8: ‘In the Grey Zone’ (2012) and program of Ian’s short docs
  • June 9: program of Ian’s short docs and ‘-1287′ (2014)
  • June 10: ‘-1287′ (2014) and ‘A2-B-C’ (2013)
  • June 11: ‘A2-B-C’ (2013)
  • June 12: A2-B-C’ (2013)
  • June 13: A2-B-C’ (2013) 
Thank you all so very much for your continued encouragement and support of my work.

Much Peace and Gratitude,
Ian
Tokyo, Japan

    Thursday, May 14, 2015

    Radiation, secrets and lives

    It has been a busy week.  On Monday, I returned from screening '-1287' in Taiwan (STORY).  Tuesday I had the press conference about the cancellation of screenings of 'A2-B-C' (STORY).  Yesterday, I received confirmation that a piece I had been working on for the Japan Times was going to be published in the online edition last night and in the print edition this morning, so there was lots of final checking of the story and polishing up of the accompanying video.

    The assignment was to conduct a taidan, or conversation, with documentary filmmaker Kamanaka Hitomi.  The edited transcript was printed in the newspaper, and I edited a longer video which was published on my channel in conjunction with the article.

    I first saw it online late last night, but when I saw it print for the first time this morning, I was surprised to realize that it was a full page!

    I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and the challenge to try something new.  I am especially thankful for the support of my colleague Dreux Richard (who recommended me for this job and who edited the transcript),  Ben Stubbins (my editor at the Japan Times), Daisuke Sanada & Sophia Swanson (for the subtitles), and Adrian Uchujin Storey (for the sound mix).

    The full article can be read online HERE and the video is below:


    And the week is not over yet.  Today I started cutting a brand new documentary.  More on that soon...

    Tuesday, May 12, 2015

    Violent far-left extremists in Fukushima? 中核派と福島

    Today, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ) hosted a screening of my film 'A2-B-C', which documents the health of children living in contaminated areas of Fukushima after the nuclear meltdown on March 11, 2011. The screening was followed by a press conference focused on the cancellations of the screenings of the film in Japan (INFO).

    Before the press conference began, I struggled with how I was going to explain something which I am still finding difficult to understand. I also see the issue of the cancellations of 'A2-B-C' as a symptom of a much larger problem affecting press freedom in Japan, and I was hoping that the screening and press conference could also be an opportunity to speak about this much larger issue.



    At this afternoon's press conference I was relieved to be able to announce that during a meeting this morning the Japan domestic screening rights to 'A2-B-C' were returned to me. I will now work toward re-establishing a process for organizing private screenings of the film. A DVD/ internet release of the film is not currently planned for the reasons outlined HERE.

    I would like to express my gratitude to the A2-B-C Screening Committee for their hard work to establish distribution of 'A2-B-C' in Japan. Through their effort, a theatrical release of the film, as well as dozens of private screenings, was made possible. While I find it unfortunate that it was decided that they could no longer be involved with the distribution of the film, I wish them the very best as we all move forward.
    Today's press conference
    The attendees at today's press conference were there not only to see 'A2-B-C' but also to hear why the screenings of 'A2-B-C' had been cancelled.

    The A2-B-C Screening Committee cancelled all domestic screenings of the film after learning that one of the mothers in 'A2-B-C' was rumoured to be a member of Chukaku-ha, a communist political group whose tactics in the past have included violent confrontations with the authorities. The medical clinic that appears in the film, where children are seen receiving thyroid examinations, was also said to be tied to this group.

    It should be noted that in Japan the two main accusations that are hurled at someone to discredit them are that they are either ethnically Korean or communist; accusing someone who is speaking out of being Korean or a communist is a rhetoric often employed in Japan when no other logical argument can be found.

    Leading up to the cancellations of 'A2-B-C', I had received an e-mail alerting me to an article that had been published in the Fukushima Minyu accusing a medical clinic in Fukushima (the one in my film) of having ties to Chukaku-ha.

    【福島民友新聞】「ふくしま共同診療所」は中核派の拠点施設!反原発の砦!(ここ
    It was also brought to my attention that Chukaku-ha was using a political group called Nazen to organize private screenings of 'A2-B-C' in an apparent effort to raise money for their activities. Although the A2-B-C Screening Committee had been aware of these screenings, they were unaware of Nazen's ties to Chukaku-ha:

    全国で開催される診療所報告会&『A2-B-C』上映会のご案内(ここここ
     
     

    I felt that whether or not a member of Chukaku-ha appears in 'A2-B-C' should be openly discussed, as should why this group may have established in Fukushima a medical clinic offering independent testing of children for radiation-related health issues. I also wanted to know if it was true that this group was attempting to use my film for political gain and felt this was something that should be investigated further and warranted a statement addressing the issue.

    Wanting to distance myself from any political group that may try to use my film for gain while also making it clear that at no point during the making of 'A2-B-C' did I receive support from any political organization, I wrote a disclaimer that was posted to the film's website (HERE):

    Unfortunately, this was not enough to dissuade the A2-B-C Screening Committee from cancelling all screenings of the film in Japan. Shortly after taking this action in March, the committee dissolved.

    What is Chukaku-ha? 中核派とは?

    Having not even heard of this group before, I asked several people what Chukaku-ha is. Almost no one I spoke to could tell me anything of any substance about Chukaku-ha, and most people only said vague things like "I heard they are scary" or "I heard they did something bad in the past".

