Tsunami film shown at N.Y.C. festival

Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011
October 27, 2011
The Japan Times Online 

New York — A documentary film depicting the plight of March 11 survivors along the Tohoku coast has made its North American debut.

News photo
Moving forward: Director Koichi Omiya receives a donation to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund at the first Dialogue of Cultures International Film Festival in New York on Sunday.KYODO

Prior to the screening of “Mujo Sobyo” (“The Sketch of Mujo”) at the first Dialogue of Cultures International Film Festival on Sunday, the event organizers handed a $10,000 check to director Koichi Omiya as a donation to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.

“On behalf of all the people in the affected areas, we appreciate being a part of this festival,” Omiya told the audience.

With 16 films from around the world including Thailand, China, Iran and Brazil, the organizers chose to close the festival with Omiya’s 75-minute documentary.

Shot 50 days after the earthquake on the coast of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, the film captures the ravaged landscape and the voices of survivors calmly recounting their memories of the twin disasters. But the film purposely does not reveal the exact location or the names of the people and their backgrounds.

“The name of a place is something that people create, and that becomes borders of different places. The tsunami pretty much erased these borders,” Omiya, 53, told an audience of about 100 in a question and answer session.

Omiya also said he decided to portray the extent of the damage in disaster-hit areas by just “sketching” the everyday lives of locals and their landscapes, rather than basing the film on a scripted storyline.

Many in the audience were moved by the “bleak” landscapes and the willingness of volunteers to help out in a time of need.

“I liked the way we could see how even people coming from Tokyo could help out,” said Montse Cols, a researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, noting the film “was not judgmental” but lets the scenes speak for themselves.

For some participants, such as actress Jelena Stupljanin, Omiya’s film crosses borders and relates to all disasters.

“The first thing that came to mind after I saw the film was the stillness that comes after a tragedy,” said the Serbia native, adding that she experienced the same “stillness” in her homeland after the Balkan war in the 1990s.

The film festival is the first in the world that is dedicated to “people in search of their identity” and aims to jumpstart dialogue between cultures, the organizers said.

The annual festival was originally scheduled to take place in Tokyo in April, but was rescheduled due to the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Boris Cherdabayev, the festival’s president and founder, said that after the quake and tsunami, he and his colleagues searched for a new film that would “support” Japan to be screened at the festival, and ultimately decided on Omiya’s documentary.

“It’s part of our idea,” the Kazakhstan native said. “We should share not only happiness but also difficult times with each other.”

As the festival will change host cities every year, Cherdabayev expects to return to Tokyo in the near future. The next event is scheduled to take place in Paris.

“We had wanted to begin with some part of the Asian world, and Tokyo is one of the most interesting places for us to begin,” he said, “We’ll be back to Tokyo for sure.”

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