Saturday, November 30, 2013

Breaking Bread

Arriving in Taiwan this afternoon, I was met by festival staff member and translator Aiya at the airport.  Her smile and excitement for the festival was contagious, and we hit the ground running heading straight for the festival after checking in to the hotel.

The Green Citizen's Action Alliance (GCAA), which sponsors the No Nuke's Film Festival ('A2-B-C' screening info HERE), is currently working to raise awareness about nuclear issues amid a strong debate in Taiwan regarding its current nuclear policy.

The trailer for this year's festival includes several clips from 'A2-B-C':

The festival is being held in a refurbished tobacco factory, which is a listed historical building that was built by the Japanese during the occupation of Taiwan and is now located in a cultural park.

In addition to the film festival, GCAA is sponsoring many nuclear-related events this week, including a market and photo exhibitions from Global Hibakusha and the heart-breaking work of Ota Yasusuke, who documents the animals left behind in the Fukushima no-go zone (pictured below, blog HERE).

After posing outside the festival venue in front of the Golden Horse (from Taipei's more well-known film festival), some of the GCAA staff treated the visiting artists to a delicious traditional "Taiwanese hotpot" dinner.

The more film festivals I have the honour of attending, the more it is solidified for me that they aren't merely about watching films.  If that was all this was about, everyone could just stay home and watch the films on DVDs.  This is about meeting, communicating, debating, interacting, breaking bread together, and trying to make this world a better place to live in one step at a time.

Raising hands, voices


On Thursday evening, ‘A2-B-C’ (WEBSITE) was screened for the first time in Fukushima, for an all-invited audience of the participants in the film, along with their extended families, friends, and a handful of journalists.  For the first time ‘A2-B-C’ would be screened in Fukushima, and it was so important to be able to share the film with the families on a big screen in a proper cinema.  This screening was realized through the generosity of film distributor @Entertainment (photo with staff, directly below) and through the support of Tohoku University and of Forum Fukushima Cinema’s managing director, Mr. Abe Yasuhiro (photo, second below).

Following the screening, I had prepared a surprise: a 12-minute collection of the video messages from people around the world who had felt moved to offer words of support to the families affected by this disaster after seeing the film in one of the many festivals in which it has been screened. 

Since returning from Raindance Berlin just two days earlier (INFO), the editing of this special program came down to the wire, and the first time that any of the staff involved in the event saw it was when it was screened in front of the packed cinema.

The reaction was intense and the sounds of crying echoed throughout the theatre as the words of support from people around the world were heard:
“You are not wrong to worry about your children.”
“You are in our hearts.”
“You have not been forgotten.”
It was an immense honour to present to the families these messages with which I had been entrusted, and later they told me how much the messages had meant to them, how knowing that there are people in the world who are thinking of them had given them strength.

The mothers had a surprise for me as well.  Mrs. Shima presented me with a pair of handsome cufflinks from the mothers, and then Mrs. Sugano spoke about what the experience of taking part in the film had meant to her and her family, and how she had put her faith in me and allowed me into their lives at a time when she no longer trusted the media.  I was completely over-whelmed.

In the lobby after the screening, I was able to offer my personal gratitude to each of the people who appeared in the film, and to ask them for their continued trust as I continue the work to which I am called.

The next day, the screenings of ‘A2-B-C’ in Tohoku continued, with two showings sponsored by Tohoku University in Sendai, the epicenter of the 2011 earthquake.  The screenings, arranged by Tohoku University Professor Sakata Kuniko, were attended both by local members of the public and people who had evacuated to Sendai from Fukushima.

Each of the screenings was followed by a “talk session”.  During the first one, I was honoured to join panelist and Baptist Minister Rev. Hanae Igata, who offered her reaction to the film as well contextualized some of the issues raised in it by speaking about her own experiences with volunteer group Tohoku HELP.  Also on the panel led by Professor Sakata was Mr. Shigeki Ota, a representative of the Miyagi network to protect children from radioactivity and the Marumori and Mountain Farm & miso studio SOYA.

While many of the questions raised by the audience during the two sessions were interesting and relevant, I must admit that I have often been surprised by some of the clearly unrelated comments offered by people at screenings in Japan.  It is as if they have prepared ahead of time questions relating to a personal agenda that they are determined to ask after the screening whether they are relevant or not.  Are these people actually watching the film or are they just rehearsing their question over and over in their heads for 71 minutes?

