Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ashland, no relation

The past few days at Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF WEBSITE) have been filled with some of the best films at one of the most hospitable film festivals I have ever had the honour of attending.  Held in the charming city of Ashland, Oregon (home of the Shakespeare Festival INFO), this little town is known for a cultural scene that is enormous.

The AIFF screenings and events are held at various venues most within walking distance of the town centre, and a filmmakers' lounge, daily events and nightly parties held with the sponsorship of numerous local businesses and organizations ensures that festival-goers are kept well fed and watered*.

* with plenty of local beer and wine!

Filmmakers' event at Noble Coffee
Accommodation for visiting filmmakers is generously provided by some of the beautiful local hotels, inns and B&B's.  I was extremely grateful to stay at Parkside Cottage adjacent to the gorgeous Lithia Park, which was designated as one of the top ten Great American Spaces by the American Planning Association in 2014 (INFO).  The neighbours were lovely.

The Parkside Cottage and its neighbours

Lithia Park
My film, '-1287' (WEBSITE), screened six times during the festival in one of the smaller theatres of the Varsity (INFO).  Screening in an intimate venue provided a wonderful space for post-screening discussions, and I am so grateful that rather than one single screening in a large venue that my film screened multiple times for a smaller audience.  It was such an honour to be able to attend five of the six screenings held during AIFF, where the audiences are intelligent, engaged and simply love film.

It was an additional honour that the five screenings of '-1287' I attended went into "rush" prior to the beginning of the festival, "rush" meaning that all tickets were reserved and seating was only available on the day if a ticket-holder did not show up (rush INFO).  Having multiple sold-out screenings prior to the start of the festival was something I had never experienced and was truly humbling.

The post-screening discussions were emotional, deep, discussions, filled with some of the most raw and honest questions I have ever had the honour of being asked.  AIFF places great importance on these Q&A sessions and schedules plenty of time between screenings so that they never feel rushed.  The discussion following the last screening of the film, which was held this morning before I left for the airport, lasted for over 40 minutes, and was the most amazing post-screening discussion I have ever had for any one of my films.

@ 2015 AIFF
@ 2015 AIFF
The Ashland Independent Film Festival staff, volunteers, venues, sponsors and audiences are some of the best in the world (and they have a great name, too*).  I am very much looking forward to attending a future edition of the festival, and with two films currently in production, who knows when that might be...

I am now at the airport on the way back home to Japan, and am looking forward to being home and to getting back to work filming.  Thank you all so very much for your continued support.

*  No relation. ;)

Friday, April 10, 2015

To remember is to have forgotten

Arriving in Lincoln on Tuesday I was honored to share a meal with, among others, Wayoro Madoka, director of the Kawasaki Reading Room, one of the sponsors of my visit to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  In the evening, we attended a recital by Doctor of Musical Arts student Masayoshi Ishikawa (program below and HERE).  I was first contacted by Ishikawa-san last year after he had learned of my documentaries filmed in Fukushima.  Originally from Fukushima, Ishikawa-san had been living in the US since before the March 11, 2011, disasters and had wanted to see the films about his home prefecture.

My films became one of the influences for his composition "Suite for the Forgotten", and in his introduction to the performance, Ishikawa-san referenced a scene from 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) in which a 17 year old high school student says that one of the biggest problems in Fukushima is that people are starting to forget what happened.  During the second movement of the suite, Ishikawa-san sat at the piano where he played and sang (chanted?) words from a 500 year old poem.  In it, a lover declares, "if you say you remember me, it means that you had forgotten me." 

It was a humbling experience to speak with Ishikawa-san after the recital and to hear how his work had been influenced by mine.  I have always felt that my role as a filmmaker is to record the voices and stories of the people I document, but to then have those voices interpreted into music was something I had never even imagined.  I am also so grateful to Ishikawa-san for bringing my work to the attention of the Kawasaki Reading Room and asking them to sponsor my visit and film screening (INFO), thus also enabling me to attend the recital.  

Over the next two days, I visited four classes at the university including one for directing feature films, one public speaking and two that were using media to affect social change.  I always enjoy visiting classes and receiving questions from students about my work especially when asked through the context of what they are studying.  Often it is when I am asked how or why I do what I do that I begin to think about it deeply for the first time.  Having to verbally explain something forces you to order and to put into words what until then had only ever been thoughts.

Ishikawa-san graciously agreed to reprise the second movement of his suite following the screening of 'A2-B-C' last evening.  As the credits rolled, he began to play the first chords of his composition, the emotion in the film, in the room and the music joining together in a finite beauty that will only ever be known to the people who were present in that room and one that can never again be repeated.

