About the Film
This film, a celebration of Kazuko’s life, provides an open, honest window into her journey as she faces death from metastasized breast cancer. As someone who spent a good number of years working with the elderly in retirement homes I have long felt that death, dying, and grief are topics that need to be spoken about and represented in various media with far more honesty and depth, which added to my enthusiasm for working on this film. Kazuko’s honesty about her journey and Ian’s ability to capture everyday moments from this journey and weave them together into a tight narrative, opens the door for a range of necessary and important conversations about death, dying, and grief in our society. The film also has the ability to foster deep conversations about marriage/love, women’s issues, happiness, motherhood, regret, aging, medical issues such as cancer and the choice of treatment options, multilingual and multicultural topics, spirituality, and identity formation.
The film was finished in early autumn of 2014, and has screened in film festivals around the globe (more information on those screenings can be found below.)
In Memory of Kazuko (Or Going Pink For A Cure)
With the film’s world premier coinciding with the start of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to raise funds in Kazuko’s name for breast cancer research and awareness, something I think she would really love. So on October 12, 2014, I walked in memory of Kazuko at my local Race for the Cure walk.
One of the wishes Kazuko reveals in the film is the desire to feel truly, truly, truly loved. I think that together those who donated to the walk in memory of Kazuko embraced her with their collective love. I know that I held her close in my heart as I walked the amazing 5 mile trail near the river, and I hope she felt my love. Thank you to all who supported me in the walk and helped to raise funds in in Kazuko’s memory.
The film had its World Premier at Raindance, the largest festival of independent films in Europe, on October 1, 2014. It also screened a second time at Raindance on October 3rd. While I was not be able to attend the premier because of professional teaching obligations, Ian was present in person, and I in spirit. You can read more about how I chose to “attend in spirit” in my Personal Reflection section further down on this page.
The Asian premier of the film was held at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival in mid-October. TIDF is one of the major film festivals in Asia and places a focus on films that center on human-interest and social issues. -1287 not only had the honor of screening at the festival, but was also nominated for one of the festival’s three major awards, The International Competition. While we did not win the award, considering well over 1500 entries were vetted, and only 45 films were nominated for awards, to be nominated was quite an honor.
In addition to screening at the festival, -1287 was one of the films chosen to tour Taiwan, and screened in various cities across the nation from April through August 2015.
Middle Eastern Premier
The film made its debut in the Middle East at 8th Edition of the Cinema Vérité International Documentary Film Festival which was held in Tehran, Iran November 30-Dec 7, 2014. Cinema Vérité is organized by DEFC, Documentary and Experimental Film Center, which serves as the main point for production, distribution, and promotion of documentary and experimental films in the Middle East. I’m honored that we were given the opportunity to screen at Cinema Vérité.
North American Premier
The film held its North American Premier at the Ashland Independent Film Festival, just a few hours down the road from me in Ashland, OR. The Washington Post has said of the Ashland Independent Film Festival that it’s “a dream you’ll never want to leave,” and having spent a few days there absorbing wonderful films, I agree with their assessment.
While the festival screened nearly 100 films in just five short days, -1287 screened every day–twice on Sunday, for a total of six screenings! The film was also in competition, and while it didn’t win any awards, it was a true honor to be held in competition with the other amazing films that were screening.
While I missed the premier screening due to teaching obligations, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend part of the festival with a good friend who flew in from St. Louis to see the film on the big screen.
This was my first opportunity to see the film on the big screen and with an audience, and it was powerful and emotional for me. I’d been waiting for this moment for nearly two years and there are no words to describe what it was like to see Kazuko’s huge, warm smiled on the screen and to feel her presence in the room with us. While I always carry Kazuko in my heart, it was a beautiful experience to hear her voice, listen to her laughter, and have her smile warm my heart from the big screen.
As a documentary-film-addict, I really enjoyed getting to see some of the other documentary films that screened at the festival. I was particularly honored to get to see James Baldwin: The Price of a Ticket, and am now working on establishing the connections necessary to bring Conversations With Jimmy to my community. The film was incredible and the Q&A that followed offered more insight into the film and the work the director and producer are doing with the film.
Another really powerful film I had the honor of seeing at the festival was Three and a Half Minutes, a powerful documentary about the trial of Micheal Dunn that followed the murder of Jordan Davis in a convenience store parking lot. The film was thoughtful, eloquently composed, and put Dunn “on trial” with the viewers in a way I found powerful and compelling. The incorporation of the phone calls Dunn made to his fiance from prison and the intimate footage of Davis’ mother provided a well-balanced context for the events at the heart of the film. I really wish director Marc Silver had been in attendance. I would have loved to have talk to him about the making of this film.
The film premiered in Germany the Nippon Connection Film Festival, June 2-7. Nippon Connection is a Japanese film festival, and one where I think Kazuko would have felt quite at home. The festival is organized and run by the not-for-profit Nippon Connection, which seeks to screen Japanese films within a wide cultural context, providing not only an opportunity to see Japanese films that the audience might not otherwise have access to, but also to understand these films within a culturally complex context. For those reasons I find this screening the most exciting yet, as it will give the viewers access not only to Kazuko’s story, but also to a cultural framework through which they can more deeply engage with and understand her story. The audience was clearly touched by the film, honoring it with the Audience Choice Award.
