Earlier this month, I went back to the city of Minamisoma to film an update about how the people I filmed last year were doing, and Katsuyoshi Ueno, a writer for PAPERSKY, traveled with me.
It was both the first time for me to have someone watching me film and also the first time for me to see a writer working in the field. We each had our own interests and topics we wanted to focus on, and this added an interesting dynamic to the experience.
As Ueno-san and I worked, we interacted with the people we were interviewing on different and complementary levels, and it created a really interesting atmosphere. At first I was a little concerned that the people we interviewed might feel slightly overwhelmed having two of us asking them questions, but I needn't have worried. Ueno-san and I worked together, sometimes interviewing people separately and sometimes passing the "director baton" back and forth. It was not something we decided before we started working; it just sort of seemed to develop, and interestingly, our style naturally changed to suit each person we interviewed.
This also provided me the unusual opportunity to see and compare how Ueno-san, as a writer, and I, as a filmmaker, would approach the same subject. How would we each present the powerful, important and very personal story of a woman we had both interviewed?
What would each of us choose as the main focus of her story, and in what style would we choose to tell it? How would we edit her interview (nearly 50 minutes) into a story that could be read or a short documentary that could be watched in several minutes?
Alison Nemoto appeared at the end of the second part of my recent three-part documentary series, "In the Zone: One Year Later" (full series here and part two, in which Alison appears, here). Ueno-san's story about Alison was published yesterday in PAPERSKY under the title, "Alison Nemoto: Still in the Gloom" (picture below linked to the article).
When I am filming and editing, I am always aware of how a person's facial expressions and non-verbal cues add depth to an interview, and I wondered if I would miss that in a printed article. After reading and re-reading Ueno-san's article, I have been fascinated to find and examine how these also exist in writing; how the emphasis is changed as the topics are re-ordered, how the choice of words emphasizes certain ideas, how cues in the written word help us to conjure up images in our brains. Perhaps I always instinctively knew this, but it has been a wonderful learning experience to see it at work in a direct comparison.
If pictures are worth a thousand words, then I am certain that written words are worth a thousand moving images.
Since last year, I have been filming a cable TV documentary program called (loosely translated) "It's Ian. I'm Home!" (the character they originally drew to represent me in the opening credits is below). Since our filming schedule is dictated by the financial year (which ends in March), the series was funded through this month. In total, there were 9 episodes in Season 1, and more information on those episodes can be found here.
We recently found out we were recommissioned for Season 2, but with a catch: the producers at TochiPro wanted to turn our documentary series into a cooking show(!). There is still a documentary component to the program as I will be interviewing people at the farmer's market where I buy the ingredients and shooting a short documentary featuring the person who has grown the featured ingredient in the main dish. However, other than that, we have had very little time to plan how the actual program is going to be shot, so it is truly going to have a "documentary feel".
We begin shooting episode one of "Ian's Kitchen" tomorrow. A new adventure begins.
Most of the past year has been spent working on helping to tell the story of what has been happening in Japan since March 11, 2011. Rightly so, everything I had been doing up until March 11 was put on hold and all of my energy and time was put into filming in Tohoku.
One of the consequences of that is that I put on hold the promotion of a documentary I finished in 2010 that had just begun to be shown in competition in international film festivals. "Jake, not finished yet" (81 min, UK/ Japan/ 2010) held its World Premier in competition at the Visions du Reel International Documentary Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland in 2010 and its North American Premier at the Montreal International Documentary Film Festival that same year.
Now that we have passed the one-year anniversary of March 11, I feel that a veil has lifted; that a period of mourning has passed; that it is finally OK to continue to do other work as well.
It is not that I have "moved on" or will cease to continue to help tell the story of the victims of March 11. It is simply that I am moving forward, and by doing so I now feel the freedom to take a step back and awaken something that is so personal and close to my heart and has since last year been so quietly, patiently waiting in the background.
After some technical issues yesterday, I have finally gotten up part three of my latest documentary update on the situation in Minamisoma one year after the nuclear meltdown:
The three-part documentary (27 minutes total) can be viewed in its entirety here:
Since Friday, March 9th, Discovery News has carried my latest article for them in their "Human" section, but for the entire day on March 11, my article was the lead banner story on the front page of their website*. I feel very humbled and honoured by this and am so grateful for the opportunity to have as many people as possible see what is still going on Fukushima. Thank you, Discovery News!
* Here is the screen grab of my article on the front page; please click on it to read the article:
I passed the anniversary of March 11 quietly editing, pausing at 2:46...
Fittingly, I have just finished editing the final segment of my documentary on the situation in Minamisoma one year after the quake. It is compressing now, and I hope to have it up tonight.
While I am waiting and letting the computer do its work, I am looking through various articles and videos that friends and colleagues have sent over the past week leading up to the anniversary. I have been so busy working on my own documentary, that I quite literally have not watched any TV coverage or read any articles about it.
A few highlights I am looking at right now:
A BBC documentary (58 minutes) of the children who have been affected by the triple disasters.
"Voices of Organic Farmers After Fukushima" (24 minutes) via @kueno44.
This fascinating article from the Mainichi Daily News (March 4) in which activist Aileen Mioko Smith presents "The 10 Strategies Taken by the State, Prefectural Governments, Academic Flunkies and Companies in the cases of Minamata and Fukushima." via @kueno44.
At one point a few weeks ago I had been wondering how I would spend the March 11 anniversary weekend. I certainly hadn't envisioned it would be in my edit suite, but somehow I think that is the most fitting.
I am here organizing the dozens of hours of footage and trying to make sense of what has happened during the past year. It has given me time to process and reflect, and I have been thankful for having something useful to do.
Here is Part 2 of the documentary update on Minamisoma one year after the nuclear disaster.
This week I have been filming an update about the children being affected by the radiation in the City of Minamisoma in Fukushima Prefecture. Almost 11 months after filming a documentary about the children's return to school in the radiation zone, I wondered how they were getting on.
As the one year anniversary of March 11 approaches, I return to this blog to reflect on how I am processing this past year.
I have come to realize that filming and editing for me is a way to try to understand what is happening around me. Focusing the camera on what is before me and the subsequent ordering of that experience through editing somehow allows me to process things that may be too difficult to do otherwise. Strangely, I seem to mainly film things that are particularly difficult for me and not things that are fun. For example, I have been filming a good friend who is in the hospital dying of cancer, but I rarely take any footage when I am, say, on vacation. I seem to feel protected by having the camera between me and whatever is happening; and yet, if I have the camera on, I can't seem to fully engage or relax.
Writing for me seems to be somewhat of the opposite. When I am pretty clear about what is going on around me, I write more (in this blog, for example). And when things are stagnant or stuck or worse, writing becomes less and less appealing.
Looking back on all I have filmed and written in this past year, I have realized:
If I am filming, chances are things are difficult for me, but I am trying to understand them.
If I am not filming, chances are things are just going along.
If I am writing, I am actively working towards a goal (and probably working on a film).
If I am not writing, I am probably in some kind of rut.
Since finishing the edit of my documentary film "In the Grey Zone" (trailer can be seen here) three months ago, I have been working on the "business side" of filmmaking; film festival submissions and arranging the website, posters and press materials:
I have also been working on a new website (created by Katsuyoshi Ueno) that will eventually have information for all of my films together in one place.
What I hadn't been doing over these last three months was much writing or filming.
That is until this week.
I have just returned from a trip to the city of Minamisoma near the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Nearly a year after I documented the children returning to school in the radiation zone, I filmed an update on how the children, parents and teachers are doing now. I am editing that now and hope to have it ready to upload by the end of the week.