I am now at the airport on my way to Oregon for the Ashland Independent Film Festival where the North American Premier of my film '-1287' is taking place (INFO).  As I think about how the film, documenting the last years of my friend Kazuko's life, is dedicated to her memory, I begin to hear Ishikawa-san's composition at first faintly in the distance, but then growing louder.  The mind works in mysterious ways.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Momentarily Losing Focus

In the midst of what can only be described as a challenging few weeks, my ability to endure some very stressful situations has been tested.  Forgetting an important appointment and misplacing the keys that I eventually found in my thrice-checked pocket (but not before missing my train) were sure signs I was reaching my limit. 

But when I could not find my camera while I was packing the night before an important interview in Fukushima two weeks ago, I knew my threshold for being overloaded was about to be crossed. Sinking to my knees, I knew that my camera had not been stolen but that I had left it somewhere... although I could not even remember the last time I had seen it, let alone where I might have left it.

Using my diary to reconstruct where I had been over the previous two weeks, I realized that I must have left it on the train ten days earlier.  Not only had I lost my camera, but it had taken me ten days to realize it (!).  The end to a much longer story is that with the help of a friend and through a series of phone calls, I learned that my camera been found and turned in to Japan Rail (JR).  Yes, one of the many reasons I love Japan!

But there was one hitch: after the camera remained unclaimed for a week, it had been turned over to the police.   I had left the camera on the train on the way back from my last trip to Fukushima where I had recorded a very sensitive interview, and I prayed that the registration of a lost camera did not include viewing the contents of the SD card!  At the police station, I was able to identify the serial number on the camera and after filling out several forms and showing my ID, the camera was back safely in my hands.  I am guessing they had not watched the footage...

Camera back in hand, I have refocused and am seeing a clear way forward.  Although 'A2-B-C' still can not be shown in Japan after the cancellation of all screenings of the film last month (INFO), I continue to search for a solution that will allow screenings to resume.  In the meantime, screenings abroad continue freely, and I am currently at the airport in Tokyo on my way to the US where 'A2-B-C' will screen at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Thursday (INFO).  I will also be visiting four classes to speak on topics such as civic advocacy, political engagement and the shifting media landscape.
On Friday I will fly to Oregon where I will be attending the North American Premier of my new film  '-1287' (WEBSITE) in the Ashland Independent Film Festival (April 9-13).  '-1287' will be screening six times during the festival (INFO).
Screenings of '-1287' will continue around the world with a visit to Taiwan in May and Germany in June (INFO)!  Thank you all so very much for your support!

Tokyo, Japan

Monday, March 23, 2015

‘A2-B-C’ Screening Committee dissolved

The dissolution of the 'A2-B-C' Screening Committee in Japan was announced this evening (LINK).

This followed the recent cancellations of all screenings of the film in Japan.  I would like to thank the 'A2-B-C' Screening Committee for all of the work they have done until now to help raise awareness through organizing screenings of the film. 

This is not the end, it is simply an opportunity to begin again.

I thank you all for your encouragement and ask for your continued support.
DVD or Internet Release of 'A2-B-C' not possible

Although I have posted the following as a comment in several places, I feel the need to post it here as well.

People have messaged me asking if I can upload 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) to the internet in order to bypass the distribution system here in Japan, but there is a very important reason why that is not possible: I made an agreement with the families who appeared in the film that I would not upload it to the internet and that a DVD of the film would not be released in Japan. This was to protect them as much as possible from becoming the targets of harsh criticism for having spoken out in a country where, as the expression goes, "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down."
One of the main reasons I decided to sign with a distributor in the first place was to strengthen my ability to keep these promises that I had made with the families. As an individual it would have been difficult for me to prevent someone from uploading the film to the internet or selling pirated DVDs, but this became easier to control with the resources of a distributor.

Despite not being able to sell DVDs or release the film on the internet, typically two of the main sources of income for a distributor, they had agreed to take on 'A2-B-C' through an agreement with the 'A2-B-C' Screening Committee. The film had a theatrical release in cinemas across Japan which was then followed by dozens of private screenings organized by small groups, organizations and NPOs. Importantly, these private screenings provided a significant revenue source for the distributor, which served as an incentive to help keep the film off of the internet, thereby protecting the families to a greater degree.

