“Nuclear Nation” Ignites Conversation About Fukushima’s Refugees

Nuclear Nation is director Atsushi Funahashi’s attempt to engage us in conversation. This documentary introduces viewers to the former residents of Futaba, the location of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and gives us a window into their lives after the disaster. The film follows the town’s residents, their lives as refugees, and everything that comes with that: communal living in an abandoned high school near Tokyo, coming to terms with the loss of family members, the loss of home, the lack of compensation, the questions about health from radiation exposure- the list goes on and on. Meditative and disturbing, this story of survivors raises more questions than it answers, giving viewers an intimate portrait of loss.

It’s midnight in Japan when I reach Atsushi over Skype. He’s just returned from a full day of shooting his next film, Nuclear Nation 2, which continues the story. He briefly updates me on how the families profiled in the movie are doing today before we turn the discussion to Nuclear Nation.

Atsushi, I heard you originally began filming Nuclear Nation just weeks after the disaster. How did this project begin for you?

“At that time I was preparing to work on a fiction film and it was cancelled due to the earthquake and tsunami. So, I lost my job for 3 months and had nothing to do except watch this disaster on TV and wonder what to do. CNN and American media were saying it was like Chernobyl and there was this meltdown going on. Meanwhile, the Japanese government didn’t say anything. They were very ambiguous and said there was no immediate harm to human health. I was living in this gap, this huge information gap, and I was frustrated. No one even knew how far away you really needed to get from these nuclear reactors to be safe. First the government said you must evacuate 3km, then 10km, then 20km. Meanwhile, the American government issued an advisory to Americans in Japan that said you needed to get at least 50 miles away, which is 80km. No one seemed to know the right distance. Then, this small town called Futaba, which is the location of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, evacuated its people 250km, which is almost to Tokyo. When I heard this news, I thought this was the right answer. Basically, you don’t know the implications of this nuclear disaster so you need to get as far away as possible. Futaba was the only town in Fukushima prefecture that did that. So I became immediately interested in this town. I went and met people and met the mayor and started talking with everyone. I am not a big news corporation. I am a freelance filmmaker. I knew if I wanted to tell this larger story of what was going on in Japan I needed to focus on something specific. I realized I could follow Futaba’s story because the town actually moved its town hall and citizens to an abandoned high school. Everything was in this high school so I thought maybe I can focus on this town’s experience. The concept was to shoot this microcosm that then tells the larger story.”

Your footage of Futaba after the disaster is haunting. How were you able to negotiate access to film in contaminated areas and how did you protect yourself from radiation?

“The Japanese government didn’t allow freelance media to go in there, they limited access to big media corporations. Ironically, these big media corporations said they would not send their people in because they were not going to have their people in this highly contaminated, radioactive area. They had to protect their workers. So, all of a sudden, there was a situation where no one was going in and reporting. I wanted to go because I wanted to be with the people from Futaba when they were allowed to return home for two hours to collect their belongings. Of course, I couldn’t get permission because the government only issues permits to these official news corporations. The Japanese constitution says that citizens have the right to know what’s going on and the media has the right to inform the public. I told the authorities that according to the Japanese constitution this is my right, it’s guaranteed. They told me, “I see what you are saying but we cannot grant you access.” After that I had no option until one of the Futaba families I was following told me they had 4 permits to return to Futaba for 2 hours and only 2 family members going back. So they asked me, “Do you want to go? We need help carrying heavy stuff.” That is how I was able to get a permit to go there. I went in, with them, as part of the family. For one hour I helped them pack and carry heavy stuff and for the other hour I asked them to let me go and shoot the shots you see in the film. I actually borrowed a bicycle from them and, by myself, went all over this radioactive area. There was no electricity, no cellular phone service, no one there. As you saw in the movie there were only animals walking around. I knew if I got lost that’s it. No one would be coming to rescue me. That was scary… Can I change the topic for a minute?”

Of course.

“One thing I would like to stress is that the radiation exposure limit defined by the Japanese government is totally wrong. It’s really a human rights violation. The international standard defined by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) is 1 milli Sievert (mSv) per year. When Chernobyl happened, the former Soviet Union redefined the limit as 5 mSv per year and was heavily criticized by the international community for not protecting its people. The Japanese government has since redefined the limit as up to 20 mSv per year. This is 20 times the international limit per year. This is a crime. It’s evil. The reason they set it up like this is because they don’t want to pay compensation money to people and because they don’t want to have to declare large amounts of land as unlivable. There are huge areas, outside of Futaba, that are exposed to between 1-20 mSv of radiation and people are forced to live there today because the government is not protecting them. People have no choice other than to continue to live there because the exposure is not recognized as over the limit and the government will not offer compensation.”

What do you want Americans to take away from watching this film?

“This is a human rights violation. That’s what I want the American people to understand. Rich people can move on because they can afford to buy another house or start over, but the middle class and poor people cannot restart their lives because they cannot afford it, so they wait. These people are living in temporary housing, which is awful. Some are even still living in the abandoned high school. Living in that type of condition 3 years after this disaster is not acceptable. As of now, most people have not been compensated. TEPCO and the Japanese government have come up with some money, but it’s a ridiculous, unfair amount; it’s very cheap. Some of the people had to give up and take that money but some of them continue fighting. There are also, as I mentioned before, many people being forced to live in this radiation, especially in the zones that have 1-20 mSv of exposure. The Japanese government does not protect these people but they should because the radiation level is over the international standard. The Japanese government is ignoring this. I want viewers to ask, why are the most damaged individuals also the most ignored? I want people to think about this.”

Nuclear Nation will be coming to select movie theaters around the country. To find out where and when to catch this film visit: http://firstrunfeatures.com/nuclearnation_playdates.html

CNN Cancels Hillary Clinton Doc, Director Cites Political Pressure

Here’s how we lose freedom of the press:  Political power and expediency shut down stories before they can see the light of day. Claiming pressure from both sides of the aisle, and non-cooperation from the Clinton camp, director Charles Ferguson has stepped down from the CNN Films documentary about Hillary Clinton. In a statement a spokesperson for CNN Films  said:

Charles Ferguson has informed us that he is not moving forward with his documentary about Hillary Clinton … [W]e won’t seek other partners and are not proceeding with the film.

The original announcement about the documentary was met with hostility by the Republican National Committee which voted to the ban CNN from hosting or sponsoring Republican primary debates. The RNC also got sandy-pantied and dropped the debate banhammer on NBC Universal  which is developing a mini-series about the former First Lady/former Secretary of State.

But the Democratic political machine and the Clintons dropped an even heavier, darker, bleaker cone of silence, preventing Ferguson from accessing any sources or even archival footage.

In a blog on Huffington Post, Ferguson writes that

Neither political party wanted the film made….[W]hen I approached people for interviews, I discovered that nobody, and I mean nobody, was interested in helping me make this film. Not Democrats, not Republicans — and certainly nobody who works with the Clintons, wants access to the Clintons, or dreams of a position in a Hillary Clinton administration. Not even journalists who want access, which can easily be taken away. I even sensed potential difficulty in licensing archival footage from CBN (Pat Robertson) and from Fox. After approaching well over a hundred people, only two persons who had ever dealt with Mrs. Clinton would agree to an on-camera interview, and I suspected that even they would back out.

Maybe the RNC was afraid the documentary would be a shining piece of propaganda, but that seemed unlikely given some of the facts Ferguson uncovered, and these facts make it pretty clear why the Clinton camp wants to control the dialog and turn it into an easy to parrot monologue:

And then he [Bill Clinton]  proceeded to tell me the most amazing lies I’ve heard in quite a while.

For example, Mr. Clinton sorrowfully lamented his inability to stop the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which banned all regulation of private (OTC) derivatives trading, and thereby greatly worsened the crisis. Mr. Clinton said that he and Larry Summers had argued with Alan Greenspan, but couldn’t budge him, and then Congress passed the law by a veto-proof supermajority, tying his hands. Well, actually, the reason that the law passed by that overwhelming margin was because of the Clinton Administration’s strong advocacy, including Congressional testimony by Larry Summers and harsh public and private attacks on advocates of regulation by Summers and Robert Rubin.

