Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Press Conference, take two!

Following the sudden cancellation of all domestic screenings of my documentary 'A2-B-C' last month (INFO), the Foreign Correspondents'' Club of Japan (FCCJ) will be hosting a Screening and Press Conference about the issue on May 12 at 14:00 (INFO).  

This is almost exactly two years to the day that the FCCJ hosted a Screening and Press Conference about the film on May 13, 2013, ahead of its World Premier in Germany (INFO).  That the film is still making headlines two years later is testament to the effect that the story of these courageous mothers and children has had, and the cancellation of screenings of the film speaks volumes about media freedom in Japan post-Fukushima.

*14:00-15:15 ドキュメンタリー上映/15:15:16:00 記者会見

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ashland, no relation

The past few days at Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF WEBSITE) have been filled with some of the best films at one of the most hospitable film festivals I have ever had the honour of attending.  Held in the charming city of Ashland, Oregon (home of the Shakespeare Festival INFO), this little town is known for a cultural scene that is enormous.

The AIFF screenings and events are held at various venues most within walking distance of the town centre, and a filmmakers' lounge, daily events and nightly parties held with the sponsorship of numerous local businesses and organizations ensures that festival-goers are kept well fed and watered*.

* with plenty of local beer and wine!

Filmmakers' event at Noble Coffee
Accommodation for visiting filmmakers is generously provided by some of the beautiful local hotels, inns and B&B's.  I was extremely grateful to stay at Parkside Cottage adjacent to the gorgeous Lithia Park, which was designated as one of the top ten Great American Spaces by the American Planning Association in 2014 (INFO).  The neighbours were lovely.

The Parkside Cottage and its neighbours

Lithia Park
My film, '-1287' (WEBSITE), screened six times during the festival in one of the smaller theatres of the Varsity (INFO).  Screening in an intimate venue provided a wonderful space for post-screening discussions, and I am so grateful that rather than one single screening in a large venue that my film screened multiple times for a smaller audience.  It was such an honour to be able to attend five of the six screenings held during AIFF, where the audiences are intelligent, engaged and simply love film.

It was an additional honour that the five screenings of '-1287' I attended went into "rush" prior to the beginning of the festival, "rush" meaning that all tickets were reserved and seating was only available on the day if a ticket-holder did not show up (rush INFO).  Having multiple sold-out screenings prior to the start of the festival was something I had never experienced and was truly humbling.

The post-screening discussions were emotional, deep, discussions, filled with some of the most raw and honest questions I have ever had the honour of being asked.  AIFF places great importance on these Q&A sessions and schedules plenty of time between screenings so that they never feel rushed.  The discussion following the last screening of the film, which was held this morning before I left for the airport, lasted for over 40 minutes, and was the most amazing post-screening discussion I have ever had for any one of my films.

@ 2015 AIFF
@ 2015 AIFF
The Ashland Independent Film Festival staff, volunteers, venues, sponsors and audiences are some of the best in the world (and they have a great name, too*).  I am very much looking forward to attending a future edition of the festival, and with two films currently in production, who knows when that might be...

I am now at the airport on the way back home to Japan, and am looking forward to being home and to getting back to work filming.  Thank you all so very much for your continued support.

*  No relation. ;)

Friday, April 10, 2015

To remember is to have forgotten

Arriving in Lincoln on Tuesday I was honored to share a meal with, among others, Wayoro Madoka, director of the Kawasaki Reading Room, one of the sponsors of my visit to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  In the evening, we attended a recital by Doctor of Musical Arts student Masayoshi Ishikawa (program below and HERE).  I was first contacted by Ishikawa-san last year after he had learned of my documentaries filmed in Fukushima.  Originally from Fukushima, Ishikawa-san had been living in the US since before the March 11, 2011, disasters and had wanted to see the films about his home prefecture.

