Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year in Review

Thanks to so many family and friends, 2015 has been another year full of humbling experiences.  In 2013, I began posting the year's highlights (HERE), a tradition I continued in 2014 (HERE).  The highlights for 2015 are below.  Thank you all so very much for your continued support and encouragement.



The year began with continued Japan domestic screenings of my documentary 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) in Tokyo (HERE) and Beppu (HERE).  Later in the month, I was invited to speak at Sophia University in Tokyo (HERE).

My short documentary "Even the Birds Need to Be Loved" was awarded at the Snowtown USA Film Festival (INFO).  The first class I taught at the University of Tokyo came to a close, and as the 4th anniversary of the 3.11 disaster approached, screenings of my film 'A2-B-C' continued with a trip to Shimane (HERE).  After returning to Tokyo, I spoke about filmmaking in Japan at the Japan Visual-media Translation Academy (STORY).

Prior to the 4th anniversary of the 3.11 disaster, I posted links to all of the early short documentaries I filmed after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster (LINK).  A decision to cancel what would have been the first public screening of 'A2-B-C' in Fukushima was made (bottom of previous link).  This turned out to be a harbinger of a very difficult series of events that would follow in quick succession, beginning with the posting of a disclaimer on the Japanese website for the film (STORY).  With interest in the nuclear disaster peaking around the time of the anniversary, I traveled to San Diego for a screening of 'A2-B-C' a the Museum of Photographic Arts in the Balboa Park (STORY).  From there, I flew to Vancouver where the film was presented in a conference about the 3.11 disaster (STORY).  The day after returning home to Japan, I visited Nagano for a screening of 'A2-B-C' from where I posted a widely seen photograph and blog about the sudden cancellation of domestic distribution of the film (STORY).  Later in the month, the dissolution of the screening committee was announced (HERE).

After the events of the previous month, it was clear that my life was never going to be the same.  Trying to understand exactly what was happening and the unseen motivations behind them proved for a stressful few weeks evidenced by uncharacteristically forgetting appointments and misplacing important things, like my camera (story HERE).  However, there was no time for a break as screenings of 'A2-B-C' abroad continued, and I traveled to Nebraska (STORY), followed by the North American premier of my new film '-1287' (WEBSITE) in the Ashland International Film Festival (STORY).

Screenings of '-1287' continued, with the Asian premier of the film in the Taiwan International Documentary Festival HERE and HERE.  Upon returning to Japan, a press conference about the cancellation of domestic screenings of 'A2-B-C' was held at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (STORY).  Later that week, my video and accompanying article called "Radiation, Secrets and Lives" was published by the Japan Times (STORY).

For the second time, I attended the Nippon Connection Film Festival, where my film '-1287' received the Audience Award (STORY).  This was followed by a week of screenings of several of my films at the Werkstattkino in Munich (STORY).

In an article for the magazine '5', I came out... for the second time (ARTICLE).  I also marked 15 years since first moving to Japan (STORY).  I began research on a film about a hospice doctor in Japan, a project that would later in the year be commissioned by NHK, the public broadcaster in Japan.

The Japan domestic screenings of 'A2-B-C' were re-established (STORY), and I was interviewed for a BBC World New Report about the re-start of nuclear reactors in Japan (INFO).  An in-depth article about the cancellation and re-start of domestic screenings of 'A2-B-C' was published by Asashi Digital (STORY).

The first screening of 'A2-B-C' in six months were held (STORY) and several screenings of both that film and '-1287' were announced (HERE).  I traveled to Korea were I visited the DMZ (PHOTOS) and the DMZ Docs Film Festival, where '-1287' received a jury award (STORY).

My film '-1287' screened again in Taiwan, this time in the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival (STORY).  After returning home to Japan, I began teaching a class in Oral Histories at the University of Tokyo and an introduction to filmmaking class at the Japan Visual-media Translation Academy.

I was deep in production on the documentary commissioned by NHK (PHOTOS).  Screenings of '-1287' continued in several US cities (HERE) and the film received the People's Choice award at the Lake Champlain International Film Festival (STORY).  After returning from the festival, I began post-production on the film for NHK.

While wrapping up the teaching on my two classes, I was also wrapping up post-production on the NHK commission, and the episode I directed was selected to represent the series (STORY).

Thank you all again so very much for your support and encouragement during this last year.  I ask for your continued support in the coming year, and hope 2016 will be filled with much Peace and Health for you all.

