Monday, June 25, 2012

Waiting to understand

On May 11, 2011, I read this article (originally in the Irish Times) by David McNeill about the evacuation of the village of Iitate, Fukushima, two months after the nuclear meltdown.  As soon as I read it, I knew I needed to go Iitate to try to help document what was happening.  I called David and he kindly put me in touch with Shoji-san (the farmer he interviewed for his article) so I could set up an interview.

Iitate lies some 40 km from the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima and was therefore outside of the official evacuation zone (within 20 km of the plant).  However, because of wind direction, it quickly became clear that the radiation had spread far beyond the original evacuation zone and was posing a threat to the villagers of Iitate.

Yet it took the government two months to act.  Two months of the villagers believing they were OK because they were outside of 20 km.  Two months that their children were not evacuated and exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

In May of last year, my Japanese cameraman, Koji, and I filmed in Iitate for a week, and it was a hectic, scary and confusing time.

We documented many difficult and important stories, but the footage somehow lacked the context it needed to make sense to outsiders.  I, myself, didn't have the knowledge to fully understand some of the things we witnessed at that time.

As a result, I decided to not use the footage from Iitate right away.  I simply allowed it to stay in the background of my brain (and heart) until the right time when it would speak to me and I would understand.

This month I spent time in the city of Minamisoma, Fukushima, working on the story of the children living there, and on the way back the village of Iitate, now deserted, called to me.  It was when I went there this month, one year after the evacuation, that I was able to process what I had witnessed last year.

The result is my new short documentary, "Nuclear Refugees", that I posted yesterday.  Shoji-san, the farmer interviewed in David's article, is the farmer who appears at the very end of the film.

scene from "Nuclear Refugees: the people of Iitate"

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