Although some people may not see the difference between screening a film publicly and having it available online, releasing the film online would expose the families to even more harsh criticism than they are already experiencing and could lead to a very real concern for their safety. Despite the fact that 'A2-B-C' has only ever been available to watch in cinemas and privately organized screenings, the mothers in the film have already been the recipients of cruel bashing and internet bullying by often anonymous attackers.
One example of the outrageous attacks being made on the mothers who had spoken out about their concerns for the health and safety of their children was an article that attempted to discredit them and accused me of making the film for the express purpose of inciting discrimination against the people of Fukushima (I first wrote about this article HERE).

福島差別映画「A2-B-C」が国際的な“福島差別”を助長する (ここ

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Censorship? Self-censorship? 検閲? 自己検閲?


The Japanese distributor of 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE), my documentary about children living in Fukushima, is cancelling all domestic screenings of the film.  They are also canceling the contract to distribute the film in Japan, despite there being more than two years remaining on the agreement.

It is not clear to me how much of this decision is the result of actual censorship and how much is self-censorship.  My feeling is that it is self-censorship based on the fear of a potential censorship problem at some point in the future.  If this is the case, then it is an example of the terrifying and wide-reaching effect of the Secrecy Law (INFO).  This law does not even need to be enforced for its effect to be felt: its mere existence causes people to engage in self-censorship, imposing on themselves the very crackdown that the drafters of the legislation had surely envisioned.


It is no longer possible to have honest, open discussions and debates about what is happening in Fukushima, and the cancellation of all domestic screenings of 'A2-B-C' is merely the symptom of a disease that has infected Free Speech in Japan.

The distributor is allowing the screenings in five locations across Japan that were scheduled to take place this weekend (Saga, Izu, Osaka, Nagano and Mie) to go ahead.  All screenings that were scheduled for March 16 or later have been cancelled, and while my plane was still in the air yesterday, the distributor had already contacted the organizers of all the affected screenings. 


I had already been planning to attend the two screenings in Nagano today, and the distributor has instructed me to publicly make the announcement about the cancellations here for the first time.  Inviting a few journalists to be in the audience, I am turning the Q&A into an impromptu press conference.  My hands are shaking as I post this entry and am about to walk out on stage for the first of the two post-screening discussions that will be held here in Nagano today and which will mark the last time I will see my film screened in Japan.

I have no idea what I am going to say, but I can assure you that any attempt to make me quiet will only succeed in making me louder.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Stunned. Briefly.

Although I was in Vancouver for the better part of three days, I did not really have the opportunity to see much of the city.  This is not a complaint, of course, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have visited so many countries with my films over the past few years; it is just that when I am asked, "Hey, how was it over in XX?", sometimes the only honest answer is, "Well, it looked a lot like the inside of a cinema."

I did have a little free time, and I visited the beautiful Museum of Anthropology (WEBSITE) which was just down the street from where I was staying.  And I even had a free evening that I was able to spend having dinner with long-time Vancouver-based friends.

I was invited to the University of British Columbia (UBC) by the Institute of Asian Research to screen my film 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) at the event "The ‘Triple Disaster’ in Japan on March 11 2011 - Four Years Later", which took place on the fourth anniversary of the disaster (INFO).

The special events marking the 3.11 disaster in Japan began with a minute of silence to remember those that died.  This was followed by the delivery of three presentations covering differing aspects of the disaster:

Affected Communities in Northern Japan Struggle for Recovery
Millie Creighton, Anthropology, UBC

Radiation Issues in Fukushima
David Edgington, Geography,UBC

Alternative Energy Futures in Japan
Andrew DeWitt, Rikkyo University

The screening of 'A2-B-C' took place in the afternoon in the Asian Centre, which is housed in the 1970 Osaka World Expo's Japan Pavilion having made its way to the UBC campus.

It was an honour to screen 'A2-B-C' for an audience that included UBC students and faculty, members of the community, Japanese expats living in Vancouver and even a few friends.  During the post-screening discussion, people asked about how the mothers are supported in their communities, how the film has been received abroad and in Japan, and about what I have been witnessing in my recent trips to Fukushima.

I also talked about some of the obstacles I faced early on in bringing this story to a wider audience and about some of the obstacles that I continue to face.  I never thought it was going to become easy, but I simply was not prepared for some of what is happening, like the internet bullying of mothers in the film.

Having to leave for this trip at a time when tensions surrounding the film were coming to a head and the distributor was feeling immense pressure was not exactly the best timing.  But part of me had also hoped that being out of the country and not attending any of the domestic screenings marking the 4th anniversary would provide a kind of cooling off period.  It has not worked out that way.