Ian Thomas Ash
Tokyo, Japan

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dead lock

After a long submission process that began in the summer, in October I received confirmation that the proposal I had submitted for an episode of the NHK World documentary series "Inside Lens" had been selected for commissioning.  NHK World (WEBSITE), a branch of the Japanese public broadcaster, creates original news and documentary programs, and for its series "Inside Lens" nearly every episode is directed by a foreign director living in Japan

With just two months to complete the film before a delivery date at the end of December and an airing date in January, I slowed production on a couple of my current film projects while placing others on hold.  Thankfully, from September, I have had a new intern, and his help as an assistant, sound recordist, assistant director and more, has helped me be as productive as ever while also enabling me to continue traveling to film festivals and screenings of my other films.

The documentary program (still untitled) is about a home hospice doctor in rural Japan who is caring for dozens of patients who wish to die in their own homes surrounded by their family and loved ones.  With advances in the medical system since WWII, dying at home has become increasingly uncommon in Japan.  In 1953, 85% of Japanese died at home; by 2013, that number had dropped to just 15%.  The services this doctor and her team are offering are quite rare in Japan.

Since filming the main interviews in the beginning of November (STORY), we have been in the edit suite for the last month.  Last night we "locked picture" on the film, which means that the narrative editing of the film is finished and we are moving on to the next stage of post-production, including colour-grading, sound mixing and subtitling.  A 28-minute version of the film will be screening globally on NHK World starting January 27.  I am also planning to continue filming with this amazing hospice doctor and her team of nurses to expand the film into a feature documentary.

The picture-locked project
A celebratory drink after the picture lock
Earlier this month, I also received the additional honour of being selected to represent all of this season's episodes of "Inside Lens" on national television.  Filmed a couple of weeks ago, I will appear on the television program "Doki Doki TV" with celebrity hosts Patrick Harlan and Chiaki Horan, in an episode that will air on January 17 on the main NHK channel in Japan. 

with TV personalities Patrick Harlan and Chiaki Horan
On set of Doki Doki TV
Getting prepped for filming
Although I did put much of my other filming work on hold while working on the episode of "Inside Lens", I continued teaching in between shoots in Fukushima and trips abroad to attend film festivals.  This semester saw me again teaching at the University of Tokyo.  This time I was teaching a class in Oral Histories, which culminated in the students working in groups to record an oral history.  I was also teaching at the Japan Visualmedia Translation Academy.  Teaming up with tech guru and Running Art sensation Joseph Tame (WEBSITE), we taught an introduction to filmmaking class geared to working professionals (HERE).  Our student Hitomi Nakatani created one of the more experimental pieces, and it is really cool (LINK). 

While we are still wrapping up post-production on the episode of "Inside Lens", my attention is already turning back to several of my films in various stages of post-production that have been on hold these past couple of months, including one I am still hoping to finish for the 5th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima...

Monday, November 16, 2015

People's Choice

It was an honour to be invited to attend the 2nd Annual Lake Champlain International Film Festival (LCIFF) this weekend, where my documentary '-1287' (WEBSITE) was screened.  At the closing ceremony of the festival last night, I was extremely honoured to receive the People's Choice (Audience) Award.  While jury awards are indeed a great honour, it is truly humbling to receive an audience award voted on by cinema-goers from among all the films screened.

Last year, I was able to attend the inaugural edition of the festival, where I received the 'Golden Honeycomb' (grand prize) for my films 'A2-B-C' (2013) and 'In the Grey Zone' (2012) (STORY).  My attendance at the first two editions of the festival was made possible through the support of both the festival and of Plattsburgh State University (PSU).  A graduate of the English Department (with a minor in theatre), it was my absolute pleasure to be asked to visit classes at my alma matar to share both about my work and life in Japan as well as how my education at the university prepared me for the films I make.  Visiting six classes in all (Trauma Narratives, Food and Film, Autobiography, Outsiders, Mythology and Poetry), it was a wonderful experience to meet and speak with so many students.  Their engaged and intelligent questions caused me to think about my own work in different ways, and I was reminded again that through teaching the teacher learns.

with LCIFF staff member/ filmmaker Simon Conroy and PSU professor/ filmmaker Michael Devine
The beautifully curated festival began on Friday and packed dozens of films into the three-day event.  In between fascinating films from across the world, it was an additional pleasure to spend time with old friends, like former classmate/ filmmaker/ festival founding member Jason Torrance, former classmate/ -1287 producer Sarah Lushia, and former classmate/ festival staff member Maya Saroj (PHOTO below).  Even the venue was nostalgic- held in the newly renovated Stand Theatre (INFO), this is where my European Films class came to watch films back in the day when the former vaudeville theatre had been haphazardly converted into a multi-screen cinema fire trap with sticky floors.

with Jason, Sarah and Maya

As the Lake Champlain International Film Festival staff works toward its 3rd edition and beyond, I wish them all the best.  I am proud to be an alum of both the university and the festival, and look forward to all that is to come.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Droning on...

