Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Active Duty

Each autumn for the last three years, I have taught a class during the autumn term at the University of Tokyo.  Teaching intensively so that the schedule allows for travel to film and attend screenings, I teach a 30-hour class in 6 sessions of 5 hours each (!) on consecutive Saturdays.  This year, my class is focusing on the editing of oral histories.

In addition to my regular class, I was also honoured to present a guest lecture to the greater campus community on November 2 as part of a special series.   


I have also returned to my post teaching evening/ weekend filmmaking classes at the Japan Visual-media Translation Academy (INFO), where my work was also featured me in THIS in-house article.

Meanwhile, in the midst of filming a new documentary for NHK World (INFO), producing a feature documentary by another director (more to come on that in the next couple of months) and my teaching duties, I have been asked to create a series of documentary-style videos for the Imperial Hotel Tokyo, a luxury hotel with a deep-rooted history in Tokyo.

The first of the three-part series, which each will contain a video and column, was published this week on the Imperial Hotel website (HERE).  A direct link to the video is here:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Inside Lens, take 2!

Last summer I received a commission from NHK World to direct an episode of their series "Inside Lens".  Called Dying at Home (WEBSITE), my 28-minute documentary about a home doctor caring for terminally ill patients aired across the globe in February of this year (STORY).  I am currently planning the schedule for editing the feature-length version of that film, which I plan to complete next year.

In August of this year, I submitted a proposal to direct an episode of "Inside Lens" for the current season (seasons change with the fiscal year, starting in March).  With only one slot left and several projects under consideration, I was thrilled to learn in September the project was commissioned!  With an airdate of February, we quickly went into full gear, arranging for Thomas Schlottman, the director of photography I worked with on Dying at Home, to fly over from Germany with very little notice for a three week shoot (!).

I generally do not talk much about work-in-progress, but I can say that the topic of this film is, like much of my recent work, medically-based.  I look forward to sharing more about it as we edit throughout the New Year toward an airdate of the first week of February 2012.


***** UPDATE November 6 *****

Last time we used drones (STORY).  We have just upped our game:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

In front of the scenes

It has been over ten years since I worked as a model/ actor for a famous agency in Japan specializing in foreign talent.  Working in front of the camera for a year after returning home to Japan upon completing grad school in the UK helped me to achieve my main goal, which was to work behind it.

With so much time having passed since being in front of the camera, it was with reluctance that I accepted a request from a good friend who was producing a commercial and was in desperate need of a foreign talent.

It was fun, but not addictive.  I will now be returning to my seat behind the camera, thank you very much.  ;)






Monday, August 29, 2016

Group Photography

The final day of the Doc+ Workshop in Taipei began with a screening of "We Come As Friends" (2014) followed by a Q&A with the film editor Cathie Dambel.  In the afternoon, Ms. Dambel gave a master class on film editing, which was followed later in the afternoon by a panel discussion about editing with the three international filmmakers, including Director Feng Yan and myself.



As I did after Director Feng Yan's master class on Friday (STORY), I would like to share a few lessons that master editor Ms. Dambel shared during the panel:
  • There will be conflicts.
  • The editor must always accompany the director.
  • Each player on the film team has a role to play and does not cross-over.
  • A director should spend 50% of the time selecting the team.
  • If the edit is 6 weeks, I like to work 3 weeks, then 2 weeks, then 1 week on the edit, with breaks in between.
  • When the character is speaking, we must sense what is being said as well as what is not being said.
  • The aim of editing is how to represent what you felt.
  • Sometimes in our own films we must take a risk, we need to take this risk to express ourselves.
Following the editing panel discussion, the members of the 8 groups of filmmakers who had applied to attend the workshop with their film projects, gathered together for a de-briefing during which the young filmmakers shared their observations and some of that they had learned.  I was deeply honoured to hear that although some of them had not fully comprehended our feedback during the initial one to one sessions, after taking part in our master classes they had more fully understood what we had shared with them.



The event ended with a group photo:


This morning I was interviewed by Shr-tzung and Fan Wu from the Taiwan International Documentary Festival for the Taiwan Documentary E-Paper and their readership of Taiwanese documentary filmmakers and industry professionals. 

It was so interesting to be interviewed about my film career so soon after the workshop ended; my mind was still swimming after having shown some of my early work and that had inspired me to start tracing back the path that has brought me to where I am today...



I am now at the airport on the way home to Japan, sad to leave Taiwan, a country I love so much, but also happy to get back to work on my new films re-inspired and re-invigorated.

********* UPDATED October 2, 2016 **********

Shr-tzung has just e-mailed me the links to the published article, so to all of my Chinese-speaking friends, please take a look!  And for the rest of you, there are lots of pictures!  ;)

【紀錄・人物】「最親密的他者」——專訪紀錄片導演伊恩.湯瑪斯.艾許 LINK

And the transcript of the master class I gave has also been published in two parts:

【DOC+紀錄片工作坊】以紀錄片之名 ─ 伊恩.湯瑪斯.艾許大師講堂記錄(上)LINK
【DOC+紀錄片工作坊】以紀錄片之名 ─ 伊恩.湯瑪斯.艾許大師講堂記錄(下)LINK

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"101 in how not to make a documentary"

Day two of the Doc+ Workshop sponsored by 國家電影中心 Taiwan Film Institute and 台灣國際紀錄片影展 TIDF (Taiwan International Film Festival) was full of wonderful experiences. The morning and afternoon were spent in 30 minute individual meetings with the 8 teams whose documentaries were selected to take part in a "clinic" with the three guest filmmakers. I really enjoyed discussing more in depth with the young filmmakers about their projects and to offer them advice based on my experiences.