Wow, I thought, this guy is a really good actor. And I also saw one reason why Hillary Clinton might not be thrilled about my movie. I discovered others.In Arkansas, she joined the boards of Walmart and Tyson Foods. One of the largest donors to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation is the government of Saudi Arabia. The Clintons’ personal net worth now probably exceeds $200 million, and while earned legally, both the money’s sources and the Clintons’ public statements indicate a strong aversion to rocking boats or making powerful enemies.

(The Clinton’s love affair with Tyson was laid out in glorious detail by Mark Ebner and James Mauro in  Spy Magazine’s October 1995, and a quick google of “Tyson Foods violations” comes up  multiple violations of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts as well as OSHA violations. And Walmart–euwww, gross!)

Ferguson says that the political machine, Republican and Democrat, was uncomfortable with the public learning  about

the money machines that both political parties have now become.

And politics is very, very expensive. Polls, ads, travel to personal appearances, rallies, offices, staff, opposition research, posters, goofy hats, hair and make-up….

[S]ince Bill Clinton first became Governor of Arkansas, the cost of Presidential campaigns has gone from $66 million (both parties combined, in 1976) to an estimated $5 billion for 2016, when Hillary will run.

Charles Ferguson’s documentary on Hillary won’t be made now. But in shutting it down, a Pandora’s box of revelations about the Clintons and about the American political process has been opened, and we’re going to be able to see how the chicken sausage is made.

UPDATE: Just hours after the CNN announcement, NBC dropped their plans for a Hillary biopic, issuing this statement:

After reviewing and prioritizing our slate of movie/mini-series development, we’ve decided that we will no longer continue developing the Hillary Clinton mini-series.

Finding Nemo Finds A Conscience: Pixar Movie Influenced by Blackfish Documentary

“When you look into their eyes you know someone is home.”

Thus begins the trailer for the controversial documentary Blackfish, a sentiment apparently shared by the creators of the Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory who are adjusting the movie’s plot line in response to the content of the film.

According to Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove who recounted this story to the LA Times, after watching the documentary this spring Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter and the director of Finding Dory, Andrew Stanton sat down with Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

What resulted was a change in the yet-to-be released sequel’s plot.  The film was originally set to end at Marine Park, described as a “SeaWorld-type environment.” While the film would still end in the same place, the  animals are now given the option to leave if they so choose.

While Pixar declined to comment on the exchange, the company did confirm screening Blackfish and noted that employees were “impacted” by the film.

Blackfish offers a glimpse into the treatment subjected to the orcas, or killer whales who entertain the masses at SeaWorld.  It focuses on an orca named Tilikum, said to be responsible for the death of three people – including senior SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

The film, currently playing in select theaters across the country, has already received a harsh rebuke from SeaWorld who hired publicists to help ensure that journalists covering the documentary were made well aware of their response to what they refer to as a “dishonest movie.” Filmmakers in turned issued a point by point response to SeaWorld’s claims.

Yet the truth is that Tilikum’s first attack took place in 1991, nine years before the death of Dawn Brancheau, and resulted in the death of Sealand of the Pacific trainer Keltie Byrne. At the time it was reasoned that re-releasing Tilikum back into the wild was problematic due to fears he would not be able to survive in the wild.

That concern would be moot if he had never been brought into captivity in the first place.

More recently footage of a dolphin lying on the concrete beside its tank made its way to YouTube.

Blackfish will be airing on CNN on October 24th.  In the meantime, click here to find screenings in your area.

“2016″ Filmmakers Butthurt Over Oscar “Slight”


The two dudes behind the anti-Obama documentary 2016: Obama’s America—Gerald Molen, the Oscar-winning producer of Schindler’s List, and co-writer/director Dinesh D’Souza–are all sad and stuff because their documentary didn’t make it on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ short list of docs from which the final nominees are drawn (This year four of those 15 have been or will be on Firedoglake Movie Night: The House I Live In, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, and upcoming on Monday December 10, The Waiting Room).

Since September 2008, FDL Movie Night has brought readers 197 films, and like 190 of those were documentaries. Each year at least three of the films we’ve presented have been nominated for Academy Awards, and more have made the short list. A lot of them don’t make much at the box office, if they even get to a theater. Most are seen at festivals and then released directly to television/cable and on DVD/VOD.