It has been a month since my last blog.  It isn't that there hasn't been much to write about, in fact it has been the opposite; ironically the more I have to write about, the less time I have to write.

This has been a very full month, filed with four trips to Fukushima where I am currently working on two films.  This month has also seen the start of two courses I am teaching, one at the University of Tokyo (called "Japan in Asia: Oral Histories") and one at the Japan Visualmedia Translation Academy on filmmaking. 

Just back from Fukushima, I am now at the airport on my way to New York, where my film '-1287' (WEBSITE) is screening in the 2nd annual Lake Champlain International Film Festival (INFO).  While there, I will also have the honour of visiting classes at the University of Plattsburgh, my alma mater (2000).  This is the second time to screen at LCIFF after my films "In the Grey Zone" (2012) and "A2-B-C" (2013) screened in the inaugural edition of the festival last year (STORY).

link to article HERE
I look forward to sharing more about the films I am working on in Fukushima in the coming months, but in the meantime, I will share a few recent location photographs.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Life and Death in the US

Following successful screenings at DMZ Docs in Korea where the film was awarded (STORY) and in Taipei at the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival (INFO), '-1287' (WEBSITE) will be on a mini-tour in the US with three screenings coming up next month.

Thank you all for your support!

Kansas International Film Festival
Overland Park, Kansas, November 6-12, 2015
Screening Monday, November 9 at 17:35 (INFO)

Columbus International Film + Video Festival
Columbus, Ohio, November 6-16, 2015
Official Selection, screening info TBA (WEBSITE)

Lake Champlain International Film Festival
Plattsburgh, New York, November 14-15, 2015
Screening Saturday, November 14, time TBA (WEBSITE)

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Pediatric Thyroid Cancer in Fukushima

Today I attended the press conference "Pediatric Thyroid Cancer after the Fukushima Accident" given by Okayama University's Dr. Toshihide Tsuda at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (press release HERE).

The health of children living in and around Fukushima is the main issue I have been documenting since April 2011, one month after the nuclear meltdown, in my films 'In the Grey Zone" (2012, WEBSITE) and 'A2-B-C' (2013, WEBSITE).

When the mothers I have been documenting first started speaking out, they were met with the criticism that they were "worrying too much" and "over-reacting" and that there were was "no data" to support their claims, but it takes years for peer-reviewed data to be collected and understood. Now we have that data. And while it demonstrates that the mothers were right to fear for their children, it offers no solace. Since the beginning, the mothers were asking that their children be protected while scientists were attempting to determine exactly what the risks were; if areas were then deemed to be safe, the families could return. But the government's policy was the exact opposite: to tell everyone it is safe and to remain, and then only later, after it was discovered that areas were unsafe, to evacuate them. An example of this is Iitate Village, which was not evacuated for more than two months after the nuclear meltdown.   During that evacuation, I filmed THIS short documentary, called "Nuclear Refugees".

Wouldn't it have been better to regret doing too much to protect children living in and around Fukushima than it is to wish that more had been done to protect them?

Researcher: Children's cancer linked to Fukushima radiation (ARTICLE)
AP story by Yuri Kageyama

VIDEO of FCCJ Press Conference by Dr. Tsuda:

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Highlighting Ethnography

It has been a wonderful week attending the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival (TIEFF) in Taipei (INFO).  I am so honored to have been invited to visit Taiwan to screen my last two films a combined six times in the last two years.  Each time I visit, I am so grateful to make new friends, meet old ones, and enjoy the wonderful food, friendly people and beauty of Taiwan!

A wonderfully, warm welcome to Taiwan
Local and visiting directors (photo via TIEFF FB page)
Press conference
Meeting the director of the American Center (American Institute in Taiwan)
Speaking with viewers outside the cinema after the screening of '-1287'

Closing Ceremony
Longshan Temple

Friday, September 25, 2015

Life and death in the DMZ

アジア・グランプリ受賞しました。本当に感謝。 I am extremely honoured to have received the award for best film in the Asian Competition section for my film '-1287' (WEBSITE) last night at the closing ceremony of DMZ Docs Film Festival in Korea (WEBSITE).