New York Premier
The film had its New York premier at the Lake Champlain International Film Festival. Of all the festival screenings, this one was nearest to my heart. This festival is held in Plattsburgh, NY which is just down the road from where I grew up. I completed most of my undergraduate work at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh as well, which is were I first met Ian many, many years ago. So without this town and the connection it gave me to Ian as well as the educational journey I began there, I never would have worked on -1287, and might not even had known it existed.
I was thrilled to be able to attend this film festival. I had the joy of getting to reunite with several of the most influential of my undergraduate professors and talk to them about the film after they attended the screening. Such a humbling experience to share this work with those who transformed my life into one in which such work was a possibility for me. I also got to see the film with my dad at the festival. He’s not exactly a fan of documentary films, subtitles, or talking about death, so needless to say I was overjoyed and a bit overwhelmed when he shared with me how much he enjoyed seeing the film after the screening. It was such a beautiful experience to sit between him and Ian at the festival and share the experience of Kazuko’s story with them both.
Perhaps most humbling was receiving the People’s Choice award at the end of the festival. While receiving any recognition is something I find humbling, having a story that I helped create recognized by my home-town community and being handed the award by one of the festival directors, who is also an old college friend from my SUNY days was an especially humbling experience.
TAIWAN ENCORE SCREENINGS
Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival Tour
Various cities, Taiwan, March-June 2016
SoCal Film Fest
Huntington Beach, California, February 10-13, 2016
Lane Honors Program, Lane Community College
Eugene, Oregon, February 3, 2016
NEW YORK SCREENING
Snowtown Film Festival
Watertown, NY, January 29-30, 2016
KOREA ENCORE SCREENING
Screening of DMZ Docs
Seoul, Korea, December 11, 2015
Columbus International Film + Video Festival
Columbus, Ohio, November 6-16, 2015
MIDWEST USA PREMIER
Kansas International Film Festival
Overland Park, Kansas, November 6-12, 2015
LantarenVenster, Rotterdam, September 24-27, 2015
Baekseok and Paju, Korea, September 17-24, 2015
Awareness Film Festival
Los Angeles, CA, September 10-20
Imperfectu: International Film and Gender Studies Festival
Tijuana, Mexico, July 18-26, 2015
Part One:Professional Reflection
In doing production work for the film, I’ve begun to gain a much deeper understanding of how the films I enjoy watching in some of my favorite small, local arts theaters arrive there for my viewing pleasure. And let me tell you, it’s a lot more complicated and messy that I could have imagined–even though what I imagined was pretty complex and messy to begin with!
So far I’ve learned about the importance of world, national, and regional premiers at film festivals, how to effectively use various websites such as Withoutabox , Reelport, the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival Database of Film Festivals by Month, and Film Festival.com social network, as well as how to navigate the highly detailed submission requirements for individual film festivals, which often include sneaky little details that could be easily overlooked. One of the strengths I think I bring to the table in my production work is that I feel quite comfortable in my ability to effectively “match” the film to specific film festivals based on the missions or annual themes of these festivals. This is a key component of getting the film out to audiences who will appreciate its depth and value.
Working on publicity for the film is an interesting experience for me. I enjoy thinking about the ways that certain images or phrases might appeal to different audiences that might be appropriate for the film. This is an especially fun challenge with this film, which, because of the complexity of Kazuko’s narrative, covers a wide range of topics and themes which could appeal to an equally wide and diverse set of audiences. I’m looking forward to working more on the publicity materials and seeing what materials we end up creating to promote the film on its journey around the globe.
As story editor (which was not only a “surprise” role, but also the one I love the most) I’ve also had the honor of offering a critical eye and constructive feedback to help craft/polish the narrative of the film. Having spent years studying/teaching life narratives, I find this aspect of my work with the film the most “comfortable” and natural for me, and feel as though my suggestions have helped shape the film into a strong, poignant narrative that I think Kazuko would be proud of.
I’m grateful to Ian for the opportunity to do this work, and for trusting me to do it well. I look forward to learning more as I journey further along this path, and to gaining a new set of professional skills that will undoubtedly also come in handy in my academic career as well–the overlap between my production work and my work on the campus and in the classroom is already quite apparent, as you can see from the academic mini-docs I produced with students!