But box office figures are why Molen and D’Souza are all butthurt: Their film made $33.4 million, and so they think they’re entitled to an Oscar nomination. Oh heck, if ticket sales equaled an Oscar, then for gods’ sakes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon would have swept last year’s awards, and we could look forward to a landslide from Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2. Molen and D’Souza think that because they are conservatives and made a documentary with a conservative point of view, one that was critical to Obama, they didn’t get nominated. Maybe they didn’t get nominated because their film wasn’t as compelling/interesting/well made or unique as the fifteen on the short list (and yeah, I have some quibbles about certain films I think should have made the cut, but didn’t. And I’m sure every single documentary filmmaker thinks their film should have been one of the fifteen!)

There are many, many movies made every year, features and documentaries, and the majority don’t get  close to getting an Oscar nomination (or even  distribution!). And there has been a major increase in documentary  filmmaking (probably the only good thing to come out of reality TV is that people want to see real stories, about real people, to learn more about the world around them); some have a very liberal perspective, some are critical of the current administration. Out of the fifty docs we featured this year on FDL Movie Night, way more than 10% deserved to be shortlisted, yet less than 10% made it even that close to a nomination.

What is really galling, though, is how super nasty and mean-spirited Molen and D’Souza are about two of the films that were shortlisted, Searching for Sugar Man and This Is Not a Film. D’Souza commented to the Hollywood Reporter:

By ignoring 2016, the top-performing box-office hit of 2012, and pretending that films like Searching for Sugar Man and This Is Not a Film are more deserving of an Oscar, our friends in Hollywood have removed any doubt average Americans may have had that liberal political ideology, not excellence, is the true standard of what receives awards.

(Given the subject matter of This Is Not a Film, one wonders how on earth D’Souza and Molen could see a liberal bias for the nomination, since it’s a documentary about the totalitarian regime in Iran, and don’t conservatives dislike Iran’s current government?)

D’Souza and Molen got a movie made. They got it into theaters. They made money. So they didn’t get on the short list of nominated docs. They are still better off than the majority of filmmakers, feature and documentary, worldwide. Maybe they should just quit bellyaching and go make another movie while dining off the publicity they are generating by bitching about not getting a noticed by the Academy.

And please join us Monday December 10 for The Waiting Room:

The Waiting Room is a character-driven documentary film that uses extraordinary access to go behind the doors of an American public hospital struggling to care for a community of largely uninsured patients. The film – using a blend of cinema verité and characters’ voiceover – offers a raw, intimate, and even uplifting look at how patients, staff and caregivers each cope with disease, bureaucracy and hard choices.

The ER waiting room serves as the grounding point for the film, capturing in vivid detail what it means for millions of Americans to live without health insurance. Young victims of gun violence take their turn alongside artists and small business owners who lack insurance. Steel workers, taxi cab drivers and international asylum seekers crowd the halls. The film weaves the stories of several patients – as well as the hospital staff charged with caring for them – as they cope with the complexity of the nation’s public health care system, while weathering the storm of a national recession.

The Waiting Room lays bare the struggle and determination of both a community and an institution coping with limited resources and no road map for navigating a health care landscape marked by historic economic and political dysfunction. It is a film about one hospital, its multifaceted community, and how our common vulnerability to illness binds us together as humans.


Movie Star Diego Luna to Obama: “Stop U.S. Guns to Mexico!”

Mexican actor Diego Luna–who lives part time in Los Angeles, stars with Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale in the upcoming Contraband, and was a lead in Y Tu Mamá También–is urging Obama to curb sales of guns that could end up in the hands of Mexican narcotics traffickers and other criminals tied to Mexico’s rampant drug-related violence.  In December the actor spoke to Americas Quarterly about Mexico:

Because of the lack of border controls, many weapons are entering the country. And corruption [shows] that money rules above all else. This is a country where many underage children work. That says a lot. With few opportunities, social resentment becomes an issue. And that contributes to the rise of quick and easy businesses. The problems we face are not unique to us.We are part of something much bigger. There has to be a market like the U.S. to fuel the situation. The guns have to be coming from somewhere. Money is moving and changing hands and not only in this country. Right now we are living the worst of it.

