Our documentary about one family’s escape from the tsunami that hit Japan earlier in the year, finally went out on Al Jazeera’s Witness strand in November. It seems to have been well received and was tweeted over 800 times, being particularly popular in Japan.
The film tells the story of of little known code of tsunami survival called Tendenko. In previous tsunamis the tight bonds of community and family that exist in Japan have led to whole families dying together, instead of each attempting to escape individually. In this way, communities saw several generations wiped out in one go. Tendenko, an old Sanriku code of survival, teaches that in the event of a tsunami each person should act alone to save themselves, therefore ensuring the survival of a greater number of people within the community. Our film tells the story of the Yorozu family of Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture. It was produced and co-directed by my brother Donald. Riwa Komatsubara was the Assistant Producer.
Donald wrote this piece for the Al Jazeera website exploring the history of Tendenko. It includes an extended interview with Prof Toshitaka Katada of Gunma University, an expert in Tendenko education.
In August 2010 I made a film in Mexico with the Ecologist about how unregulated food speculation on the international derivates markets is pushing up the cost of staple food in some of the world’s poorest countries. In developed countries the cost of food accounts for around 10-20% of household income, whereas in developing countries it’s between 50-90%. So it’s easy to see why any increase in the cost of food has a devastating effect on people’s lives. But higher food prices don’t just bring the threat of malnutrition. Spending more money on food means less on clothing, education, housing and transportation – severely disrupting the development prospects of many countries around the word.
It’s six months since a massive tsunami tore into the North-East coast of Japan. It was the biggest tsunami for a generation – communities were destroyed and almost 20,000 people lost their lives.
At the end of June I travelled to Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture with Don Productions to make a film for Al Jazeera English about a remarkable story of survival. Based around the idea of self preservation at all costs, Tendenko teaching goes against much in Japanese culture – the sense of self sacrifice and deep family connections that have seen whole families die together in past tsunamis.
But by practicing Tendenko, by saving yourself first and having the faith in your family to do the same, communities along Japan’s coastline will face a better chance of survival.
We spent a week filming with the Yorozu family who shared their remarkable tale of survival. The film is due to be broadcast in November.
In the history of Western art, watercolour has always been the poor relation of oil paint. Used only for sketching in the field by serious artists and seen as the ideal medium for hobbyists and beginners, watercolour has always had a bit of a bad rep. But although these things are true to an extent, they are also roundly challenged by Tate Britain’s latest exhibition, which re-explores watercolour’s evolution through the history of art.
The exhibition makes a good case for expanding what we might class at watercolour art, encompassing medieval illuminated manuscripts, which might not normally be considered as watercolour, and medical and natural history illustration, which are not usually included in the canon of Western art history. It also offers up some compelling examples of contemporary uses of the medium, by artists such as Callum Innes and Tracey Emin. But ultimately, and not unsurprisingly, the curators aren’t able to overturn the single plain fact: that the greatest achievements in watercolour were made during its Golden Age in the late 18th and early 19th century by two the greatest watercolourists working at the time, Thomas Girtin and JMW Turner.
At the end of January 2011 I was lucky enough to direct what is possibly the world’s first ever 3D visual arts documentary for broadcast TV. Part of the Tim Marlow on… strand for Sky Arts and Sky 3D and produced by Seventh Art Productions, the film was a review of Modern British Sculpture show at the Royal Academy in London. In terms of format this was going to be the same as the many other programmes I make with Tim Marlow covering exhibitions at the Tate, the National Gallery and elsewhere. Except this time we were working in 3D.
An exhibition of some of greatest British sculptures of the last hundred years or more seemed the perfect opportunity to get to grips with the potential of 3D for exploring visual art on TV. Until starting work on the project my knowledge of 3D was limited the odd article and cinema experience, so I was on a pretty steep learning curve. Understanding the principles involved in convergence and inter-occular distance became essential to my ability to direct the action. But I was fortunate enough to work with two excellent stereographers who would patiently explain to me and my DoP what would and wouldn’t work in 3D.
If not properly considered 3D can be distracting to the point that the technology is all the audience is thinking about, rather than the actual content or narrative. And whether it can be a direct replacement for 2D TV is still very much open to debate. But if you get it right, when 3D and the subject of a programme are perfectly allied, it can be an extraordinarily immersive experience.
Dave Swann is a Brighton based poet and writer. His recently published book, The Privilege of Rain, is a mixture of poetry and prose that came out of his time as writer in residence at a high security prison in Nottingham.
The Privilege of Rain was recently nominated for the Poetry Society’s Ted Hughes new poetry award.
In this film Dave reads three short extracts from his book.
Poetry rarely makes it onto broadcast TV, as this recent article explores. But I think that film and video is an excellent way for people to access poetry, a starting point for those that ordinarily wouldn’t pick up or even buy a book of verse.
Poetry can be challenging to realise in film. On the one hand you try hard to evoke the meaning and feeling of the words, but it’s important not to be overly literal, to get into illustrating each and every line. Hopefully I have struck the right balance in this film.
In November 2010 I travelled to the US to make a film exploring the impact of shale gas drilling, otherwise known as fracking, on communities in rural Pennsylvania. Made for The Ecologist online and Link TV in the US, the film documents the very real problems associated with an increasingly controversial drilling technology. Along with a producer I spent a week traveling across the state meeting campaigners, experts and ordinary people whose lives have been profoundly affected by fracking.
This is one of the first films I made with the Canon 60d DSLR. Essentially a stills camera, it is fairly awkward to use as a documentary video camera, requiring sound to be recorded separately and only really usable in fully manual mode. But the quality of picture makes it all worthwhile.