Friday, October 24, 2014

Popcorn with chopsticks?

'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) screened twice tonight in Chigasaki (outside Tokyo).  With an hour each way on the train, I decided to use the time to update and re-organize the media associated with my work, something I have been meaning to do for months.

First, I rearranged the playlists on my YouTube Channel (HERE), so that Trailers (PLAYLIST), Q&A's, Extras & Interviews (PLAYLIST) and News & Press Conferences (PLAYLIST) can be easily found.
Next, I tackled the Media Page of the website (HERE), updating it for the first time in nearly a year (!).  The Media Page is a collection of news stories and VIDEO clips from news reports about my films published by media outlets from around the world.  It now also contains articles that I have been commissioned to write, including the recently published Japan’s Foreign Filmmakers: ‘Weastern’ Cinema?, written for the UK's Raindance Film Festival catalogue (HERE).
Even my Japanese distributor and I have disagreed about the way ‘A2-B-C’ is advertised.  In the press materials it is described as being “A film about Fukushima through the eyes of an American director,” which I object to because I find it reductive.  As a filmmaker I hope the focus will be on the children I have documented and not on the fact that I happen to be gaikokujin. Can you imagine if the press release had described the film ‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005), by director Ang Lee, as “gay white cowboys through the eyes of a straight Taiwanese-born naturalized-American director?
But seriously, what is up with that photo?  It kind of feels like a joke that I'm not in on.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Waxing Poetic

Back home in Tokyo, I am reflecting on the wonderful experiences I had attending the Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF) this past week.  Being about much more than *just* film, the festival's success is rooted in its careful curation of spectacular films, its tremendous effort to invite the filmmakers from all corners of the globe, and the emphasis it puts on the post-screening discussions with the audience.  All that and the festival staff and volunteers are amazing.

"Did you see anything good?" I am often asked after returning from a film festival.  Yes, I see many good films, but I find it hard to write about them; not only am I not a film critic, but watching sometimes as many as 5 feature films in a day plus attending industry gatherings, it's difficult to find the time to write about the films while they are still fresh in my mind.

From the past week, however, there are a couple of films that I would like to mention here.  "First Cousin Once Removed" (2013) WEBSITE, the newest film by iconic documentary film director Alan Berliner, about his cousin who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, is absolutely brilliant and was screened before a sold-out crowd in the 400+ seat Shin Kong Cinema (photo BELOW).  This film IS documentary.  End of story.

I was also captivated by the film "Amsterdam Stories" (INFO), about the 16 cities in the US named Amsterdam or New Amsterdam.  At a whopping 360 minutes, the festival only screened "Part 1: EAST" (95 minutes), but even on its own, it was intriguing!  I very much look forward to seeing the other parts of the film someday.

Returning to the work of Alan Berliner for just a moment, TIDF featured nine of the filmmaker's works this year (INFO), and it was a wonderful opportunity to see his masterpieces on a big screen, each followed by an in-depth Q&A.  "Nobody's Business" (1996) WEBSITE, "Intimate Stranger" (1991) WEBSITE, "The Family Album" (1986) WEBSITE, "City Edition" (1980) WEBSITE and others, are an absolute must-see for anyone interested in documentary film.

The week culminated in a standing-room-only masterclass (INFO) given by the director himself on Saturday.  Absolutely inspiring.

I am now home, but there will be no rest for the wicked.  I am catching up on work at my *new desk* this week (more on that later), and then the domestic screenings of 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) continue.  Two screenings outside Tokyo in Chigasaki on Friday (茅ヶ崎上映 INFO 日本語), then flying down to Wakayama for screenings on the weekend (和歌山上映 INFO 日本語).  Then next weekend I will be flying to Kyushu for screenings in Fukuoka and Oita over the three-day holiday weekend (福岡市上映 INFO 日本語、大分市上映 INFO 日本語).  The full schedule in Japanese of domestic theatrical screenings, including the upcoming roadshow in Mie Prefecture can be found here: 三重県含め劇場公開 INFO and more about private screenings here: 自主上映 INFO.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Three's Company

The third screening of '-1287' (TIDF film page HERE) took place today in the Doc Cafe section of the Taiwan International Documentary Festival (INFO).  In this strand, several films were shown for free to the public in cafe spaces around the historic Huashan complex, once home to a wine factory (INFO).  The intimate settings made for wonderful screening spaces, and the Q&A that followed '-1287', led by TIDF staff member Rina, lasted longer than the 70 minute film!