In the afternoon, my friends Panos, from Greece, and Mei, from Taiwan, stopped by for a visit with their two boys.  Panos, Mei and I were flatmates when we were attending the University of Bristol 13 years ago.  They met in our flat, fell in love, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Later in the afternoon was a screening of my first film "the ballad of vicki and jake" (2006, UK), which I myself had not seen for many years (film website HERE).  I selected the film to screen at this event specifically because it contains mistakes-- my mistakes-- from which I hoped young filmmakers could learn.  In the film criticism published by Matt Crowder in 2005 when the film first came out, he wrote (full article HERE):

"vicki and jake" is a 101 in how not to make a documentary. Ian and Ken threw themselves into this with the enthusiasm of people who had never made a feature documentary before. It shouldn’t have worked. Except it has.

It was a moving experience to watch the film again on the big screen after so many years, and to field deeply probing questions regarding the murky ethics surrounding the film from audience members who had so deeply engaged with vicki's story.


 The screening event was followed in the evening by my 2.5 hour (!) master class, which I called "Documenting the Documentary".  My talk was split into four parts:
  • "Self-reflection"
  • "Documenting vs Journalism"
  • "Technology in Documenting"
  • "Documentary subjects: forming relationships, maintaining boundaries"
And interspersed throughout I showed clips from my films ranging from my work documenting the disaster in Fukushima to my friend who died of breast of breast cancer and a hospice care doctor in Japan (FILMS).


My gratitude to all of the TFI and TIDF staff and volunteers as well as the amazing team of interpreters.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Director Feng Yan on Urban Ethics, reality and passion

In Taipei this week, I am attending the Doc + Documentary Workshop sponsored by the Taiwan Film Institute (INFO).  And it is my great honour to serve as a lecturer beside filmmakers Feng Yan, from China, and Cathie Dambel, from France.


The workshop consists of four main parts.  The first part a "clinic" for 8 groups of filmmakers whose projects have been selected to receive feedback from the lecturers.  Yesterday, we watched and discussed the projects in an open session with all 8 groups present, while today we will meet with the groups individually to provide them one to one feedback.  The 8 projects are all unique and exciting and demonstrate the amazing quality of documentary film being produced in this small country.




Last evening was a screening of Director Feng Yan's gorgeous and important film "Bingai", which documents a strong and charismatic woman's struggle during her family's displacement under the Three Gorges Dam project in China.  The screening was followed by a Master Class giving by Director Feng, and I was taking notes alongside the young filmmakers in the audience.  Here are some of the quotes from this master filmmaker and story-teller that I would like to share with you:
  • Documentary is a reflection of our reality.
  • Documentary is not real, not non-fiction.
  • Story-tellers tell the story differently depending on their mood.
  • Are you using your camera to make your audience hear what you want them to hear or to allow your subjects to say what they want to say?
  • How and when and where the question is asked affects how it is answered.  The answer will depend on the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee.
  • As filmmakers we are looking for that "one correct answer", but the realty has many layers.
  • What matters is not the absolute truth, but understanding how the filmmaker's approach affects the result.
  • The director must not focus on "reality", rather the focus should be on the story on which the character wants to focus.
  • Filmmakers have absolute responsibility to their subjects because you can not ask for filming permission every second.
  • Our urban ethics may not apply in the countryside.
  • Images help you express something you can not tell in words.
  • It takes passion to make documentary film.
The screening of my first film, "the ballad of vicki and jake" (2006, UK) will be today (film WEBSITE).  I myself have not seen this film for more than 8 years (!).  This will be followed by my master class, which will focus on the relationship between the filmmaker and subject.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mr. Hata and The Festival of the Dead

All has been quiet on my social media front.  This often happens when I find myself in the depths of the edit suite working on a new film.  Over the next couple of months I will be sharing about a new feature documentary film for which I am currently overseeing the post-production, and it is by far the strangest film I have worked on to date...

In the meantime, I did find time to (briefly) escape from the edit suite for about 36 hours over this past weekend for the Obon holiday (Festival of the Dead).  Last year,  I spent the Obon holiday with a friend who was documenting the festivities for television (Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE, Part 3 HERE and Part 4 HERE).

This year was very different as I marked the holiday with Mr. Hata's family in Fukushima.  I first wrote about Mr. Hata when I reunited him with his son 30 after years (STORY).  When he died, I wrote THIS entry and then when he was buried, I wrote THIS one.

As this was the first Obon since he died, I felt it was important to pay my respects at his grave and to spend time with Mrs. Hata and her family.  

After visiting Mr. Hata's grave, I posted the following photos on Twitter: