Sunday, September 30, 2012

Peace x 10

The screenings of the films in last week's Global Peace Film Festival (website) were well-attended, and the audiences were engaged and eager to discuss the issues that the films raised.  The success of the festival is due to the hard work of the festival's executive director Nina Streich and the artistic director Kelly DeVine, and to the festival's many sponsors.

Having just closed its 10th season, the growing importance of Global Peace Film Festival in the greater Orlando area is evidenced in the coverage of the festival in the local media.

In the September 13, 2012 Orlando Sentinel article 'Global Peace Film Fest movies: a sample', arts writer Matthew J. Pal

Orlando Sentinel Calendar for September 14-20, 2012 (page 3)

Orlando Sentinel Calendar for September 14-20, 2012 (page 4)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A little 'peace' of heaven

Before heading home to Japan, this week I am away on a kind of retreat.  It is a time to reflect on the events of the last week, and a time to be with family.

a little 'peace' of heaven, my family's yard

my dad's fishpond

a warm fire on a cool autumn evening

Monday, September 24, 2012

Peace film fest ends, never-ending peace begins

Yesterday, the 10th annual Global Peace Film Festival (website) came to a close, but not before one of the busier days I have had so far.

The day began by attending the screening of the beautiful short documentary film "Khatti Suun", which was produced by women in Nepal's 'untouchable class' through a workshop sponsored by the Human Rights Film Centre of Nepal (HRFC).  The chairperson of HRFC (website), Purna Singh Baraily, brought the film with him to Global Peace as he searched for films to program in the Human Rights Film Festival in Kathmandu, which he directs.

a scene from "Khatti Suun"

Two women from the 'untouchable class' are featured in "Khatti Suun" (website).  Too poor to have been provided with the opportunity to study at school as children, the women return to school as adults, studying alongside children who are decades younger than themselves.  The women talk about their lives and what it means to be able to attend school, and the resulting film is both honest and heart-breaking.

Next on the agenda was a "Meet & Greet" event planned by two students from Rollins College.

Students taking the "Media, Justice and Peace" course at Rollins College (website) split up into pairs and 'adopted' films from the Global Peace Film Festival.  The students developed advertising for the films, arranged events surrounding the film and assisted the visiting directors.  

The students I worked with, Kara and Daniel, were both interested and interesting.  They were motivated and motivating.  They were learning and they were teaching.  Working with them was for me one of the highlights of the festival.

In addition to the advertising campaign (which included graffiti art!) and filming the Q and A sessions after the screenings, one of the events they planned was a "Meet & Greet" event.

As it turned out, it was a BEAUTIFUL day and so the turn out for the event (which was held inside) was less than they had expected.  But Kara and Daniel did not waste this opportunity.  Over the last few days we had talked a lot about the films in the festival, and it was clear that they had been thinking about how they could apply what they had learned to the course work they had ahead of them.

Kara and Daniel will be making a short documentary for a local non-profit to use, and they started asking questions about pre-production, shooting and editing.  When there was a low turnout for the event they had planned, they simply made the best of an opportunity to learn.  It was such an honour to meet them and so many other students at Rollins.

Next, we headed over to the screening hall for the second screening of my documentary "In the Grey Zone" (website).  While it went well, it couldn't have been more different from the first screening.  Not only was the venue very different, but the audience was different, too, and this very much affected the kinds of questions asked and the over-all atmosphere of the Q and A.  It was fascinating how an audience can almost seemingly have a collective reaction to a film, and once I have time to process the experience, I will write about it more.  I certainly learned a lot from this experience, and I am glad that Kara and Daniel had the opportunity to witness such vastly different screenings of the same exact film.

Immediately following the screening of "In the Grey Zone" was the final film  of the festival "Rise Up and Dream" (website), the story of a group of young people in the Philippines as they are helped though a music program developed by a non-profit organization.  Beautifully shot, "Rise Up and Dream" is both a film and a call to grassroots activism.  And the music, by composer Barclay Martin, is amazing.

And then the festivities came to a close as the filmmakers, supporters and staff of the festival gathered one last time to break bread together and to offer our thanks to one another for a wonderful and meaningful time.

with producer Wendy Wallenberg and composer Barclay Martin

goofing around with Egyptian film director Khaled Sayed

Singing at Maxine's On Shine (Maxine is on the bottom right)

Yesterday was the last day of Global Peace Film Festival, but saying good-bye does not have a sad feeling of finality to it.  I am looking forward to the future, to hearing about how all the people in attendance (the viewers, the staff, the volunteers, the filmmakers) go out into the world and share all of the things we learned in Orlando.  

As we leave Global Peace Film Festival for another year, we say to each other "until next time".  And to those we meet from today, we say "Peace be with you".

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Peace begins at home, by shouting.

Today began with a panel discussion entitled "Issues Forum – Media Coverage of Peace & Environment Issues" (website) led by Global Peace Film Festival's artistic director, Kelly DeVine, on which I was honoured to be invited as a speaker.  The audience was small but passionately engaged, and the topics discussed varied from the funding of our films to how the films inspire action in grass roots movements.  As "In the Grey Zone" (website) is my first "issue-based" documentary, it has been a fascinating learning experience and such a joy to see the audiences reacting and interacting with the films so energetically. 

Filmmakers at "Issues Forum – Media Coverage of Peace & Environment Issues

Among the panelists was Korrina Sehringer (second from left in the above photo), the director of "Shouting Secrets", a film about the emotional struggles in a Native American family (website).  I had the honour of meeting Korrina at the World Premier of "In the Grey Zone" last month at the Flickers International Film Festival (website) where "Shouting Secrets" went on to win the Grand Prize for Best Narrative Feature (website).

"Shouting Secrets", a film by Korrina Sehringer

The inclusion of "Shouting Secrets", the only narrative feature in this year's Global Peace Film Festival (website) is a subtle yet crucial example of the carefully crafted curating that Global Peace Film Festival receives under the direction of Nina Streich, executive director, and Kelly DeVine, artistic director.  Peace is not pigeon-holed or forced into the more easily understood compartments of 'anti-war', 'human rights', 'the environment', although these themes, too, are certainly represented.  No, the definition of Peace is set free to be whatever it is called to be at this exact moment in time, a period that will someday be part of our collective history.  The definition of Peace becomes broad, so broad, in fact, as to almost defy definition; but if one were to try, it could perhaps best be described as 'reconciliation'. 

"Shouting Secrets" doesn't explore an issue such as war or the environment; what it is about is the reconciliation within a family.  What is Global Peace Film Festival trying to tell us by programming a film such as this?  Perhaps it is that Peace begins at home.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The fire of peace burns bright

Each day at Global Peace Film Festival (website) seems filled with more activities and more fun than the day before.  Today started with another live interview on radio station WPRK (website) with DJ Lazeros and fellow filmmakers Purna Singh Baraily from the Human Rights Film Network of Nepal (website) and director Megan Smith-Harris from Canada (website).

Lazeros commented again, as he had after previous interviews this week, about how the dynamic was so different when interviewing a studio full of directors.  We talked about our films in the festival, making films in general and even had an chance to ask each other questions and have a few laughs.

On air with Megan and co-host DJ Cassandra

Next was a luncheon hosted by the good people at the Metro Orlando Film and Entertainment Commission (website) at a beautiful cinema and cafe.

The filmmakers gather for a group photo after lunch
In the afternoon, I was invited to speak on the panel of"Making Films That Make a Difference" (website).  The audience, made up of members of the community, university students and fellow filmmakers, asked us things like how we funded films that are socially important but in many cases are not commercially viable.  They were also interested in how the stories were developed and if we thought a lot about who the 'audience' for the film would be before we embarked on making the film.

In the evening, I attended the screening of "Trial By Fire: Lives Re-forged", directed by Megan Smith-Harris (website).  The film tells the story of people who have been badly burned: but rather than be resigned to life as a burn victim, they overcome their injuries to become burn survivors.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for this film is getting people to actually come to the cinema.  It's not an easy subject and certainly not a film that one would 'enjoy' while eating popcorn.  But once you get into the cinema, the reward is great.  

This is a beautiful story that really opened my eyes to a world I never even knew existed.  Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was hearing that not one of these people who had been so badly disfigured would go back and change it.  Not one.  They all felt that their scars were a part of who they are; the scars defined them, were a part of them and they would not change them, even if they could.

A litte PEACE of the online action

Global Peace Film Festival has just curated its inaugural online film festival (website), offering an opportunity for people all over the world an opportunity to see some of the films and to partake in the peace.

I am extremely honoured to have my short documentary "Nuclear Refugees: the people of Iitate Village" included in this wonderful selection of 16 films.

Wherever you are in the world, please enjoy the peace.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Peace be with you.

Global Peace Film Festival (website) continued today with more family, films and friends.

My sister and her husband, Ernest, extended their coincidentally planned vacation last week for a few more days so that we could see each other.  But the coincidences didn't end there!

While Ernest was helping me establish a Facebook page ... yes, they are bringing me over to the DARK side...he saw a message from Shawn Small, the director of "Ru: Water is Life" (website), one of the films I blogged about yesterday.  It turns out that Ernest and Shawn know each other!  Amanda and Ernest joined me at the World Premier of "Ru: Water is Life" tonight.

"Ru: Water is Life" is GORGEOUS.  Not only are the shots beautiful, but the narrative is so masterfully simple.  I'm not a film critic, so I'm not going to start writing a review here, but I will share with you that over beers at an Irish pub after the film, Shawn told us about the great and many places this film is going.  I am very much looking forward to following the path this amazing film takes and all of the much-needed attention it will draw to an issue that many of us never think about: clean drinking water.

One of the other film screenings we attended last night was "Love Free or Die" (website), about the first openly gay Anglican Bishop, Gene Robinson.   This is an issue that has affected the church directly since Gene's consecration in 2003, and it is hard to believe that the church will be entering the 10th year of direct debate (although it has been an indirect issue for many, many years longer).   And this film serves an important historical document as to how the Anglican church has begun to address it.

From a filmic standpoint, "Love Free or Die" is skillfully-crafted, and I was particularly moved by the way the sensitive was in which it was edited.  An 'issue-based' film like this can sometimes feel very 'preachy' (pardon the pun), like it is 'preaching to the choir' (clears throat), but this did not.  The story was just allowed to unfold; aided, but not coerced by the filmmakers, like a book opening almost by itself with the words revealed for the reader not to be read to, but for the reader to read for him/herself.

Peace be with you.

Look what the cat dragged in...

The weather here in Orlando has been great and the wildlife is as plentiful and friendly as the locals.  Some examples of the native (and one not-so-native) animals that I have encountered:

little green tree frog

Sandhill Cranes


my sister Amanda

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Peace is only narrow when we allow it to be.

The first full day of Global Peace Film Festival screenings and events has come to a close.  Reflecting on this first day, I am left with the feeling that "Global Peace" as a theme ostensibly feels so narrow and yet through the dedication and hard work of the festival's director and programmer, the topics and themes covered by the films screening here are seemingly endless.

In addition to the huge honour of being invited to speak to two classes today, I was also among some of the filmmakers interviewed at the radio station at Rollins College, one of the sponsors of the festival.  Being interviewed with other directors and hearing about their films has been for me one of the highlights of the festival so far.  Festivals are about interacting with the audiences, yes, but these are also opportunities to meet and discuss our work with our colleagues.

Perhaps because most of us that were being interviewed were directors, we almost seemed to take over the interviews at some points, asking each other and even the DJs questions.  Some of the other filmmakers I had the honour of being interview with were:

Purna Singh Baraily, chairperson of the Human Rights Film Center in Nepal.  Purna has brought with him the short documentary film "Khaati Sunn" that was produced in workshop with his Human Rights Centre.  The documentary was made by and about women in rural Nepal, and screens Saturday and Sunday (more here)

Charlie, Gage, director, "Inspired, the Voices Against Prop 8".  Charlie's feature documentary is about Proposition 8, the law that would ban the recently passed order to allow same-sex marriage in California in 2008.  Charlie shared how his film was born almost by accident and that much of the early footage of the protest marches was shot on a $60 digital camera set to 'movie mode'.   I had the honour of attending the screening of "Inspired" tonight and it struck me how universal this film is; yes, on one level it is about gay marriage, but it is very much about an individual's rights and how the laws in a country affects each of us.  After the film, a woman in the audience shared her own story about how her marriage with a man of a different race would have been outlawed in this country until just relatively recently.  The film screens again Thursday, and I highly recommend it.  (more here)

Brad Rothschild, director, "Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald".  "Kinderblock" follows four men, who as boys were imprisoned in the same concentration camp, as they return to commemorate the 65th anniversary of their liberation.  I also had the honour of attending the screening of this feature documentary that was held tonight at the Holocaust Center.  During the opening of the film, the four elderly men are given flip cameras to record video diaries of their memories and their preparations to return to the concentration camp where they had been held so many years ago.  As they were given these cameras to use and taught how to use them, the tears started flowing and never stopped.  A truly powerful film.  The film screens again on Thursday and is not to be missed.  (more here)

Jonathon Eason and Chris Ramsey, producers, "Marching to Sanford", a short documentary film which follows a group of students as they march in protest of the Trayvon Martin shooting.  Jonathon and Chris remarked on how the use of cell phone cameras and modern technology was putting the power back in the hands of the activists and how they were actually 'scooping' news reports that would traditionally have been picked up (or not) and controlled by mainstream media.  (more here)

Steve Roese and Shawn Small, director/ producer, "Ru: Water is Life", a short documentary about the importance of water in the life of the people of South Sudan through the eyes of a little girl.  The film documents a very important week in the life of the little girl, whose days are spent on one task: fetching water for her family.  For the first few days, Shawn documents her life of walking several kilometers to get water, which which she then carries back on her head, continues as it has for years.  A well is then drilled near her home by a local Sudanese company established by Steve (an American).  How will having  abundant safe water, a necessity that so many of us take for granted, change her life?  I look very much look forward to the film's screening on Thursday.  (more here)

It was an amazing experience to meet these guys and hear about their work.  At one point the DJ interviewing us complimented us on the wide variety of topics that our films cover.  But as I stated in the beginning of this post, this reflects not on us as filmmakers; after all, there are films in the world about almost everything.  The wide variety of films here is the result of the careful curation that Peace Film Festival undergoes in order to bring the audiences an amazing and ecclectic collection of films.
Before coming here, I realize that I had thought that "peace" was something much more narrow than it is.  Now I know that peace is only narrow when we allow it to be.

Off to the cinema...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The sun sets, peace rises

I arrived in Orlando tonight, and we touched down during a beautiful sunset.

After being picked up by festival volunteer @mikkimouth I hit the ground running and we rushed from the airport directly to Peace Film Festival's opening film, "The Zen of Bennett".

"The Zen of Bennett" is a beautiful documentary which weaves interviews with Tony Bennett along with studio recordings of Tony singing with some of the world's most talented singers.  

One of the most poignant scenes in the film is when Tony records with Amy Winehouse, who is now deceased.  Prior to the recording, he very candidly talks about his intention to give her advice to get off drugs.  And their recording together is electric.

At 85, Tony is in top form. And perhaps because the film was produced by his son, and he is mostly surrounded by his children (his manager, his photographer, and even his opening act singer are all his kids), he seems relaxed and generally off-guard, offering up the kind of intimate details that perhaps he wouldn't have shared had the film been made by "strangers".

The film screens again at Peace Film Festival on Friday (screening information here) and will be theatrically released this autumn (film's website is here).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Coming soon...

The Global Peace Film Festival (website) begins in just a few days (Sept 18-23), and I am busy preparing for the trip to Orlando.  More good news is coming in daily, among which was an invitation to speak with students enrolled in the "Media, Peace and Justice" course at Rollins College.  It is such an honour to be a part of the Global Peace Film Festival and the greater outreach programs it has established in the wider community.

new postcards for "In the Grey Zone"
In the beginning of October, the European premier of "In the Grey Zone" will take place in Camera Japan (website) in Rotterdam, Holland (October 4-7).  Camera Japan has just announced its full line-up of films (here), and it is truly humbling to be included in such a beautifully curated lineup.

***** updated ****

There was a nice mention of "In the Grey Zone" in the September 13th edition of the Orlando Sentinel (here).

Saturday, September 08, 2012

What will your last words be?

When my friend Kazuko found out she was dying, there was nothing I could do.  We would just sit and talk for hours.  Early on, I realized the things she wanted to talk about were changing, as was the way she was talking about them.

I asked her if she wanted to document her journey, and she said yes.

So I began filming Kazuko that day, and I filmed her until the day she died.

The film we made is called "minus1287", and the title refers to the number of days Kazuko lived from the first day we filmed together.

On April 25th, I posted this blog (here) about the filming I had been doing quietly in the background during the past four years.  I had just finished editing the trailer for the film that I was tentatively calling "-1287".

I realized this could also be read as "negative1287", so to eliminate confusion, I've since decided to call it "minus1287".

The 'fine cut' of the film is now finished, and I have begun the long process of submitting "minus 1287" to festivals.  The website for the film, created by my friend Katsuyoshi Ueno,  is now up and running as well (here).  Ueno-san is also the amazing photographer behind the breath-taking photograph "little girl with face mask" that I am using in the promotional materials for my documentary "In the Grey Zone" (the photograph can be seen here).

We don't know which will be our last words until they are spoken.

What will your last words be?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

$22 yogurt AND no more merry Christmases?!

National Azabu supermarket (website here) with its wide selection of imported foods has been in the centre of the foreign community in the Hiroo neighbourhood of Tokyo since the 1960's.  

National Azabu is so much a part of the foreign community, that when I decided to film the evacuation of the expat population after last year's earthquake and nuclear disaster, the Hiroo neighbourhood, and specifically around National Azabu, is where I went.  That documentary, where I even met and interviewed an ambassador's wife while she ventured out for supplies, can be seen here:

National Azabu's already aging building was damaged further in last year's earthquake, and it was subsequently closed, demolished, re-built and has just held its grand re-opening.  I received the flyer in Friday's paper and one thing in particular caught my eye:  Total Greek Yogurt.  I LOVE Greek yogurt, and it is one of the things that you just can't find here and for which there is no real replacement.

But wait!  A quick look at the fine print reveals that... the yogurt costs ¥1,750 ($22 US dollars).  Surely that must be a misprint, I thought.  So I went to National Azabu today to find out.

First, the building is now a boring, modern pre-fabricated looking thing just plunked down next to the street.  Where before it had character and the complex housed a lovely little flower shop with a tree growing right through the roof that you walked past, now it is just the Tokyo-business-version of a double-wide trailer.  The decorations at the flower shop at Halloween and Christmas had been such a nostalgic joy to walk past and part of the "National Azabu Experience".  Now, an unimaginative flower shop has been incorporated directly into the grocery store itself.  

With so many more stores (both physical and online) offering foreign foods and products, the thing that had set National Azabu apart, its ambiance, is gone.  Modern, yes.  Still worth a day trip for the "National Azabu experience"?  No. 

Inside, the aisles seem more narrow than before (is that even possible?), the food selection seems more limited (did they decrease floor space in order to have more parking?  It appears that way.) and the prices seem even higher (and they weren't cheap to begin with).

I ventured over to the dairy aisle to find the Greek yogurt and to give National Azabu a chance to redeem itself by proving that the $22 price was a misprint.

I quote my tweet from today: "It's true. ¥1,750 for Greek yogurt or ¥218 for domestic! I wouldn't buy $22 yogurt even if it was my f'ing b-day." 

Way to go, National Azabu!  You completely sanitized, pasteurized and modernized one of the institutions of ex-pat life in Tokyo.  You took away what used to be turned into a Christmas village in December, something that made us so warm and fuzzy that we didn't even mind paying exorbitant prices for Christmas treats and decorations.  

In its place, you have given us $22 yogurt in a pre-fabricated double-wide trailer.  Genius.

******** update September 4 ********

My sister, Amanda, just sent me this photo from her local grocery store in the US.  The yogurt is $3.99!  I know it must cost a lot of money to import perishable goods, so one might expect an imported product to cost 2 or 3 times as much as "back home".  But more than 5 times?!