During the de-briefing with the event staff later that night, I mentioned my confusion at the seemingly disproportionately unrelated things people say during the Q&A’s following domestic screenings.

“In Japan”, I was told by one young mother and event volunteer, “normal people are too worried about what others will think of them to ask a question.”  She then explained that anyone in Japan who quickly raises their hand when you ask if there are any questions is, by nature, “different” and that this accounts for why many of their comments can sometimes be so “individual”.

The people who truly engage with what they are experiencing are too afraid to speak up and the ones controlling the conversation have their own agenda.  Perhaps there are some parallels here to the problems that this country’s government is facing post-Fukushima.

May more of the people like the mothers of ‘A2-B-C’, those with the good questions and many of the answers, have the strength and the courage to start raising their hands, their voices.  And may the ones who have been speaking until now have the awareness to listen.  Amen.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Stepping Down

Being able to share the story of the families of Fukushima with film festival audiences all over the world has been an immense honour.  But an even greater honour has been to be invited to speak at universities, colleges and schools and having the opportunity to share what is happening in Fukushima with the younger generation, the leaders of tomorrow.

After arriving in Berlin last night, I went directly from the airport to the Free University of Berlin, where Raindance Berlin had arranged for an educational screening of 'A2-B-C' in the Department of Japanese Studies (event info HERE).

The beautiful thatch-roofed train station near the Free University of Berlin.
It was a wonderful turnout, and in addition to students from the university, there were also members of the public and the Japanese expat community.  During the post-screening discussion, questions ranged from why more people were not able to evacuate to where families went to for information when they didn't believe the official line.  When the discussion turned to what the thyroid cysts and nodules mean and to the recently discovered cases of thyroid cancer in Fukushima, I was extremely honoured to be able to introduce IPPNW board member, pediatrician and friend Dr. Alex Rosen (author of THIS article about Fukushima and many others; IPPNW International WEBSITE).

Dr. Rosen's calm, informed and easy-to-understand explanation about the medical issues that are discussed in the film helped to contextualize the issues the mothers raise, and I believe his contribution made the discussion one of the most valuable 'A2-B-C' post-screening discussions that have been held.

The screening of 'A2-B-C' in the 1st Raindance Berlin is tonight! (INFO)

On Wednesday, the day before I left Tokyo for Berlin, I was invited to give two talks, one at the Tama Art University in Tokyo (WEBSITE) and the other at the American School in Japan (WEBSITE).   

After the screening of 'A2-B-C' for the students at Tama Art University, there was a post-screening discussion, led by film critic and university professor Ken Okubo (PHOTO below), to whom I extremely grateful for much support and encouragement since the jury he served on at the World Premier of 'A2-B-C' awarded the film in June (INFO).

The visit to the American School in Japan, coordinated by ASIJ tutor and Fukushima volunteer Elicia Cousins, began by visiting the class of Ms. Kathleen Krauth, where the students, all seniors, have been learning about disasters in modern Japanese history.  On Saturday of this week, their study will culminate in an experience trip to Tohoku, the area so devastated by the March 11, 2011 disaster.

Some of the students at ASIJ are from abroad, some are Japanese who have returned after having lived abroad, and some have parents from different countries; but all of the students attending ASIJ have some kind of international experience.

While sharing clips of my work and talking about my experiences making films and living abroad, the students asked questions and guided the conversation to areas in which they were interested and were relevant to what they had been studying.  Their questions were fascinating, challenging, and probing.

The students were engaged and engaging, both questioning and in possession of answers, and if there is one single group of young people that represents our hope for the future, they are there in Ms. Krauth’s class.

Later in the afternoon, students and members of the greater ASIJ community gathered in the newly refurbished state-of-the-art theatre for a screening of ‘A2-B-C'.

Several mothers who had evacuated to Tokyo from Fukushima were in the audience, and during the post-screening discussion, they honoured us by sharing their impressions of the film and about their lives post-Fukushima.