As we have done following all of the screenings of '-1287' to date, we handed out gift bags to each person in attendance.  Today's bags contained Breast Cancer Awareness ribbons handmade by '-1287' producer Sarah Lushia and team (photos and story HERE), and chocolate that Sarah had sent, the purchase of which helped support breast cancer research.  At the two other screenings here in Taiwan (and THIS one in the UK), we have also handed out bilingual fortune cookies inspired by THIS scene in the film.

I am so grateful to all of the TIDF staff, volunteers and audiences members who helped make the screenings in Taipei such a wonderful experience.  I would especially like to thank Program Director Wood Lin and my interpreter for the first two screenings, Joyce (photos with Wood and Joyce HERE), festival volunteer Shannon (below, left) who made sure I was in the right place at the right time everyday, and Rina (below, right) who beautifully guided and interpreted the discussion after today's screening.

After the screening today, Taiwan-based friends Panos and Mei, who live an hour and a half outside of Taipei, drove into town with their two sons, and we had a wonderful visit together (the last time I saw them was in Taipei in February when I was here for THIS screening).  Ten years ago we were all living in the same flat in the University of Bristol's accommodation for international students, where Panos and Mei met and then eventually married!

Night life

Taipei comes alive at night, and there is no better place to witness this than one of the city's famous Night Markets.  The carnival-like atmosphere, with food stalls and games, may feel familiar to people from Japan, but there are two main differences; while in Japan these stalls would usually be set only annually to coincide with a festival, in Taiwan, these markets operate every night(!).  Throughout the year(!).  The other main difference is that there appears to be no alcohol for sale, so the atmosphere remains family-friendly no matter how late into the night it gets.

Festival volunteer Shannon, who was assigned to show me around Taipei and to make sure I got to all of my screenings and appointments on time, offered to take me to the Night Market so that I could have a night off from the cinema.  Willie and Bonnie, two of Shannon's friends, joined us, and we ate our way through the market!  Grilled mushrooms, shaved ice, and the infamous "stinky tofu" (INFO) recently voted one of the top 10 foods hated most by foreigners, and which I happen to LOVE.

And these little pop-cycles caught my eye; they reminded me of the ones my sister and I used to make with fruit juice in our Tupperware Popsicle making kit (like THIS one)!

Friday, October 17, 2014


I have been taking advantage of my festival pass to attend many film screenings at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF) in Taipei this week.  Some of the films that I have enjoyed the most have been those of the celebrated filmmaker Alan Berliner.  Viewing these masterpieces on a big screen with an audience of documentary lovers is totally separate experience from watching them on a small screen at home (something which I recently wrote about in more detail HERE when I compared watching a film in a cinema versus on a DVD as being the difference between making love and taking matters into one's own hands).

Although the cultural references in Alan Berliner's films would be interpreted differently in each country in which they are shown (and this would, of course, be true to one degree or another for any film), I seemed to be reacting in the waves of laughter and riveted silence at all the same places as the audience in Taipei.  I believe this speaks not only to the universality of Alan Berliner's films, but also to the careful attention paid by TIDF to the creation of the Chinese subtitles.

I have seen Mr. Berliner several times during the festival, and while I met him once very briefly a couple of days ago, faced with speaking to this great director, I was unable to say anything of any consequence, especially when he was surrounded by many fans and colleagues.  But this morning, when he came into the nearly deserted breakfast room, I surprised myself by greeting him with a confident "Good morning!"  Joining me at my table for a few minutes, I was honoured to have a chance to speak with Mr. Berliner about film.  And Upstate New York.

In addition to screenings of many amazing films, TIDF's hospitality has provided many opportunities for filmmakers to meet and "talk shop" at several themed-parties.  Tuesday night's Taiwan Party, sponsored by the Taipei Documentary Filmmakers' Union and held at the Legacy mini @ amba, was one such event that found both the adult beverages and the conversation free-flowing.

