Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Talking film

Last night I spoke at the Japan Visual-media Translation Academy (JVTA website HERE) about making documentaries in Japan.  The event (TRAILER and posters below) was aimed at students of subtitling, but was open to the public.

I first met Mr. Ishii and several of the Japan-based JVTA staff at the 2013 Nippon Connection Japanese Film Festival in Germany, where JVTA sponsors the Nippon Visions Award.  I received the award that year for my film 'A2-B-C' (STORY), and the rest, as they say, is history.

The talk last night was moderated by Mr. Ishii, who had spent a lot of time watching my films so that he could share clips and guide the conversation.  It was really fascinating for me to see how someone views the entire body of my work and to hear about the connections they draw between the different films (websites and trailers HERE).

It was a great honour to have so many students, colleagues, and even a few friends present and engaged in the work that I do. 

The next time I will be meeting Mr. Ishii and the JVTA staff will be not in Tokyo, but in Germany at the 2015 Nippon Connection Film Festival, where the German premier of my new film '-1287' (WEBSITE) will take place (more info on that soon!).  I am so grateful for their continued support and look forward to our future collaborations.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Choosing the Edge

As the 4th anniversary of the March 11th disaster approaches, screenings of my documentary 'A2-B-C' continue.  On Thursday morning in Japan (Wednesday evening in the US), I joined the screening of the film held during the 2015 Global Film Festival held at William and Mary College, Virginia, USA (INFO).  This year's theme was "Film and Renewal" (INFO).

Photo by friend and filmmaker Adrian Storey (WEBSITE)
On Thursday and Friday, the final classes for the course I am teaching at the University of Tokyo were held (INFO).  Part theory and part filmmaking, the students' final film projects were screened at a mini film festival on Friday evening before their peers and a panel of three international film and media specialists.  I was extremely proud of the students' achievements and grateful for all that I learned through the opportunity to teach on this course.

The Komaba campus of the University of Tokyo
I brought my students' final papers with me to the airport on Saturday morning so that I could read them on the plane as I was off again for more screenings, this time in Shimane Prefecture.  'A2-B-C' was screened in two cities, Ota and Hamada.

After the first screening in Ota, I joined filmmaker and event host, Mr. Hanada, who has also filmed extensively in Fukushima, on stage for a discussion about our work and a Q&A with the audience.  I have written here many times before about how I really prefer to be close to the audience rather than onstage, and as soon as we sat down I knew it was not going to be a good discussion if we remained there.  Asking Mr. Hanada if we could join the audience, I headed for the stairs.  Perhaps both he and the audience thought I was going to remain at the base of the stage, but I there was a perfect place to stand right, an aisle in front of the first row where there were people sitting, and so there was some nervous laughter when I stood so close to the audience.

It turned out to be one of the best Q&A's I have done in Japan.

Moving on to the city of Hamada, the screening was followed by a panel discussion led by Mr. Hamada with Dr. Kanda, from the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine at Shimane University, and Ms. Kajitani, who evacuated to Shimane with her children following the nuclear disaster.

Although the discussion was extremely interesting and informative, it was also slightly staid, and when it came time for the Q&A, I jumped up from my chair and made a beeline for the edge of the stage.  In this life when I am given the choice of the comfort and relative safety of an office chair or a cold, hard edge, I always seem to be choosing the edge...

Monday, February 09, 2015

Swords Into Ploughshares

Sitting next to where I sleep is a small statue depicting a verse from Isaiah that my father gave to me at Christmastime.
And they will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war. HERE
Fashioned out of recycled material taken from decommissioned nuclear warheads, the statue not only depicts the breaking of a sword about to be turned into a ploughshare, but is itself an example of such a re-purposing: an instrument of war transformed into a message-giving piece of art.

Rising tensions in the Middle East are entangling more countries, most recently Japan with the release of videos depicting the killing of two Japanese citizens who were being held by ISIS.  While the murder of these two men (and so many countless others) is terrible and shocking, the reaction of Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe only served to increase the shock of so many peace-loving people in this nation: Abe vowed revenge* and then appeared to be using these killings as justification to continue his attempt to amend Japan's pacifist constitution. **

Yesterday, a Peace Rally was held to remember Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, the two men killed by ISIS, and it should be noted that it was a Peace Rally that took place and not a demonstration.  At the Peace Rally, a friend of the humanitarian and journalist Goto-san was quoted as saying: “I think the onus is on us all to keep his wishes for peace alive".***

ISIS uses killings as a weapon to draw more countries into the conflict.  By vowing revenge, Prime Minister Abe plays directly into the hands of ISIS succeeding only in further involving Japan in a war that it can never win.  But I believe that Goto-san would never have wanted that, that he would have asked for his own killing to be transformed into a renewed call for Peace.  And that is what the attendees at yesterday's Peace Rally have done: Swords into Ploughshares.

* "Departing From Japan’s Pacifism, Shinzo Abe Vows Revenge for Killings" by Martin Fackler (Feb 1, NYT) HERE

** "Abe Is Said to Have Plans to Revise Pacifist Charter" by Martin Fackler (Feb 5, NYT) HERE

*** "Goto, Yukawa mourned in spontaneous gatherings nationwide" by Yoshiaki Miura (Feb 9, Japan Times) HERE

Monday, February 02, 2015

Family, Love and Health. And Red Wine!

The inaugural Snowtown Film Festival (WEBSITE) took place this past weekend in my hometown of Watertown, NY, and it was an honour to have my short documentary "Even the Birds Need to be Loved" screened in the short films strand (INFO). 

It was an additional honour to receive a Filmmaker's Award, and although I was not able to make the trip from Japan to be in attendance at the festival, my longtime friend (and former boss!) Rebecca, read out my statement:
Although I am not able to be at the inaugural Snowtown Film Festival in person as I am in Japan, I am there with you in spirit.  I was born in Watertown, and although we moved around a lot when I was child, I returned as a teenager where I graduated from Watertown High School.

Watertown is where I had so many “firsts”, the experiences in my youth that helped to form who I have become.

I had part time jobs in Watertown like waiting tables, working in a restaurant kitchen, and I even delivered singing telegrams there for a time.  I attended Jefferson Community College, where I continued to learn from experiences in the classroom, part-time jobs and leadership opportunities.

It is therefore a great honour and privilege to have one of my earliest Japanese-language short films “Even the Birds Need to Be Loved” screened and recognized at Snowtown Film Festival in my hometown.  Thank you all so very much for your continued support and encouragement.

The Uno’s, the elderly couple documented in the film, are both well and still very much in love.  May their story remind you of what is most important in this life: Family, Love and Health. And Red Wine!
An article about the festival and awards published in the Watertown Daily Times (Feb.1) can be found HERE.