In their statement, the Asian Competition Jury wrote they were awarding -1287:
... for its freshness in approaching the perennial theme of life and death in the Asian context...
Through deeply intimate conversations between the filmmaker and his subject, this film not only shows their mutual respect and understanding despite their different gender and cultural backgrounds, but also the courage of the female character to be honest with her life in a society which has limited space for women to express freely their emotions and thoughts.
Thank you all so very much for your continuing support!

Much Peace and Gratitude,
Ilsan, Korea

From Yonhap News HERE
From the DMZ Docs website HERE

Thursday, September 24, 2015

DMZ in Focus

It has been an amazing week at DMZ Docs in Korea (WEBSITE), filled with amazing experiences and fabulous films.

Arriving last Friday, I was reunited with old friends, such as Wood Lin, the director of the Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF), and provided with the opportunity to make new ones, such as "The Decent One" filmmakers Vanessa Lapa and Tomer Eliav.

with Wood Lin
"The Decent One" filmmakers Vanessa Lapa and Tomer Eliav
On Sunday, guests were invited to take a tour to the DMZ, from where North Korea could be seen.  After meeting and speaking with people directly affected by this conflict, together with watching several documentaries about North Korea followed by discussions with the directors of the films, I am embarrassed to admit that all I had known about North Korea had come from Western media.  I am so grateful to have had an opportunity to visit this part of the world. 

beyond the DMZ, a view of North Korea
On Tuesday, my film '-1287' was screened (INFO), and I was honoured to be able to participate in the post-screening Q&A.

It is so hard to believe that the festival ends this evening!  I have written fewer entries from this festival than I have from so many others because most days have seen me in the cinema all day, followed by drinks each evening with fellow filmmakers.

A few of my film recommendations from DMS Docs:

The Descent One, directed by Vanessa Lapa (INFO):
Through previously undiscovered private letters, photos and diaries that were found in the HIMMLER family house in 1945, the The Decent One exposes a unique and at times uncomfortable access to the life and mind of the merciless "Architect of the Final Solution" Heinrich HIMMLER. A unique portrait of one the most prominent figures of the Third Reich: The Reichsfuhrer-SS: Heinrich HIMMLER.
Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi by directed by Neal Broffman (INFO):
A family's search for their missing son and the hunt for suspects in a terror attack tragically converge in Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi, a film about truth and community in the age of social media. While in the throes of depression, Brown University student Sunil TRIPATHIi walked out of his Providence apartment and disappeared into the cold Rhode Island night. In a desperate search to find him, his family launched a social media movement that reached across the country and brought together a community dedicated to finding him. In the days following the Boston Marathon bombings the family's month-long investigation into Sunil's disappearance exploded into a virtual confrontation with e-vigilantes, citizen journalists and traditional media eager to feed their insatiable hunger for breaking news.
Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, directed by Freida Lee Mock (INFO):
This documentary explores the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Although it became one of the most beloved memorials in the world, Maya Lin's elegant design was initially greeted with skepticism. Lin was an unknown architect whose entry had been selected after a nationwide competition. She was only 20 years old, and it angered some politicians that she was Asian. Yet through all the vitriol, Lin persevered, ultimately realizing her stirring artistic vision.
On the Rim of the Sky, directed by Hongjie Xu (INFO):
In the hidden cliffs of Sichuan province lies the Gulu Village. Shen is the only teacher of the village who runs the “Gulu Primary School". One day a young man who calls himself the "Don QUIXOTE", Bao TANGTAO came and with him the words about the village spread, and donation and visitors have upsurged. And the conflict between Shen and Bao arises about the donated money.
Hana, Dul, Sed, directed by Brigitte Weich (INFO):
Hana, dul, sed gives us a subtle glimpse of the workings of Pyongyang society and the way ideology functions in its citizen’s and personal lives. It is a film about four young women, their friendship, dreams, hopes and the passion for football they share.
Memory of a Forgotten War, directed by Deann Borshay Liem (INFO):
Memory of forgotten War conveys the human costs of military conflict through deeply personal accounts of the Korean War(1950-53) by four Korean-American survivors. The film's personal accounts are interwoven with thoughtful analysis and interpretation of events in a broader historical context.
Aim High in Creation, directed by Anna Broinowski (INFO):
Aim High in Creation! is a ground breaking propaganda film, made according to the rules of his 1987 Manifesto The Cinema and Directing. Determined to stop a new gas mine near her Sydney home, Anna BROINOWSKI goes to North Korea to learn from the masters of propaganda cinema.  The movie reveals an unexpected truth about the most isolated nation on earth.