On Wednesday, I heard my name being called in the cinema lobby and turned around to be greeted with a big hug by Dr. Yi-Ping Lin, whom I had met only days ago in Singapore when I had the honour of presenting my film 'A2-B-C' at the workshop "Exposure and Effect: Measuring safety, environment and life in Asia" (STORY).  Dr. Lin was at the cinema (as was I) to attend the screening of "The Empire of Shame" (INFO), a documentary about workers who have suffered sickness and death after working at Samsung factories in South Korea.  That film was awarded the festival grand prize at last night's award ceremony (PHOTOS with Dr. Lin and the award ceremony party below).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Taiwan, Tehran

The Asian Premier of my new documentary '-1287' has been taking place this week in the Taiwan International Documentary Festival in Taipei (INFO), and it is a great honour to be here among some of the most celebrated documentary filmmakers in the world.

In addition to my own screenings, I have been taking advantage of the chance to see as many of the carefully curated films as possible.  Yesterday, I spent the entire day in the cinema watching 5 films (!), including the iconic Alan Berliner's masterpieces "City Edition" (1980) and "Nobody's Business" (1996) after which the director gave a fascinating Q&A (photo below).

'-1287' (WEBSITE) has been selected to screen in the International Competition, and upon my arrival in Taipei I was honoured to receive the official nomination certificate shortly before being whisked off to the screening at the 400+ seat venue at Shin Kong Complex for the first of three screenings this week.

This was this first time for me to see the DCP version of the film on such a huge screen, and I have the post-production team (Colin, Ed and Richard) to thank for the beauty of the colours and the clarity of the sound.  And it was so cool to see the film with the Chinese subtitles as well!

Immediately following both the Monday and Tuesday evening screenings, festival director Wood Lin (whom I first met HERE in Taiwan last year when I was screening 'A2-B-C' and then again this year HERE) moderated the Q&A sessions, which were interpreted by the talented Joyce Wen to whom I am grateful for giving me a voice in Chinese.  

The questions at the World Premier HERE last week in the UK focused on the issues of life and death and my filming technique; however, here in Taiwan, the audience at the first screening of the film was so fascinated with my relationship with Kazuko that many of the questions were quite personal.  The discussion after the second screening was much more philosophical, with questions relating to life and death being the focus.

This has been a time for making new friends as well as reuniting with old ones.  Clockwise from Top Left, with Wood Lin (TIDF Festival Director), Joyce Wen (interpreter), Matsubayashi Yoji (Japnese documentary film director whom I last saw HERE in Brazil), and Shu-Hsin Tsui (GCAA Secretary General whom I first met in Taiwan HERE).

After my screening on Monday evening, there was an Iranian-themed party held in the VIP Room of the posh Regent Taipei Hotel.  The Iranian theme was inspired by some of the Iranian films being screened this year at the festival, and by coincidence, the next stop on the tour for '-1287' is Tehran (INFO), although I don't think it will be possible for me to attend due to political and other reasons.  One of the Iranian filmmakers I had met earlier in the day at the hotel saw me at the party, and exclaimed loudly, "Oh, our friend, the American" in a tone that I wasn't quite able to interpret.  Without pausing, I replied in a friendly tone, "Just because our countries are not friends does not mean that we can not be", to which he smiled and shook my hand.  This morning we had coffee together at the hotel.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A place at the table (for 36 hours)

For the last 36 hours, I have had the great honour of participating in the Teach.311-sponsored workshop "Exposure and Effect: Measuring safety, environment and life in Asia" (INFO) held at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
The issue of ionizing radiation interacting with the environment has become a disaster to think with in Asia following the catastrophes in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011. Awareness of radiation in post-disaster sites, the environment, and in workplaces, has lodged anxieties inseparable from everyday life and various imagined futures that implicate societies beyond the archipelago. (full workshop description HERE).