Luna joined activists Thursday in Mexico City as they launched a cross-border petition drive calling for

Obama to enforce the prohibition against the importation of assault weapons and parts manufactured in other countries into the United States — to prevent such weapons from being bought in the United States and illegally trafficked into Mexico. The spokesperson said that the petition also calls for ordering weapons dealers to report to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) the sale of multiple assault rifles to the same person over a period of five days. And it calls for increasing the regulatory capacity of the ATF in those regions of the United States that supply the weapons contraband to Mexico, especially in border states.

Drug related violence has claimed the lives of between 34,000 to 40,000 people in Mexic0 since 2006.  AsMexican gun laws are far stricter than those stateside, Mexican leaders have pointed out  many weapons used by hit men are smuggled from the United States.  In 2009, the United  States launched an investigation into the cross-border sales of weapons. The LA Times reports:

ATF officials have acknowledged that at least 195 weapons sold under the investigation have been recovered in Mexico, traced as a matter of routine via serial numbers after their recovery from crime scenes, arrests and searches.

Two guns involved in the investigation were found at the scene of a shootout in southern Arizona in December 2010, which claimed the life of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer Brian Terry . Neither gun, bought by Jaime Avila, an accused gun runner, has been positively identified as the weapon that killed Terry, and the U.S. Attorney General’s office has denied victim status to Terry’s family in the Federal case against Avila. USA Today reports:

The weapons were among about 2,000 guns purchased by unlicensed dealers who were subjects of a controversial federal gun-trafficking investigation launched in 2009 in which hundreds of the weapons were allowed to fall into hands of violent drug traffickers in Mexico and criminals in the U.S. The investigation, known as “Operation Fast and Furious,” was ended after Terry’s death in 2010.

In May, during their show at Aztec Stadium, U2 made mention of the gun running and drug violence. Lead singer Bono, who had earlier met with Mexican president Felix Calderon, spoke to the audience:

I want you to send a message of love along the border to the good and the great people of the United States of America. I want you to send a message to people of conscience. Ask them to answer the question:Why is it that all we hear on the news is that drugs are smuggled through Mexico to the United States, and we don’t hear about all the automatic weapons that are being smuggled into Mexico from the United States? More than 9,000 registered arms dealers on the other side of the border. Most of the murders committed here are from weapons sold in the United States of America.

before launching into a version of “Pride (in the Name of Love)” with the modified lyrics:
Late in the evening, April 15
Automatic round takes a mother and child.
Free at last, they took your life
A lioness and her pride
In the name of love….
Luna–who appeared in Abel and Havana Nights, as well as modeling  for Zegna–and his friend and fellow actor Gael García Bernal, have worked on behalf of indigenous people’s rights. The duo owns a film production company Cananawhich trains activists to put their causes to film. In partnership with partnered with Witness, a New York-based nonprofit, they  bring attention to human rights abuses in Mexico through documentaries. Luna told Americas Quarterly:

One documentary, which is currently being viewed in Mexico, is called Presunto Culpable, and it deeply disturbed me. It is a true story about a young man who spent more than 300 days in jail even though he was innocent. The documentary details the trial, as seen from his point of view. It makes you sick and ashamed…After Presunto Culpable was released, some judges changed their verdict, and the young man is now free. I believe this is what Witness is about. There is nothing more terrible than living a case such as this, but [even] worse is losing one’s will to get out, to fight, to set things right and fix life´s path. Video is a great mechanism and vehicle to attain this.

Canana, Witness and the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) have joined forces to produce a documentary about the murders of hundreds of unsolved murders of women in Cuidad Juarez.


photo of Diego Luna: video screenshot

Michael Moore: We Have a Better World Because of Obama

michael-moore_3.thumbnail.jpgTMZ paparazzied Michael Moore and asked about his future docs and if he’d be giving Obama the same treatment he gave Bush. Moore warmed up to the camera and said that it was everyone’s responsibility to keep an eye on our elected officials, and told him that we have a better world because of Obama.

But Moore started out being coy, saying he was retired, which is weird because he has an untitled project in production, which may or may not be about the economy and the end of the American empire.