Monday, November 17, 2014

Under the bus

In 2000, I graduated from Plattsburgh State University (PSU) in Upstate New York with a degree in English Literature and a minor in theatre.  Since moving to Japan shortly after graduation, I have been back twice, visiting once in 2006 when I was screening my first feature documentary "the ballad of vicki and jake" (WEBSITE) in Quebec's Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM, STORY), and then again in 2010 when I screened my film "Jake, not finished yet" (WEBSITE) in the same festival.  ^Plattsburgh is just over an hour from Montréal.

Four years since my last visit, screenings of my film 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) this week in Montréal provided me the opportunity to once again cross the river into Upstate New York to visit Plattsburgh State.  With the support of the university, including from the Alumni Association and the English Department, I visited six classes last week, including "Expository Writing" and "Introduction to film and Literature" with some of the very professors who taught me the most important element of filmmaking: how to tell a story.

It was an honour to share with students my experiences since graduating from Plattsburgh and also to have the opportunity to personally thank my professors for their inspiration and encouragement.
“There’s not very much that I can do but even in some small way I would like to be able to give back," Ash said.  (Full article from the Nov. 12 Press Republican HERE).

This week also saw the inaugural edition of the Lake Champlain International Film Festival (LCIFF, WEBSITE) in the city of Plattsburgh, where I was honoured to screen two of my feature documentaries in a section called "Transmissions from Japan" (INFO).  Taking place at the newly renovated Strand Theatre, the truly international festival was attended both by local filmmakers and those from as far away as English, Australia and Sri Lanka.

At the VIP Welcome event and Filmmaker Panel on Friday evening, the festival screened my short film 'Even the Birds Need to be Loved', which has only ever been publicly screened once before when the festival programmed it at a fundraising event earlier this year (STORY).

Perhaps the most intriguing entry is a three-hour, two-film presentation called "Transmissions From Japan," for which upstate New York native Ian Thomas Ash will present two documentaries about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. (Full article from Nov. 13 Seven Days HERE
On Saturday, my two documentaries about children living in Fukushima, 'A2-B-C' (2013, WEBSITE) and 'In the Grey Zone' (2012, WEBSITE) were screened in reverse-chronological order.  Screening 'A2-B-C' first, shows the audience the current situation, causing them to think, "How did this happen?  How did we get to this point?"  Some of those answers are contained within 'In the Grey Zone', and watching the films in reverse order provides one 'a-ha moment' after the next and is actually quite surreal (and frustrating).  These two films have only been shown together like this once, which I wrote about HERE.
“I feel my experience at the university really helped shape my career,” said Thomas, who is a SUNY Plattsburgh alum. “I’m really honored to be able to come back and try to offer current students a kind of look at the things that are possible after graduation. And, I’m also honored to be part of the festival and help support the inaugural edition of the festival.”  (Full article and VIDEO from November 17 Cardinal Points HERE)
The films were introduced by friend, former classmate, fellow filmmaker and one of the brain children behind the festival, Jason Torrance, and many friends and professors who taught me during my time in Plattsburgh were in attendance.  The Q&A, also moderated by Jason, took an interesting turn early on, when, in an accusatory tone, a man in the audience asked a very pointed question in which he highlighted what he saw as a lack of "reliable data and experts" in the film.  Sensing he had an agenda and wanting to contextualize his line of questioning for the audience, I offered him an opportunity to explain the point-of-view from which I felt he was framing his question. However, he insisted that he was merely speaking as a citizen who was concerned that the film portrayed a biased point of view that may confuse people who were "uneducated" in nuclear issues. 

Explaining that I have never suggested that I was telling the "full or complete story" and that I had simply documented a group of mothers and children in Fukushima, I asked him why he was not revealing the fact that he worked for the nuclear industry, to which there were more than a few gasps from the crowd.  Beginning to stutter, he said that he didn't think it was relevant, before trying to continue his argument for nuclear power and against what he saw as the irrational fear of the mothers in the film.  After a couple of barbed exchanges, I explained that this time was for everyone to ask questions, not only him, and to the delight of the audience, I offered him an opportunity to continue our debate over a beer.

In the lobby after the Q&A, I went over to him to see if he wanted to take me up on the offer to continue our discussion over a drink.  He looked up at me and appearing genuinely hurt asked, "Why did you throw me under the bus in front of all those people?"

"By offering you the chance to clarify for the audience where you were coming from, I was giving you the opportunity to use the crosswalk, but you still tried to hide the fact that you work for the nuclear industry," I replied.  I hadn't thrown him under the bus, he had jumped in front of it all by himself. 

At the closing ceremony on Sunday evening, I was honoured to receive "The Golden Honey Comb for Outstanding Work in Film" (full list of award winners HERE) which was presented to me by Jason Torrance.  And after a reference to me as an "internationally-acclaimed filmmaker" (in that slightly tongue-in-cheek tone that only a fellow filmmaker can achieve), I was just grateful that I wasn't receiving a "Lifetime Achievement Award" with the implication that the best work I could do had already been done.  For as Jake put it at the end of the film about his life, "I'm not finished yet."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Gate in the Wall

The last eighteen months have been very Full, and my life has changed in so many ways.  While I have been able to speak publicly about some of the challenges I have faced, others I felt were best kept private, partly in an effort not to create more problems for myself.  Perhaps someday I shall write a book...