A man about my age stood up to speak, and I stepped down from the podium where I had been standing and went to him with the microphone when I couldn’t hear what he had began to say.   “I work inside Fukushima Number One,” he said in English after taking the microphone.  He went on to tell us that his home had been just 3.5 kilometeres away from the nuclear power plant in Fukushima.  Although he had evacuated his young family to Tokyo, he returns to the dangerous conditions at the damaged nuclear power plant each week to work in the clean-up effort.  “What else can we do to support our families?” he asked.  “The only men left working inside the plant haven’t finished school.  Anyone with a degree quit long ago.”

I was embarrassed.  We owe our lives to this man and to the others like him, and until moments earlier I had been standing on a stage before him speaking about the relatively little I know about the situation in Fukushima.

For the remainder of the discussion, I remained on the floor, as close to the audience as I could be.


November 26, 2013 UPDATE:  This article about my visit was published on the ASIJ website HERE.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Writing another blog from Narita airport, I try to remember how many trips I have taken abroad in the past two months to share the story of the mothers and children of Fukushima with audiences all over the world.  I am so grateful to all of the film festivals who have given the mothers of Fukushima a platform for their voices to be heard.  This experience has changed my life, and I pray that it will, even if in just the smallest of ways, change the lives of the families who took part in the film and those that share in their struggle by watching it.
The third leg of the World Tour of 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) begins today.

It is an immense honour to have 'A2-B-C' invited to participate in the first edition of Berlin Raindance, where it is screening on Friday evening (INFO).  While I am in Berlin, I will be meeting the IPPNW doctors, who have been supporting so many of us with their data and research.  In March of this year, one of my photographs was published in an IPPNW journal HERE).  I am also deeply grateful for the invitation to present a lecture at the Free University of Berlin on Thursday.

This trip to Europe will be a fairly quick one, as I come home to Japan to attend screenings late next week of the film in Fukushima City (the first time 'A2-B-C' will be shown in Fukushima and which all the participants in it will attend) and in the city of Sendai (screening details HERE). 

Then on the weekend, I will be traveling to Taiwan for more screenings and university lectures (INFO).  When I return home to Japan in December, the domestic promotional tour will begin in earnest, with screenings in Kobe, Kyoto and Hiroshima (DETAILS).


There has been a major setback, and it looks like the wonderful news that we were planning to share at the Fukushima Premier of the film next week will no longer be announced.  Yet I fear not, and I do not give up.  As one does not train with weight that is too light, I accept this resistance; no, I need this resistance, for it is this resistance that has driven me to push harder and to go further.

In August, I had to make a choice: to reach backwards in vain to to try get back something that had been taken away or to give in and go forward.  By "give in", it is not in the sense of "giving in to another person", no.  It is a "giving in" to a higher power, allowing one's self to be guided to a place one always knew was there but a place that one could not have gone to alone.

There is more resistance ahead, and I welcome it.  It was the resistance-filled summer that freed me in ways that made it possible for me to embark on this nearly three-month world tour.

We all have a choice when things fall apart: to stand there, frozen, asking "Why?  Why?  Why?" or to step over the mess and to give in to a higher power.  And as I write this, I realize something for the first time: the more I embrace the resistance, the more I am becoming it.

Do not give in to the resistance.  Become it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Can you keep a secret?

The Japanese government’s recent proposal of the “Designated Secrets Bill”, under which journalists could face arrest and prosecution for divulging state secrets, has been cause for much concern among many of my colleagues.

In response to the bill, which is now under consideration by the Japanese Diet, the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan (FCCJ) president Lucy Birmingham wrote a statement of protest:
It is at the very heart of investigative journalism in open societies to uncover secrets and to inform the people about the activities of government. Such journalism is not a crime, but rather a crucial part of the checks and balances that go hand in hand with democracy.

The "Designated Secrets Bill" specifically warns journalists that they must not engage in "inappropriate methods" in conducting investigations of government policy. This appears to be a direct threat aimed at the media profession and is unacceptably open to wide interpretations in individual cases. Such vague language could be, in effect, a license for government officials to prosecute journalists almost as they please.

The full protest statement can be found here: ENGLISH/日本語
Yesterday, I attended a press conference at the FCCJ during which several prominent politicians voiced their opposition to the proposed “Designated Secrets Bill”  (press release HERE).