Part Two: Personal Reflection or A Bit of Love Tucked Into Your Lapel
I have been asked by many people why I agreed, in the midst of the already insane schedule of a full time college professor, to produce -1287. I have usually replied with something along the lines of “because the film touched me” or “because I wanted to help bring Kazuko’s story to the world.” While these responses are true, there is a far more personal reason that I felt connected to the film and that I wanted to help the film reach viewers. That reason lies in a moment of my own life that I’ve shared with almost no one until now…
It was a bright spring day filled with the deep warmth and frantic birdsong that finally breaks through the frigid hold of winter for good. I was sitting, in a scratchy paper gown on the cool, sticky vinyl of the exam table, waiting impatiently for the doctor to come in. Though spring had warmed the world outside, the old wooden and brick structure of the house-turned-doctor’s office held the damp cold of winter, raising goose bumps on my skin. This cold and the fact that I was only 19, still new to my post-pubescent body, and to the uncomfortable intimacy of the “yearly exam” I was there for, made me long to pull on my jeans and wool sweater and flee toward the birdsong outside.
Within the hour, I found myself standing amid that birdsong, sun shining down on the hospital test orders I held in my hand, giving them a strange warmth. My doctor had found a small, hard lump under my right breast and was sending me off to face the possibility of cancer, armed only orders scrawled in his illegible hand for protection or understanding. I’d never felt so alone.
While, thankfully, that lump turned out to be a harmless cyst I tasted, for a few brief days, the intense, nauseating flavor of my mortality. And in response, I did what any geeky English major in this situation might have done–I raided the library looking for books that might give language to what I was feeling, might turn my emotions into soothing poetry. It was then that I stumbled upon Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals. I sat on the floor next to the stacks and devoured the book without ever looking up.
While I was spared a breast cancer diagnosis of my own, I’ve returned to Lorde’s words and courage many times in my life. So it was no surprise to me that when I viewed the earliest version of the film, before Ian had even asked me to come aboard as producer, that I could hear Lorde’s words in my mind as I listened to Kazuko tell her own story. At one point Lorde says, “I realize that if I wait until I am no longer afraid to act, write, speak, be, I’ll be sending messages on a Ouija board, cryptic complaints from the other side. When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less important whether or not I am unafraid” (13).
In the first scene of the film, when Ian asks Kazuko “What are you scared of?” I immediately found myself struck by Kazuko’s willingness to express her fear, bluntly saying “of course I’m scared to die,” and then by her willingness to speak through this fear in order to grapple with her death and share her story. Much like Lorde, Kazuko realized that she couldn’t wait to speak until her fear had subsided, or it would be too late. One of the things I find most compelling about Kazuko’s story is that it is in the space of sharing her story with Ian, and by extension, with all of us, she finds her own inner power in the face of death, and is able to focus less on her fear and more on her life.
From the very beginning of my journey as producer of this film, I was committed to keeping the focus on Kazuko’s strength and the ways in which the courageous sharing of her own story might help other women facing similar situations. Like Kazuko, many women facing such situations feel alone. Consequently, their choices of treatment options and end-of-life care can become framed by their sense of isolation. I saw immediately in Kazuko’s story the potential to give to other women access to the sense of hope and of community that Lorde’s text offered me so many years ago.
It was for this reason that it felt vital to me that we use this film as an opportunity to raise awareness about breast cancer and the need for strong support systems for the women facing this disease. Given that I was already deeply invested in using the film in this way, it seemed to me a sign when I found out that the world premier screening would occur on October 1st–the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This “coincidence” felt to me like both a gift and a blessing from Kazuko to use this film to help other women facing breast cancer.
One of the first things that I worked on was creating a list of resources about education/awareness/and support groups available to breast cancer patients and their families and caretakers. This list of resources can be found on the “Beyond” tab of the film website. It is my hope that these resources can serve to provide support and community, especially for those women who are facing breast cancer feeling alone.
I also wanted to do something during Breast Cancer Awareness Month specifically to honor Kazuko. On October 12, 2014 I participated in the local Race for the Cure walk. All funds I raised will be donated to breast cancer research in Kazuko’s memory.
While I am grateful for the timing of the October 1st world premier, I was unable to attend the premier in person, as it coincided with the first week of classes for Fall term. Even though I could not be there in person, I wanted to ensure I was able to be there in spirit, standing alongside Kazuko’s memory as her story began its journey into the hearts of audiences around the globe.
I thought a perfect way to be “present,” and also help raise breast cancer awareness at the premier, would be to make handmade breast cancer awareness ribbons that could be given out at the screenings. I made hundreds of them, folding a tiny bit of my spirit and love into each.
A single ribbon, made with love An “army” of ribbons, “marching” against cancer My feline helper, Mylah
I had intended these ribbons to be a special one-time-only gift for attendees of the Raindance screenings. But that thought didn’t last long. Upon hearing about the ribbons I had made, my dear friend Gwen Hannon contacted me and said that she’d be delighted to help me keep making ribbons for future screenings. I was touched by her kindness and generosity, and I know that Kazuko would be too. Thanks to Gwen and her “gang” of helpers, I will be able to continue providing ribbons for attendees of future screenings. This will help raise even more awareness for breast cancer, and allow us to send everyone home with a reminder of Kazuko’s spirit and a bit of love tucked into their lapel.
A bowl of Gwen’s finished ribbons Maggie, one of Gwen’s “gang” Mister, Gwen’s feline helper
**Lorde, Audre. The Cancer Journals: Special Edition. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2006.