Monday, November 17, 2014

Under the bus

In 2000, I graduated from Plattsburgh State University (PSU) in Upstate New York with a degree in English Literature and a minor in theatre.  Since moving to Japan shortly after graduation, I have been back twice, visiting once in 2006 when I was screening my first feature documentary "the ballad of vicki and jake" (WEBSITE) in Quebec's Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM, STORY), and then again in 2010 when I screened my film "Jake, not finished yet" (WEBSITE) in the same festival.  ^Plattsburgh is just over an hour from Montréal.

Four years since my last visit, screenings of my film 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) this week in Montréal provided me the opportunity to once again cross the river into Upstate New York to visit Plattsburgh State.  With the support of the university, including from the Alumni Association and the English Department, I visited six classes last week, including "Expository Writing" and "Introduction to film and Literature" with some of the very professors who taught me the most important element of filmmaking: how to tell a story.

It was an honour to share with students my experiences since graduating from Plattsburgh and also to have the opportunity to personally thank my professors for their inspiration and encouragement.
“There’s not very much that I can do but even in some small way I would like to be able to give back," Ash said.  (Full article from the Nov. 12 Press Republican HERE).

This week also saw the inaugural edition of the Lake Champlain International Film Festival (LCIFF, WEBSITE) in the city of Plattsburgh, where I was honoured to screen two of my feature documentaries in a section called "Transmissions from Japan" (INFO).  Taking place at the newly renovated Strand Theatre, the truly international festival was attended both by local filmmakers and those from as far away as English, Australia and Sri Lanka.

At the VIP Welcome event and Filmmaker Panel on Friday evening, the festival screened my short film 'Even the Birds Need to be Loved', which has only ever been publicly screened once before when the festival programmed it at a fundraising event earlier this year (STORY).

Perhaps the most intriguing entry is a three-hour, two-film presentation called "Transmissions From Japan," for which upstate New York native Ian Thomas Ash will present two documentaries about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. (Full article from Nov. 13 Seven Days HERE
On Saturday, my two documentaries about children living in Fukushima, 'A2-B-C' (2013, WEBSITE) and 'In the Grey Zone' (2012, WEBSITE) were screened in reverse-chronological order.  Screening 'A2-B-C' first, shows the audience the current situation, causing them to think, "How did this happen?  How did we get to this point?"  Some of those answers are contained within 'In the Grey Zone', and watching the films in reverse order provides one 'a-ha moment' after the next and is actually quite surreal (and frustrating).  These two films have only been shown together like this once, which I wrote about HERE.
“I feel my experience at the university really helped shape my career,” said Thomas, who is a SUNY Plattsburgh alum. “I’m really honored to be able to come back and try to offer current students a kind of look at the things that are possible after graduation. And, I’m also honored to be part of the festival and help support the inaugural edition of the festival.”  (Full article and VIDEO from November 17 Cardinal Points HERE)
The films were introduced by friend, former classmate, fellow filmmaker and one of the brain children behind the festival, Jason Torrance, and many friends and professors who taught me during my time in Plattsburgh were in attendance.  The Q&A, also moderated by Jason, took an interesting turn early on, when, in an accusatory tone, a man in the audience asked a very pointed question in which he highlighted what he saw as a lack of "reliable data and experts" in the film.  Sensing he had an agenda and wanting to contextualize his line of questioning for the audience, I offered him an opportunity to explain the point-of-view from which I felt he was framing his question. However, he insisted that he was merely speaking as a citizen who was concerned that the film portrayed a biased point of view that may confuse people who were "uneducated" in nuclear issues. 

Explaining that I have never suggested that I was telling the "full or complete story" and that I had simply documented a group of mothers and children in Fukushima, I asked him why he was not revealing the fact that he worked for the nuclear industry, to which there were more than a few gasps from the crowd.  Beginning to stutter, he said that he didn't think it was relevant, before trying to continue his argument for nuclear power and against what he saw as the irrational fear of the mothers in the film.  After a couple of barbed exchanges, I explained that this time was for everyone to ask questions, not only him, and to the delight of the audience, I offered him an opportunity to continue our debate over a beer.

In the lobby after the Q&A, I went over to him to see if he wanted to take me up on the offer to continue our discussion over a drink.  He looked up at me and appearing genuinely hurt asked, "Why did you throw me under the bus in front of all those people?"

"By offering you the chance to clarify for the audience where you were coming from, I was giving you the opportunity to use the crosswalk, but you still tried to hide the fact that you work for the nuclear industry," I replied.  I hadn't thrown him under the bus, he had jumped in front of it all by himself. 

At the closing ceremony on Sunday evening, I was honoured to receive "The Golden Honey Comb for Outstanding Work in Film" (full list of award winners HERE) which was presented to me by Jason Torrance.  And after a reference to me as an "internationally-acclaimed filmmaker" (in that slightly tongue-in-cheek tone that only a fellow filmmaker can achieve), I was just grateful that I wasn't receiving a "Lifetime Achievement Award" with the implication that the best work I could do had already been done.  For as Jake put it at the end of the film about his life, "I'm not finished yet."


Anonymous said...

So the question begs. How did you know he was involved in the industry? How did he not know you would recognize him?

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