The inaugural Lake Champlain International Film Festival (WEBSITE) will take place in November in the newly renovated Strand Theatre in the city of Plattsburgh, New York (ARTICLE). While this will be the first edition of the festival, it already holds a special place in my heart: I graduated from Plattsburgh State University in 2000 and watched films in the Strand when I was studying film with Professor Dr. Jon Chatlos, who inspired me to follow my heart and pursue making films.
As part of the events leading up to the festival, an evening of short film screenings was held this evening in Plattsburgh. I was asked to contribute one of my films by my Plattsburgh-based friend and colleague Jason Torrance, who requested "something lighter (that) will fit the tone of the night". Wanting to support the event, there were just two small problems: (1) I do not generally make short films (which I find harder to make than feature-length documentaries because there is less time to develop the story); and (2) I do not generally focus on stories that are "light". I instead tend to focus on things like homelessness/ drug abuse INFO, death VIDEO, a nuclear meltdown VIDEO twice (!) VIDEO, and death. Also twice. VIDEO
But then I remembered a short documentary I had been commissioned to make several years ago, one that I had planned on screening after re-editing it for a general release. But when the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima in 2011 happened, all of my other projects were put on hold, including this one.
I sent the film, called 'Even the Birds Need to be Loved' to Jason along with the following Director's Statement. Tonight it was exhibited publicly for the very first time in Plattsburgh.
Even the Birds Need to be Loved, director’s statement
In January of 2010, I was commissioned by Mrs. Hisa Uno to film a documentary for her husband, Shingo’s, 88th birthday. The couple had been married for 59, years and the documentary was to be a gift for their family.
When Mr. and Mrs. Uno’s children heard I was filming a documentary about the couple, they contacted me and asked if I would record a series of messages from all of the members of their extended family (including one who would send his from abroad). This was to be a surprise for the elderly couple that they wanted to screen after the main documentary was revealed for the first time.
The previous autumn had seen a big change for me in my filmmaking career. Until then, I had only directed feature documentaries in English, the ballad of vicki and jake (2006, UK) and Jake, not finished yet (2010, UK/ Japan). Although I had been living in Japan for nearly seven years, I had never felt confident enough in my Japanese to work without an interpreter. I knew when I eventually did make a feature documentary in Japanese, that I wanted to conduct the interviews directly with the person with whom I was speaking and not though an interpreter.
In the autumn of 2009, I began filming what I had thought was going to be my first feature documentary in Japanese. Having been granted access to Ms. Natsuo Fukamidori, one of the most famous post-war “Takarazuka” singers, I began to document the 87-year-old performer. She had never allowed herself to be filmed or photographed out of costume, and her handlers were astonished when she allowed me into her dressing room as she changed, put on wigs and applied her make-up. It was an amazing experience from which I learned so much, but it was unfortunately short-lived; just months after filming began, Ms. Fukamidori suddenly fell ill and the documentary was put on hold. She passed away a few months later.
When I received the commission from Mrs. Uno, it was not only an opportunity to work on a heart-warming story, but it was also a chance for me to finally make a documentary in Japanese. Filmed over one entire day that I spent with Mr. and Mrs. Uno, the 50-minute documentary was called Jinsei ni Kampai (or To Your Health in English), and was filled with the couple’s retelling of favourite family stories and scenes from their daily life. The extended Uno family gathered together on Shingo’s 88th birthday and watched the film for the first time together along with the messages I had recorded as a surprise for the elderly couple.
While I was making the documentary, I became aware that while there were some parts that were private and intended just for the Uno family, there was another film inside of that film, one that I wanted to share with the world. With the family’s permission, I re-edited Jinsei ni Kampai into a 20 minute short documentary to which I gave the English title Even the Birds Need to be Loved.
As fate would have it, however, before I could complete post-production on the documentary, the March 11, 2011, triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown struck Japan. Before I even knew what was happening, I was heading north towards the no-go zone, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Even the Birds Need to be Loved is a rough cut, a work-in-progress. Fours years after filming, Mr. and Mrs. Uno are still smiling and enjoying each other’s company.
Born in Watertown, NY, documentary filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash graduated from Plattsburgh State University in 2000. He has lived in Japan for more than 12 years, and is the director of five feature documentary films. Information on his two films about children living in Fukushima following the nuclear meltdown, ‘In the Grey Zone’ (2012) and ‘A2-B-C’ (2013), as well as his newest documentary, ‘-1287’ (2014), can be found on his website: www.DocumentingIan.com