Co-organizer Dr. Harry Wu (PROFILE) opened the workshop with his paper "Riding the Whirlwind, Directing the Storm: The Mental Health Unit Experts of the WHO on Peaceful Use of Atomic Energy" during which he shared the following quote from the WHO Constitution which felt like the perfect way to begin our discussion:

Dr. Wu also quoted the UN Charter , Article 55 which states that "Inadequate provision of health is one of the indirect causes of war."

In the afternoon, Susan Lindee, Visiting Professor, IDEC, Hiroshima University, and Janice and Julian Bers Professor of the History of Science, University of Pennsylvania (PROFILE), presented "An epidemiology without end: The Radiation Effects Research Foundation and scientific planning for unknown future risk".  In her introduction, Dr. Lindee extended the theory of “patient in waiting", the idea that we will all eventually become a patient, to “survivor in waiting”, that we all have the potential to be affected by a future (nuclear) incident.

Dr. Kaori Iida, from the Graduate University for Advanced Studies (Sokendai), Japan (PROFILE), presented "International Genetics Symposia in 1956: Discussing Lysenkoism and radiation in postwar Japan".  As a simple filmmaker, all of the papers presented at the workshop were well-above my head, and I must admit to finding myself feeling way out of my league and very quiet during the sessions in the morning.

Covering a topic very close to my heart, Nanyang Technological University's Lisa Onaga (PROFILE) presented "Measuring the particular: The metamorphosis of low dose radiation effects research in Japan. Dr. Onaga suggested we should be considering “not only what is an acceptable dose, but what is an acceptable scientific study.”

There was plenty of time for fellowship and exchange of ideas, with delicious lunches and coffee breaks held on the balcony with a beautiful view of the campus.

In the evening, the Singapore Premier of my film 'A2-B-C' (screening INFO) was held.  This is the second time for this film to be used during an academic conference about issues of radiation exposure (the first time was HERE in Germany earlier this year), and I am so honoured for my work to be used in this way.

During the Q&A, I urged the people in attendance, including all the academics from the workshop, to remember that the numbers in data represent individual people.  Sometimes we talk about certain risks being "negligible"or having "only a slight increase", but we tend to forget that when a person becomes sick, to them, it is 100%.

All films to be screened in Singapore must first pass the censors and receive certification, and to be honest, I wasn't convinced that 'A2-B-C' would be approved.  With all that has happened over the past 18 months (like THIS visa issue), I seem to be in a constant state of holding my breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop.  'A2-B-C' was, however, eventually approved by the censors and given a PG rating.

Perhaps it may seem like I was being a bit paranoid, but I had reason for my doubts: my first film, 'the ballad of vicki and jake' (2006, UK, website HERE), was banned in Singapore in 2007.  'the ballad' co-producer and DOP Ken Kwek wrote about what happened in a Straits Times article "Film Bans: Detailed reasons, please" published on April 30, 2007.  Ken subsequently had THIS short film banned by the censors in Singapore, but it seems he will be having the last laugh: his feature directorial debut "Unlucky Plaza" recently premiered at Toronto International Film Festival (INFO).  Despite his busy schedule preparing to fly to Poland the next day for the European Premier of "Unlucky Plaza" in the Warsaw Film Festival, Ken came to the screening of 'A2-B-C'.  We picked up right where we had left off, and it is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since we last met. 

In the evening, the presenters at the workshop were treated to a traditional dinner of crabs Singapore-style, and it was a delicious and messy good time!

The next day, Timothy Mousseau presented "Consequences of Radiation in the Environment for Individuals, Populations and Ecosystems: Lessons from Chernobyl, Fukushima and Other Hot Places".  During his introduction, Dr. Mousseau shared that there have been 600 Nuclear Power Plants and three major accidents to date.  Continuing, he said, "That is a 1/200 chance of an accident at a Nuclear Power Plants".  He then asked: "Would you get on plane if it had a one in 200 chance of not landing?"