Now at the airport on my way home to Japan, I have just opened an e-mail from my distributor confirming that they have decided to go through with the action plan that they first talked with me about last Friday, the day before I left on this trip.  

I am stunned.  But it will be brief.  And when I land in Tokyo, it will be on my feet.

Monday, March 09, 2015


I traveled to San Diego with Kazumi Watanabe, whose NPO 'Mommy'z Tummy' (WEBSITE) has previously sponsored several screenings of 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語), and third year medical student Yo Konta, whose parents are both doctors in Fukushima.  Our plane landed at sunset, and the view, the weather and the air were perfect.

We were met at the airport by Yuko Hanaoka, Kazumi's sister.  Yuko works for Hanaoka Enterprises (INFO), the sponsor of the screening of 'A2-B-C' in San Diego (INFO), and we headed from the airport directly to their main restaurant "Hanaoka" for dinner and a meeting about the event.  We were joined by Nao Kabashima, the director of the Karen Organization of San Diego (INFO) which aids Burmese refugees living in the area, and her husband Fe.  Nao was to be the MC/ interpreter for our event.

Dinner at Hanaoka's was awesome and included sushi rolls that although I have never seen in Japan, I am sure would be extremely popular, especially among young people!  These included the spicy Fire Dragon topped with jalapeno peppers (!) and the Protein Roll made with no rice (PHOTOS below). 

The screening took place this morning at the Museum of Photographic Arts in the gorgeous Balboa Park (INFO).  In addition to sending out information about the screening to the more than 20,000 people on their mailing list, Hanaoka Enterprise's owner and chef Jun Hanaoka was at the park bright and early handing out flyers.

The screening room in the museum was beautiful, and I was floored when we arrived to find thirty young people who had volunteered to help with the event waiting for us.  Many of the volunteers were from Burma and were there through their connection with Nao's NPO.

Although no one knew how many people to expect at a screening that was to be held on a Sunday morning, 169 people were in attendance!  The volunteers joined the screening after the start of the event, making it a total of 199 people who saw the film!  We were all so grateful to be able to share this story with so many people of differing ages and backgrounds.

During the post-screening discussion, Ms. Watanabe and I answered questions about the current situation in Fukushima and about the work we are each doing now.  We were asked about the number of children now known to have thyroid cancer (over 100), and about the government's policy regarding the return of evacuees to their homes in areas that are deemed to have been decontaminated.  The most difficult question I was asked was about the cancellation of the March 1 screening that had been arranged by Ms. Watanabe (STORY) and about why a Disclaimer Statement had suddenly been published on the Japanese website of 'A2-B-C' (STORY).  Although I was able to explain the facts of the situation to the audience, that is to say to re-cap what I written on my blog and to read the Disclaimer to the audience, I apologized for currently not being at liberty to explain the matter any further.
The highlight of the event was when we called Yo up to the stage, and he shared about the nuclear disaster from his unique point-of-view: Yo's parents are both medical doctors in Fukushima, and he himself is a third-year medical student.  Yo had not seen the film before and he said that there were many things in it that he had never seen or known about, despite being from Fukushima. Sharing that he has friends who are doing decontamination work, Yo expressed sadness that many young people are in a situation where they are forced to risk their future health in exchange for money because there is not much other work and jobs in decontamination offer relatively good pay.

Immediately after the event, Mr. Hanaoka drove me to the airport so that I could catch a plane to Vancouver where 'A2-B-C' is screening this week in a symposium about the 3.11 Disaster at the University of British Columbia (INFO).  In the car, we talked about the interesting paths that our lives have taken: Mr. Hanaoka, originally from Japan, has lived more than half of his life in the US, and in just a few years, I, too, will have lived over half of my life abroad.  Having arrived with just $300 when he was 24, Mr. Hanaoka now owns multiple restaurants, the profits of which he is using to help support and raise awareness about issues that he cares deeply about.  These include programs as varied as the Karen Organization, and screenings like the one held today to help raise awareness about Fukushima, which through Mr. Hanaoka's support, was free and open to the public.

I am so grateful for the encouragement of so many people over the past four years, and ask for your continued support as the 4th anniversary of March 11 is marked this week and the 5th year is entered.  I will be documenting the situation in Fukushima for as long as I feel this is my calling and for as long as I am permitted to and am able.

And now I will close, having safely arrived in Vancouver in the middle of a crisp and clear night, the sky full of stars.