    During my attempt to understand what Chukaku-Ha is, I was told that it had been designated as a terrorist organization by the US State Department and was sent THIS link which briefly describes the group's establishment in 1957 but with no activities listed beyond 1993. I was also sent a link to THIS Wikipedia article, which lists no activities beyond 1991. Despite not being able to find any information about current Chukaku-ha activities, a link to a recent Japanese government document listing domestic terrorist groups included Chukaku-ha.
    公安調査庁「内外情勢の回顧と展望(平成27年1月)」

    p.62 中核派は,新運動体を結成し,大衆運動強化と各層の取り込みを企図



    社会的に注目を浴びた事象をめぐる諸団体の動向(ここページ4)
    A list of groups "under watch" appeared in the same document. These groups are:
    • groups suing to stop the Futenma base construction
    • groups who are anti-nuclear
    • groups concerned with the Comfort Women issue
    • any group considered to be against the Abe administration
    Suddenly, any group identified as anti-nuclear was now a target for government surveillance.  In light of this, the decision of the A2-B-C Screening Committee to engage in what I see as an act of self-censorship began to make sense.

    Today's press conference
    During the Q&A following the press conference, I was asked if I had confirmed whether the mother in my film was, in fact, a member of Chukaku-ha. I had. At the urging of one of my colleagues, I contacted the mother in question shortly after the cancellations and asked her to meet. Before I could ask her about the rumours, she asked me why the screenings of 'A2-B-C' were cancelled.

    I asked her why she thought they had been cancelled, but she replied that she wanted to her it from me. "Because," I told her, "people are saying you are a member of Chukaku-ha."

    "Oh, that's what I thought," she said. I asked her if it was true, if she really was a member of Chukaku-ha. "Yes," she admitted. "I am."

    Another person during the Q&A asked why the political leanings of one of the mothers in the film even mattered. After all, he suggested, it would be impossible to make a non-political film even if it was about Mickey Mouse.

    I could not agree more. Anyone who can look at a scene of a child receiving a thyroid examination following a nuclear meltdown and still attempt to turn the focus onto the political views of that child’s mother is completely missing the point of the film.

    The full video from today's press conference will be available tomorrow on the FCCJ channel (HERE).

    Full video of press conference added May 13, 2015:

    Monday, May 11, 2015

    What money can't buy

    Another post from the airport after another amazing time in Taiwan.  I am so grateful for this opportunity to visit Taiwan and to share my work.  My films may not make me lot of money, but they make me extremely grateful, honoured and provide me with a sense of purpose.  And those are things on which it is impossible to put a price.

    I am now on the way back home to Japan, back to my real life, and the real issues I am facing.

    Thank you all so very much for your continued support and encouragement.

    Much Peace,
    Ian

    PS  A few highlights of my last day in Hualien:


    Top right: "Caution: Culture".  Bottom Right: "Creativity Ahead".
    My first time on a moped!

    Black tapioca pearls as big as eyeballs, served with shaved ice and sweet tofu.  Delicious!
    I can not get enough Stinky Tofu.  LOVE it!!!
    Drinks together with the TIDF staff after the last screening.

    Sunday, May 10, 2015

    Food Porn

    Taiwan = Wonderful People + Amazing Food

    And no trip to Taiwan would be complete without a visit to a Night Market, home to some of the most delicious (and cheap!) food one can find here.  While each city's night market has a unique local spin on traditional foods made with homegrown delicacies, what they share in common is a family-friendly carnival atmosphere where visitors can eat themselves into a blissful frenzy without breaking the bank.

    Last night's highlights: "Stinky Tofu" (which smells like, well, not something edible, but tastes awesome!), a burrito-looking wrap filled with vegetables and sweet peanut powder, grilled corn on the cob, and some of the most delicious seasonal fruit Taiwan has to offer.




    I am extremely grateful for this much-needed opportunity to rest, re-fuel and re-charge after the past two months.  Life is precious.  And all to short.

    Saturday, May 09, 2015

    Love me truly

    Walking around today we saw banners for the tour of Taiwan International Documentary Festival's (TIDF) all over the city of Hualien.  With time for a quick snack before today's screening of '-1287' (INFO), we stopped for an "8 Treasures" dessert, eight kinds of sweetened beans atop of a giant mound of shaved ice.  Yum!

    Today's screening took place in the Showtime Cinema, where TIDF took over part of one floor of this giant cinema complex.  When we arrived, I was extremely honoured to find that it was a full house, with many young people and students in the audience!
    Many important questions were raised during the hour-long post-screening discussion.  I always cherish these opportunities to receive questions from audiences who have engaged with one of my films, as often it is not until I am asked to explain something in words that I truly come to understand what has only until then been a collection of thoughts in my head.  At the same time, however, I must also admit that the sometimes very personal nature of the discussions, especially those after '-1287' can sometimes be quite difficult as they often tend to be focused more on theoretical, existential themes, like life, death and, often, love.
    A question near the end of the discussion from a young student in the audience caused me to think about something in the film in a way in which I had never thought of before.  She asked if anything about how I thought about love had changed through the making of '-1287'.  After pausing for a moment, I said that I felt Kazuko, through providing us with an opportunity to think about our own deaths, inspires us to think about the way in which live.  Money and things are not important, she reminds us.  What is?  Health, family, happiness and love.

    As I was speaking, I remembered something Kazuko had revealed in the film.  "If only I had been truly loved," she had said, "I could have lived more honestly."  As I repeated her words out loud, I suddenly realized something that ran shivers over my entire body.  For all of us, the opposite of what Kazuko said is also true: If only I had lived more honestly, I could have been truly loved.

    The truth and honesty with which Kazuko shares her story with us before she dies is what allows us to love her.  And this is all that she had ever longed for in life.  

    But how many of us live our lives this honestly, allowing those who try to do so to love us for who we really are?