My films became one of the influences for his composition "Suite for the Forgotten", and in his introduction to the performance, Ishikawa-san referenced a scene from 'A2-B-C' (WEBSITE) in which a 17 year old high school student says that one of the biggest problems in Fukushima is that people are starting to forget what happened.  During the second movement of the suite, Ishikawa-san sat at the piano where he played and sang (chanted?) words from a 500 year old poem.  In it, a lover declares, "if you say you remember me, it means that you had forgotten me." 

It was a humbling experience to speak with Ishikawa-san after the recital and to hear how his work had been influenced by mine.  I have always felt that my role as a filmmaker is to record the voices and stories of the people I document, but to then have those voices interpreted into music was something I had never even imagined.  I am also so grateful to Ishikawa-san for bringing my work to the attention of the Kawasaki Reading Room and asking them to sponsor my visit and film screening (INFO), thus also enabling me to attend the recital.

********** START update April 18, 2015 **********

The video of the recital has just been uploaded here:

 ********** END update April 18, 2015 *********

Over the next two days, I visited four classes at the university including one for directing feature films, one public speaking and two that were using media to affect social change.  I always enjoy visiting classes and receiving questions from students about my work especially when asked through the context of what they are studying.  Often it is when I am asked how or why I do what I do that I begin to think about it deeply for the first time.  Having to verbally explain something forces you to order and to put into words what until then had only ever been thoughts.

Ishikawa-san graciously agreed to reprise the second movement of his suite following the screening of 'A2-B-C' last evening.  As the credits rolled, he began to play the first chords of his composition, the emotion in the film, in the room and the music joining together in a finite beauty that will only ever be known to the people who were present in that room and one that can never again be repeated.

I am now at the airport on my way to Oregon for the Ashland Independent Film Festival where the North American Premier of my film '-1287' is taking place (INFO).  As I think about how the film, documenting the last years of my friend Kazuko's life, is dedicated to her memory, I begin to hear Ishikawa-san's composition at first faintly in the distance, but then growing louder.  The mind works in mysterious ways.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Momentarily Losing Focus

In the midst of what can only be described as a challenging few weeks, my ability to endure some very stressful situations has been tested.  Forgetting an important appointment and misplacing the keys that I eventually found in my thrice-checked pocket (but not before missing my train) were sure signs I was reaching my limit. 

But when I could not find my camera while I was packing the night before an important interview in Fukushima two weeks ago, I knew my threshold for being overloaded was about to be crossed. Sinking to my knees, I knew that my camera had not been stolen but that I had left it somewhere... although I could not even remember the last time I had seen it, let alone where I might have left it.

Using my diary to reconstruct where I had been over the previous two weeks, I realized that I must have left it on the train ten days earlier.  Not only had I lost my camera, but it had taken me ten days to realize it (!).  The end to a much longer story is that with the help of a friend and through a series of phone calls, I learned that my camera been found and turned in to Japan Rail (JR).  Yes, one of the many reasons I love Japan!

But there was one hitch: after the camera remained unclaimed for a week, it had been turned over to the police.   I had left the camera on the train on the way back from my last trip to Fukushima where I had recorded a very sensitive interview, and I prayed that the registration of a lost camera did not include viewing the contents of the SD card!  At the police station, I was able to identify the serial number on the camera and after filling out several forms and showing my ID, the camera was back safely in my hands.  I am guessing they had not watched the footage...

Camera back in hand, I have refocused and am seeing a clear way forward.  Although 'A2-B-C' still can not be shown in Japan after the cancellation of all screenings of the film last month (INFO), I continue to search for a solution that will allow screenings to resume.  In the meantime, screenings abroad continue freely, and I am currently at the airport in Tokyo on my way to the US where 'A2-B-C' will screen at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Thursday (INFO).  I will also be visiting four classes to speak on topics such as civic advocacy, political engagement and the shifting media landscape.
On Friday I will fly to Oregon where I will be attending the North American Premier of my new film  '-1287' (WEBSITE) in the Ashland Independent Film Festival (April 9-13).  '-1287' will be screening six times during the festival (INFO).
Screenings of '-1287' will continue around the world with a visit to Taiwan in May and Germany in June (INFO)!  Thank you all so very much for your support!

Tokyo, Japan