Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In other news...

Today I had the honour of speaking at Sophia University, Tokyo, for Professor Mori Yoshitaka's class "Globalization and Culture".  I had not seen Professor Mori since I had the honour of speaking at Tokyo University of Arts last summer with fellow filmmaker and friend Adrian Storey about making films in Japan (STORY).

During the semester-long class, the students focused on themes such as exporting Japanese culture abroad, issues of free speech and freedom of the press.  Today was their last session, and I was honoured to share with the students about my work which Professor Mori described as "a great example of the cultural practice in the age of globalization."

After talking about my films and showing the trailers of 'Jake, not finished yet' (2010, VIDEO), 'A2-B-C' (2013, VIDEO), '1287' (2014, VIDEO) and THIS VIDEO I edited for the 2nd anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, it was time for students to ask questions.  A young woman raised her hand and asked, "If you were Prime Minister Abe, would you pay the $200 million ransom to ISIS in exchange for releasing the two Japanese hostages they are threatening to kill?" (NYTimes story HERE)


A friend recently was looking online for information about my newest film, '-1287' (WEBSITE) and found some reviews of the film that I had yet to see.  Reading them, my deep sense of responsibility to share this story with as many people as possible was renewed.

After the showing of the film, one of the audience members (while sobbing) said, "I'm so sad and can't find words because I feel like someone I knew has just died." That may sound a bit too dramatic if you haven't seen this film, but I shared this sentiment, and so did the rest of the audience, I'm sure. I couldn't stop crying. It wasn't so much about her death itself that made me cry— instead what moved me was how she lived and the tender and honest conversations she had with the filmmaker, Ian Thomas Ash.
 --- The Lost Note Book Returns Film review: Ian Thomas Ash's "-1287" (READ)
With this documentary, Thomas makes death approachable, something you can bare to stare in the face if only for a short while, and that is definitely an experience worth having.

--- Raindance Film Festival – Review + Q&A -1287 (READ)

アメリカ人監督がガンに侵された日本女性を追った記録映画が登場 (記事)

Recently, I have also received the news that my short film 'Even the Birds Need to Be Loved' (STORY) will be screening in the inaugural Snowtown Film Festival in my hometown of Watertown, NY (January 30 and 31, WEBSITE).  Having been completed shortly before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the film has only been publicly screened twice, both times in side events for the Lake Champlain International Film Festival (story HERE).  The screening at Snowtown will therefore be the first official screening at a film festival.


As the fourth anniversary of the March 11 disaster approaches, screenings of my film 'A2-B-C' continue strong.  I am extremely honoured that the film continues to find an audience and contribute to the ongoing campaign to raise awareness about the situation in Fukushima.

Screenings are scheduled to take place in multiple cities across Japan (in Japanese 上映スケジュールここ) and upcoming international screenings can be found HERE, including:
  • February 11, 2015 at William and Mary College
  • March 8, 2015 in San Diego
  • March 11, 2015 at the University of British Columbia
  • March 11, 2015 at the University of Hawai'i
  • April 9, 2015 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
2015 has only just been begun, but it is already shaping up to be a busy year with more exciting news to come...

Monday, January 19, 2015

No respect

Over the weekend, I attended screenings of ‘A2-B-C’ (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) for the third time in Kyushu.  The first time was in Usa (STORY) and Nakatsu (STORY), and the second time was in Fukuoka and Oita (STORY), while this time I was in the City of Beppu, perhaps best known for its multitude of natural onsens, each with their own unique characteristics.

Arriving in Beppu on Saturday, Mr. Kotegawa, the organizer of the screenings, gave me a “Tour of Hell”, the name given to the onsen hotsprings district, including the “Lake of Blood”, “Sea Hell” and “Shaven Head Hell”.  The area is also known for a variety of delicacies cooked over the “Steam of Hell”, baskets of food, such as hard-boiled eggs and pudding, being lowered into or hung over the pits of steam.

In the afternoon, Mr. Kotegawa took me for a “steam bath”. On the floor of a little hut built directly over one of the “Steams of Hell” was a grate covered with medicinal grass upon which we laid naked side-by-side, in a fashion not unlike the puddings we had eaten earlier (!). After 10 minutes, the limit that one is recommended to remain in the steam, we crawled back out on our hands and knees through the small wooden door, where we then washed the sweat and grasses from our bodies in a hot spring. This was followed by a “mud bath”, where, still naked, we swam around in a large pit filled with a mixture of mud and hot water that was bubbling up directly from the inner depths of the earth. Awesome.

On Sunday, there were two screenings of ‘A2-B-C’ held in a beautiful theatre purpose-built for Kabuki plays. Lining the sides of the theatre were traditional box seats, while the main seating area was a “pit” in which each guest sat on thin cushions called "zabuton".

The Q&A sessions lasted for over an hour each, and together there were over 150 people in attendance at the two screenings. Topics we talked about included my thoughts about Japan’s investment in the 2020 Olympics while there are still so many people in Fukushima living in temporary housing (I think it is shocking), if I drink water/ eat local food when I am filming in Fukushima (I do), and whether I am making a new film in Fukushima (I am). I also addressed the fact that I prefer not to be referred to as a "director".

Traveling with my films over the past year and half, it would have been easy to become caught up in what I can only describe as the artificial and fleeting moment of being a “film director”. But “director” is a word that I feel should be used for truly great makers of fiction films, such as Director Kurosawa.  The word “director” (especially as it is used in Japanese), while a gesture of respect, creates a gap, something like a class divide, between the person who uses it and the person about whom it is being used. If I thought of myself as a “director”, or worse, if I were to act like a director, then I feel I could no longer make films as it would change the relationship I had with the person I was documenting resulting in a film that would be lacking in both depth and compassion.