When Social Democratic Party member Mizuho Fukushima asked lawmakers in the ruling party to explain the definition of “secret”, the reply she received alarmed her.  “What is considered secret,” she was told, “is secret”.

“But information,” Fukushima insisted to the crowd of journalists attending the press conference, “is the currency of democracy.”

Mr Sohei Nihi, of the Japanese Communist Party, expressed his concern that people could be arrested and prosecuted for revealing something they did not realize was considered a state secret.  He suggested that with such vague wording in the bill regarding what is considered a secret, the government could use it to control information it deemed to be unflattering.

When expressing his concern about the bill, Mr. Ryo Shuhama of the People’s Life Party suggested that if the government yields too much discretionary power then there is the danger that human rights may be violated.

However, it was perhaps the youngest and newest politician in attendance, Independent lawmaker Taro Yamamoto, whose words were most anticipated.

Yamamoto wondered why a bill such as this is even necessary when information that the public has a right to know is already being tightly controlled.  As an example, he explained that he recently discovered that the equivalent of nearly 25 million USD, 5 million USD of which had been earmarked for reconstruction efforts after the March 11, 2011, disaster, was used for “exploratory research” into how to promote the sale of Japan’s nuclear technology to Vietnam.  In the public’s interest, Yamamoto requested the relevant papers which he brought to the press conference.  The files were redacted to the point that they were nearly entirely black (PHOTO below).

“Why is the government insisting on expanding its power to crack down?” he asked.  “On the surface, they are saying this is about national security (relating to tensions in Asia), but in reality this is going to lead to the oppression of rights and the freedom of expression.”

Almost seeming to directly address the camera crews from all the major networks that were filming the press conference, Yamamoto expressed his disbelief at the lack of media coverage the proposed bill has received despite his traveling up and down the country from Hokkaido to Okinawa to speak out against it.  “By not providing coverage of this bill,” Yamamoto said, “the media is putting a noose around its own neck.”

“(The passing of this bill) will lead to the ability for the government to crackdown on anything”, Yamamoto predicted.  “We are on a path to recreating a fascist state.”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Full Steam Ahead

Back from the second leg of the world tour of 'A2-B-C' two nights ago, I had just enough time to grab some clean clothes (and a warmer jacket!) before I took a bullet train yesterday morning to Nagoya for more domestic screenings of the film.

The PIA Film Festival, during which the Japan premier of the 'A2-B-C' was held in September (INFO), goes on tour to cities around Japan with a selection of films from the main program, and this week it is playing in Nagoya (INFO).

There was a great turnout for the screening today which took place at the Aichi Prefectural Arts Centre.  It was wonderful to see festival director Keiko Araki, to whom I am extremely grateful for the support, advice and encouragement she has given to me since the film's world premier in Germany nearly six months ago (INFO).

Perhaps I was more jet-lagged than I realized as during the post-screening Q&A, I was less than articulate at times, and at one point Araki-san even gave me a friendly jab, saying, "What is wrong with you today?"

Following the screening, I was interviewed by a group of students from the Nagoya Visual Arts School for a class project.  It was exactly 10 years ago that I was working on my MA in filmmaking, and seeing this fresh-faced group of young filmmakers in action gave me a wonderful feeling of nostalgia.  

The students asked me if I had any advice for them, and I struggled to give them an answer.  I certainly don't have this "filmmaking thing" all figured out, and I wasn't really sure what to say.  In the end, I simply said, "Listen to the voice in your heart."

In the evening, I had the honour of speaking at Nagoya University at the invitation of Professor Hideaki Fujiki, whom I had the pleasure of meeting during last month's Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (INFO).  The Visual Studies Network event (INFO) was attended by students from various departments, including film studies and philosophy, as well as several members of the public.

During the interview portion of the event, Professor Fujiki asked wonderful questions that caused me to think about my work in certain ways for the first time.  The floor was then given over to the attendees to make comments and pose questions, and the discussion that followed was lively and eye-opening.

For a filmmaker, there is perhaps no greater honour than to have an audience fully engage with his or her work, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that this experience gave me to think about what I do in different ways.

Back on the bullet train this morning, I looked out the window: there was Mt. Fuji steady and still, as each of us, speeding past, headed somewhere.

