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"

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nuclear Refugees: the people of Iitate Village, one year later

I am just back from another trip to Fukushima to document the ongoing situation following the nuclear disaster.  While I wish I could find a way to write more updates here as I am experiencing and filming, I generally find it too difficult to put into words what I am witnessing as I am witnessing it.

Even after I am back, I seem to retreat into a cocoon as I edit; for it is only after I finish editing that I have begun to process what I have witnessed and can then begin to talk about it.  

"Nuclear Refugees: the people of Iitate Village" is the first of the short documentary films I shot last week, and I will posting several more over the next couple of weeks.  The link and a short description can be found below:

"Nuclear Refugees, the people of Iitate Village, one year later" (2012/ Japan/ 18 minutes)

producer/ camera Koji Fujita 藤田 浩二
director/ editor Ian Thomas Ash

STORY:  In May 2011, two months after the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, the entire village of Iitate was evacuated.  This documentary combines interviews with the villagers as they are preparing for evacuation, along with footage of the village filmed one year after evacuation. 

BACKGROUND: For two months after the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, the people of Iitate Village, 40 km from the damaged nuclear plant, were exposed to high levels of radiation due to the wind direction.  The village was outside the official evacuation zone (20 km from the plant) and the villagers were not put under orders to stay indoors (such as the area 20-30 km from the plant).  As a result, the villagers, and their children, remained in Iitate until the government eventually ordered them to evacuate two months after the meltdown.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fukushima scrennings and updates

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to show my film "In the Grey Zone" in international competition later this summer.  I have been holding off letting people know about it until I have more details, but knowing that we have at least one screening confirmed has made the continuing process of festival submission somewhat less stressful.

I will be posting more as soon as I receive the details of the World Premier of "In the Grey Zone", my feature documentary about the children living in the radiation zone 20-30 km from the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima (website here and trailer here).

Since finishing "In the Grey Zone", I have continued to travel to Fukushima to film updates on the continuing situation, with Discovery News publishing my guest blogs at six-months (here) and one-year  (here).

This week, I am again in Fukushima to film an update.  This time, however, my focus is markedly different.  While my main focus has always been (and continues to be) what is happening to the people, this time I am filming in a place where there are no people: in the exclusion zone itself.

There is a connection between this no-go area and the people who live right on its border.  The border itself is well-marked and the crossing of it by people is well-monitored (it is illegal to cross it without special permission).  Yet radiation flows unmolested across this line, not stopping for the laws made by men.

How is crossing the border going to help me to understand this continuing problem and the affects on those living so close to it?  I look forward to discovering and sharing with you that answer. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Documenting Reality: The Glass House

I never thought I would be blogging about an American reality television show (even though reality TV is non-fiction and technically part of the documentary family).  However, I have just learned that I have personal connection to the upcoming reality TV show "The Glass House" (premiering on June 18 on ABC in America).

My cousin, Erica, has been chosen as one of the 14 contestants on the series premier.  I can't wait to hear all about the experience (from a documentary stand point, of course) after she is back.  

I have never found myself recommending a reality TV show, but Erica is hilarious, smart and beautiful so for those of you in the US, I have a feeling that this show is going to be good!

Erica on ABC's "The Glass House"