'A2-B-C' has been merely a vehicle for helping to share the voices and stories of these families in Fukushima, but it is the mothers themselves who are the ones that are worthy of respect, having spoken out despite the very real fear of retaliation and alienation.

So, please, just call me "Ian".

When a screening is are over, I reminded the audience in Beppu, both the film and I leave to go home. But what remains is the desire within the people who have shared in this story to help those who have been affected by this great disaster. I have documented a problem, but it is after the film is over and the lights go up that the real work begins.

I was extremely happy to see many students in the audience, both from local high schools and Asia Pacific University (APU) located in Beppu. Several APU students and faculty approached me after the screening and expressed their interest in holding a screening at their university, and it is my sincere hope that this will take place.

It was also wonderful to see many familiar faces from my previous visits to Kyushu, and I was once again reminded of how grateful I am for this continued support. Thank you all so very much! Until we meet again…

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fukushima, Food

Back home in Japan after a wonderful two weeks abroad visiting family for the holidays, I am settling in to what I sense will be another year of significant changes for me.

One thing that remains the same is my commitment to the screenings of 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語).  Leading up to what will be the 4th anniversary of the disaster in March of this year (it is hard to believe that nearly four years have passed), there are an increasing number of requests to show the film, both in Japan and abroad.  

It has been six months since the theatrical release ended in Tokyo (INFO), so currently the only way to see 'A2-B-C' in the capital is at a privately-organized screening (in Japanese 自主上映会スケジュールここ).  There was one such screening yesterday organized by the Tokyo chapter of food co-op PAL System (パルシステム東京映画祭INFO).

In addition to delivering food to its members, PAL System also delivers information about current topics through its newsletters and website.  Yesterday they added to that films, holding their first ever "mini Film Festival", screening three films during the one-day event.

Curious about how a food co-op came to program my film, I spoke with some of the executive staff prior to the screening.  They told me that many of their members are young mothers, and that the themes they focus on in their newsletters can be divided into three main topics: The Earth (such as global warming and energy issues), Society (abroad such as political turmoil, or at home such as the nuclear debate), and Food (such as food safety).  PAL System decided to create a film festival with films covering these topics, and they told me that they felt 'A2-B-C' actually dealt with all three themes.

The information about the three films was sent out to their members with interested people asked to register for the screenings they wanted to attend.  But when over 1,000 people registered to see 'A2-B-C', there was a problem: the cinema only had 250 seats.  In the end, the tickets had to be distributed through a lottery which meant that only a fraction of the people who wanted to see my film could do so.  The hope is that they will be able to hold another screening of 'A2-B-C' in the near future.

During the post-screening discussion, we talked about the courage of the mothers who so bravely shared their stories in the film, and about the difficulty of speaking out in Japan.  And, of course, we talked about food, which led us to talking about Ian's Kitchen (the cooking show I had a few years ago, INFO) and about the importance of growing, cooking and eating healthy and delicious food.  In light of Fukushima, this is ever more important and something that can no longer be taken for granted.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Message in a bottle

When we were saying goodbye, Beatriz and Raul, married artists from Spain whom I met six months ago when I was in Brazil (STORY), gave me a small glass vial inside of which was a neatly folded and rolled scroll.  Admiring it in the palm of my hands, I asked them if I should open it. 

"No, later," they said, their eyes adding "when you are ready". 

A few days later, on my way back to Japan, I was visiting my father during a stop-over in the US.  He had recently moved, and it was a time of much newness and unknowing.  One afternoon, sitting alone at my father's table and feeling I was ready to open the vial, I removed the cork and attempted to extract the scroll.  Having unfurled slightly, the paper would not fall out simply by turning it over and shaking it.  In the moments I took to consider how to extract it without damage, I felt my anticipation of finding out what was written on the paper increase.

Using a straightened paperclip to snag the paper and pull it out, I was reminded of the trick we used to use to eject a stuck disk on our very first Mac.  I slowly eased the scroll out of the vial as my heart beat faster.

Finally in my hands, I ran my fingers across the smooth paper as I held my breath and unfurled the tiny scroll, upon which I found was written... nothing.  It was a piece of blank paper.  A half-crooked smile appeared on my face, and I thought, "Hmm.  That is not what I was expecting."

At the time, I had understood this gift as a lesson about anticipation, that sometimes it is the anticipation of something, rather than the thing in and of itself, which brings us joy.  And although several times I started to write about Beatriz and Raul's gift, I found that I could not express into words what I was feeling about the blank paper, which in retrospect is a clear indication that I had not been fully receiving or understanding the gift I was being given.

Today, more than six months later, I find myself finally ready to open the vial; not literally, of course, for it has already been opened, but in a deeper sense.

So often we sit back waiting for something good to happen, as though everything in this life has been predetermined, is out of our control, and has nothing to do with our own effort.  Where I had been anticipating some inspirational words or easy answers would be provided for me on the paper, Beatriz and Raul's gift was a reminder that what I am seeking will only be revealed through an effort much greater than simply uncorking a bottle.

The page that I had first seen as Blank, is not.  Rather it is New, waiting to being filled.  We are like that paper, our lives provided to us, but the words that will fill our page are written through living with purpose.

As this New Year begins, may our eyes and ears be open to the words we seek and may we receive the strength to fill our page with those words by living our lives accordingly.