Monday, November 11, 2013


At the STEPS Rights Film Festival Awards Ceremony last night, ‘A2-B-C’ was honoured with the award for “Best Documentary”.  I can not describe how immensely humbling it is to receive this recognition from a jury in the Ukraine, the home to Chernobyl and a country that knows all too well the terrible affects of a nuclear accident.  Especially on children.

I said in my acceptance speech that this is not my award; it belongs to the mothers who appear in the film and serves to recocognize their great bravery in speaking out and becoming 'the nail that sticks up' and risks getting hammered down.

The mothers now know that their voices are being heard as far away as Chernobyl, and that soon, the rest of the world, too, will have no choice but to listen.

November 13, 2013 UPDATE:
It is with a feeling of great responsibility that I continue my work continue documenting the issues affecting the children of Fukushima as more cases of thyroid cancer in Fukushima children have come to light today (ARTICLE).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Let them eat cake

On the last day of the STEPS Rights Film Festival in the Ukraine (WEBSITE), a special screening of “Ali'ens: Somalis in transit” (WEBSITE) was held.  The film, about 15 year old Ali as he flees the conflict in Somalia, was produced with the support of The UN Refugee Agency.

The screening, held at a major multiplex cinema, was preceded by an exhibition about foreigners living in the Ukraine, and the entire event, along with a very fancy catered reception, was sponsored by The UN Refugee Agency in Ukraine.

Wine flowed, expensive sweets were passed, and the only meat that I saw during the entire festival was served here.  Although it was not lost on any of the filmmakers or festival staff in attendance, I wonder how many of the picture-posing representatives of the UN saw the irony.

The Meat of the Issue

After the excursion yesterday, Igor drove us through Kharkov, its streets lined with majestic churches and monuments, to "Bommer" (WEBSITE), the oldest cinema in the city and the main venue of the STEPS Rights Festival (WEBSITE).

Once inside the cinema, I received my festival pass and film schedule.  As I admired the original flooring on the staircase, I had that feeling of “going to the movies” that no multiplex could ever reproduce. 

Prior to the afternoon screenings, we were ushered through a film-poster-and-photograph-lined hall on the way to the cinema for a press conference.  It was here that I learned the meaning of the festival title “STEPS”.

Although I had thought that “STEPS” was an acronym, festival president and film director Igor Parfenov, explained that the festival is named for the Leo Tolstoy essay “The First Step” (1892), which depicts the world of slaughter houses and the merits of vegetarianism.  The way Igor described it, the essay sounds much like Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, although it was written some fourteen years earlier.

From the packed audience that was assembled, a journalist spoke.  She noted that Mother Theresa had once said that she would not wage war against war as that would only be causing more war***.  The journalist then addressed Igor directly: Is it possible that the often violent and shocking nature of the films presented during the festival might only be multiplying the pain which they depict rather than serve to do anything constructive to stop it?

“Blood,” Igor replied, “has a beautifying, cleansing effect.”

Each of the film directors in attendance had their turn in the firing line, but it was perhaps because of the terrible kinship between Fukushima and Chernobyl that the only fire aimed at me was friendly.

A reception was then held in the cinema lobby where Ukranian wine from the Crimea region and small open-faced sandwiches on rich homemade bread were served. 

Igor, a kind and attentive host, noticed I wasn’t eating.  Glancing at the cheese and meat sandwiches, I apologized and explained that I am a vegetarian.

“Do you really think that I would serve meat?!  Did you listen to anything I just said at the press conference?!” Igor roared with a smile as he shoved a tray of sandwiches into my face.  “Eat!  This isn’t even real cheese.  It’s all vegan.”

Immediately following the reception, the screening of ‘A2-B-C’ (WEBSITE) was held.  The audience was rustling in their seats and talking throughout the film.  Convinced that it was not going over well and unable to gauge the audience’s reaction as I couldn't understand what they were saying, I kept turning to Alina, my minder and interpreter, and asking what was wrong.  “They’re OK,” she said.  “Stop worrying.”

Following the screening, person after person came up to greet me.  “Thank you for making this,” one young man said.  “We had no idea this was happening again.”
*** note: I have tried unsuccessfully to find this quote, which was paraphrased by a Ukrainian journalist and translated into English by a simultaneous interpreter.