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Filmmaker Q&A: Linda Ohama (A New Moon Over Tohoku)

Linda and Kenji during one of their meetings

Now that all of the films have been announced for this year's festival, for the next week leading up to the opening gala we'll be getting a bit more personal. In order to really get the stories behind some of the films we'll be showing, we've asked a few of our filmmakers about the making of their film, their plans in Calgary and what they hope to bring to audiences.

First up is Linda Ohama, director of A NEW MOON OVER TOHOKU. Originally from southern Alberta and a graduate from the University of Calgary, she brings a local connection to the eastern coast of Japan (and her story shows how small the world really is!).


Can you tell us something fun about the making of A NEW MOON OVER TOHOKU? 

​Fun fact? Meeting lots of different people along the way. The first time I went into the 'no-go zone', near the Fukushima nuclear plant, there were towns and farms completely abandoned because of the high radiation contamination. Driving on a dirt road, I noticed a man working all alone in a field full of waist high weeds. It was so hot and dry. I stopped and walked up to him and asked him why he was there – didn't he know it was dangerous to work with the contaminated soil and dust? He didn't answer me, and kept pulling out weeds around what were sunflower plants. So, I decided to help him pull some weeds for a while.

Later, I had to leave for my schedule, so I told him goodbye. He finally spoke and said, "Before you go, have some cold water in the shade with me."

So we sat on the porch of a stranger's abandoned home. I noticed he was wearing gumboots with a Canadian flag on them, so I asked him what he was doing here. He was a volunteer and yoga master, he said, who came from elsewhere to volunteer to help the people evacuated from their towns. He taught them yoga in the refugee camps to help relieve their stress, and in his spare time, he went to abandoned farms and planted sunflower seeds along the roads – because the area was abandoned, the land had begun to go wild with weeds again.

I turned on my camera with his permission as I found him to be interesting. He was planting these flowers so when the people returned, they would see something beautiful despite the weeds. He was so inspiring and so giving.

After visiting on that shady porch for about half an hour, he asked me where I came from. I said, "Vancouver, Canada." He brightened up and said he had a friend who moved to Vancouver, and that maybe I knew her. I thought to myself, fat chance...he doesn't realize how big Vancouver is.....

He said his friend was an actress/dancer from Tokyo who moved to Vancouver decades ago, and her name was Yayoi. I screamed! He had tears when I said, "I DO know her. Very well!" We emailed Yayoi on his phone to tell her that two friends of hers were sitting together in an abandoned contaminated farm inside the no-go zone of eastern Japan.

Imagine meeting in the middle of nowhere like this!

He became one of the people that I interviewed regularly over the 2.5 years, and he is in A NEW MOON OVER TOHOKU. His name is Kenji and he volunteered in that area for over three years, living in a tent, running yoga sessions in the refugee housing and planting fields. Unfortunately, he died in a bad snowstorm in 2014 very near this field; I was only about 20 minutes from that location on that day, but didn't realize his tent collapsed from the heavy snow.

Funny how we met. Sad how he died. I learned a lot from him about being human.

What are you looking forward to doing the most when you're in Calgary for the festival? 

Seeing the two guests from Tohoku's faces when they see the Calgary audience. They've gone through so much – swept up by the tsunami, thinking they didn't deserve to survive when friends died – but seeing them feel celebrated by the Calgary audiences for their courage will be amazing. And seeing my Mom's and sisters' faces at the world premiere! I was born and grew up in southern Alberta, and graduated from U of C, so it's a bit like a homecoming for me.

What do you hope audiences will take away from watching your film? 

Gratitude for the lives they do have.​ 

For more information on the making of the film and what it took to create, Linda recommends this article that was just published in Vancouver last week. 


Linda will be present at both screenings of her film for a Q&A: Sept 30, 6:45 PM (Eau Claire 4) & Oct 1, 1:50 PM (Globe Upstairs). Buy tickets by clicking on the showtime you want. As part of our Behind the Screen Series, Linda, along with director Johnny Ma (OLD STONE), will be participating in a free In Conversation With about Filmmaking Abroad. Click on the link to register for the free event. 

Up next in the Filmmaker Q&As is a chat with Jordan Roberts from BURN YOUR MAPS!

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