I first met Dr. Mousseau at a congress in Germany in March (STORY) and our paths crossed again last month when I moderated a press conference he gave in Tokyo (story and photos HERE).  Now, here in Singapore, we were asked to have a "taidan", a public conversation, about our work and our crossing paths, in front of an audience of academics. When introducing this "taidan" she titled "Orbiting in the field: Ecology and filmmaking in Tohoku Japan", organizer Lisa Onaga stated that it was extremely unusual, and perhaps even the first time, for a biologist and a filmmaker to be brought together for this type of discussion at an academic conference.
Over the past few years, filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash and biologist Timothy Mousseau have orbited around each other in the course of their fieldwork in and around Fukushima, Japan. One traces human stories; the other tracks signs of biological change in wildlife. Both have and continue to pursue important questions about the exposure of bodies to radiation. What conversations may arise if Ian Ash and Tim Mousseau are brought momentarily into the same gravity well? What new insights may be drawn about the difficulties, challenges and futures of conducting work in the field that has come to be known as Fukushima? Taidan is the Japanese term for a face-to-face public dialogue. In this taidan, the filmmaker and biologist engage in a series of questions that we hope will provide provocative and constructive food for thought.
In the afternoon session "Challenging Mainstream Science: Trichloroethylene and Female Electronic Workers’ Occupational Diseases in Taiwan", Yi-Ping Lin, from the National Yangming University, Taiwan, asked "Whose science, whose knowledge? Why is it so difficult to support health of women industrial workers?".  Dr. Lin observed that toxicological studies are performed on male mice and rats and then only on the kidney and liver which is why there is no information on how industrial chemicals, for example, impact female cancers. 
The final paper was "Money and Mercury: Minamata Disease and the limits of Japan’s Postwar Democracy" given by Robert Stolz from the University of Virginia. Dr. Stolz traced fascinating (and scary) connections between victims of Japan's industrial and nuclear contamination tragedies.

The workshop ended with a brain-storming session about what discoveries had been made and what ideas the participants had for publication.  I never dreamed I would have a place at the table during such a discussion.  The names of some of the publications to which this workshop's findings may be submitted was mind-blowing.  As a simple practitioner of filmmaking, I could never contribute to such academic writing, but the group still found a way to include my experiences: some of the discoveries that were made during the "taidan" with Dr. Mousseau may be included in in the paper in transcript form. 

After just 36 hours in Singapore, I am now on my to Taiwan for the Asian Premier of my new film, '-1287' (INFO).

I can not express how grateful I am for these amazing experiences from which I am learning so much.  But sometimes things are so surreal that I have trouble believing all of this is really happening and even have moments where I have to think about what month it is or what country I am in.  That's normal, right?  ;)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Plane tired

Arriving merely hours after the typhoon blew over Tokyo at the beginning of the week, I have been home just about long enough to do my laundry but not quite long enough to catch up on sleep or accomplish many of the myriad of things on my ever-growing to-do list.

It is now Friday night just before 10PM, and somehow I find myself at the airport in Tokyo writing another blog...

I will arrive in Singapore at 5AM tomorrow morning, to attend the weekend conference “Exposure and Effect: Measuring safety, environment and life in Asia” (conference info HERE) where my documentary 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) will be screened (screening info HERE). I also have the honour of participating in Taidan: Orbiting in the field: Ecology and filmmaking in Tohoku Japan with biologist Dr. Tomothy A. Mousseau (ABSTRACT).

Then on Sunday at 11PM, I will fly from Singapore to Taiwan via Japan, arriving in Tokyo at 6AM Monday morning to catch a 10AM flight to Taipei (and as luck would have it, another typhoon is on the way and is expected to hit Tokyo on, you guessed it, Monday).  The Asian Premier of my documentary '-1287' (WEBSITE) will be taking place in the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival (film page in Chinese and English) next week (October 9-19).

Ahead of the screenings in Taiwan, an in-depth interview about my work written by New Bloom's Brian Hioe was published (LINK) last weekend.

And speaking of articles, Cinema Today, Japan's leading website for movie news, just this morning published an article about last week's World Premier of '-1287' in Raindance (LINK日本語).

The trailer for '-1287' (VIDEO) was something I edited well before the film was ever finished, and while I love it and do believe it accurately reflects the story of the finished film, I wanted to put together a new trailer using scenes from the final edit.  And so, here it is:

Thank you all for your continued support and encouragement without which none of this would be possible.

Much Peace and Gratitude,

Tokyo, Japan