It is with immense Gratitude that I now share with you my most recent Good News: with literally just days to spare, I have been given a new working visa!!!  And it is with this new visa that I am now officially able to begin my new position as a Research Fellow in the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies at the University of Tokyo.

They say that with every one that closes, another door opens.  For me, it was a Gate.

In front of "Aka-mon", the gate to the University of Tokyo's main campus
Last year, my application to renew my visa was turned down by the Japanese government.  Without working status, the company I was working for put me on unpaid leave.  Without a salary, I had to give up my apartment.  The little savings I had was soon gone.  But the initial shock quickly turned into something else: a sense of freedom.  Without an apartment or money, I couldn't buy anything, and so I stopped buying things that I never needed in the first place.  And the job that I was secretly wanting to leave in order to pursue a serious career in filmmaking (but never quite knew how to make the switch) was suddenly gone.

Through the support of the friends and family who knew what was going on, I was given the strength, resources and Peace to embrace this newly found freedom and to do something I never would have been able to do had so much not been taken away from me: embark on a World Tour with my film 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語).

I was eventually given a one year visa (which I wrote about in THIS article for a German magazine), but I chose not to go back to work and to forge ahead.  Through the continued encouragement and help of supporters, I remained on tour until the May screening in Brazil, after which I returned to Japan for the domestic tour of the film, which is currently ongoing.

That one year visa expired today.  The question of whether it would be renewed or not has been looming over me for the past 12 month, and it was just a few days ago that I learned that I would be granted another visa.

To some, the Tour might have looked easy and like great fun, but I can assure you it was neither.  Nor could I have accomplished it alone.  From July of last year until this month, I did not receive a salary and survived purely on the kindness of others for food, housing and expenses.  While there has never been anything left over, there has always been exactly enough, and I simply can not put into words how grateful I am.

As I write yet another blog from the airport in Tokyo, this time on my way to NY and Montreal for screenings of my films (INFO), words that I wrote almost exactly one year ago today from this same airport in Tokyo come back to me:

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.  
(FULL story HERE).

I am Grateful for all that I have received, and it is with Humility that I ask for your continued support.

In Peace,
Tokyo, Japan

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Fukushima and Samurai

Monday being the national holiday of "Culture Day" in Japan, it was a three-day weekend.  And although not directly tied to the holiday, I did find myself traveling around with 'A2-B-C' (website ENGLISH/ 日本語) as the domestic screenings of the film continue.

On Friday night, I flew down to Kyushu where two screenings of 'A2-B-C' were sponsored by the NPO "Mommy's Tummy".  Saturday's screening in the city of Fukuoka began with a 30-minute presentation by Dr. Kobayashi, a psychiatrist who works mainly with patients living in temporary housing. (福岡市上映 INFO 日本語).

I have met Dr. Kobayashi several times before during my trips to Fukushima and have even had the honour of interviewing him.  His presentation gave a great background to many of the issues that are presented in the film, and following the screening, Dr. Kobayashi and I answered questions from the audience.  The Q&A was conducted by Mommy's Tummy's founder Kazumi Watanabe (PHOTO below), and it was a wonderful experience to take part in the Q&A with a doctor who has so much experience working (and living) in Fukushima.  So many people commented afterwards on how it was a great balance to have a medical professional and a filmmaker answering the questions and offering different viewpoints.

Following the event, several young families who have evacuated to Kyushu joined us for tea and shared with us their personal experiences following the nuclear accident.

By coincidence, the 38th conference Clinical Research on Death and Dying was taking place over the weekend in the nearby city of Beppu (第38回日本死の臨床研究会年次大会 INFO).  The Konta's, both doctors in Fukushima (whom I wrote about HERE) and their daughters, one of whom is in medical school, were in town for the conference.  Aware of my new film, '-1287' (WEBSITE), they invited me to the Sunday morning session.  There were a variety of speakers-- priests, monks, medical doctors-- and it was an amazing and educational experience for which I am so grateful.

In the afternoon, 'A2-B-C' screened before a full audience in the city of Oita (大分市上映 INFO 日本語).  The event again began with a presentation by Dr. Kobayashi.  In addition to Dr. Kobayashi and I answering questions following the screening, the Konta's, who were in attendance, shared with the audience their experiences as two medical doctors who are currently treating patients in Fukushima.  It was a very special and rare experience.

Also in attendance at the screening was Jiro, whom I first met HERE, and a REAL Samurai (who is very cool and even has a blog HERE).  

Following the event, some of the Mommy's Tummy staff and volunteers gathered with founder Watanabe Kazumi, Dr. Kobayashi and the Konta family for a group photo.

At 7 am the next morning, I took part in the post-screening discussion following a screening of 'A2-B-C' in LA.  The screening (INFO) was full and it was wonderful both to hear the audience's comments and questions and also to see the other panelists, several of whom I know quite well.

Then after a quick breakfast, I headed back to the airport...

More information about upcoming screenings, including ones in North America, Iran and Jordon, can be found on the Screenings pages of 'A2-B-C' (HERE) and '-1287' (HERE).