Wednesday, August 19, 2009

COMING SOON: Journey of Repentance Documentary!

Since I’m new to the JOR blog, allow me to introduce myself: my name is Ashley Michael Karitis, I’m from Bend, Oregon, and I was the lead filmmaker for the JOR group while in Japan. My background consists of a myriad of activities and passions (namely travel, history, international relations & foreign policy, and of course, documentaries!), many of which pointed me to the JOR and this wonderful filmmaking opportunity.

I was certainly a last minute addition to the group. In fact, my being on the trip only came together literally 10 days before departure! Stress? Yes! But, it was “good stress,” because if it all came together it would be a beautiful thing. Essentially, some family friends of mine knew a key player on the trip—Tom Karlin, who I’m now good friends with J. Tom mentioned that the JOR had a filmmaking crew to get a documentary made, but that that crew was no longer able to commit. So, they proposed that I replace an entire crew! Of course, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. This was a chance to visit Japan for the first time—and not just as a tourist but as an individual traveling with a compassionate group who has a strong sense of purpose, humility, and action in mind.

At first I wasn’t sure of what kind of movie I was expected to make. After all, it’s not as though I had months to contemplate what kind of product the group or I wanted, and therefore, what kinds of events, moments, and types of interviews I would try to tackle while filming. Bix, Tamara, and I had many conversations about what this film would, could, and possibly should be about and the purpose it would serve. Most importantly, I would attempt:

-to convey a sense of acknowledgment of the bombings’ complete devastation

-to understand forgiveness from a survivor’s point of view: to learn to accept human failings and to actively choose the path of non-retaliation

-to de-emphasize the trip as “one big apology” and instead emphasize it as a means of being more worldly citizens and agents of peace working against destructive forces

-to focus on connections with the people, especially other peace-keepers, seekers, and Hibakusha

-to create a film that would mobilize public awareness and fundraising efforts for a trip to visit the NPT review at the UN in May 2010

With a week to go, I scrambled to put together the best, most compact filming package possible that would make my one-woman operation physically (and mentally) feasible (for those of you who are interested, I shot to tape on a Panasonic HVX-200, with a shotgun and lav wireless mic set-up, and I brought a collapsible tripod for interviews). To my surprise and delight, it all came together swimmingly, and I was set to go!

Movie, check. Equipment, check. Insurance, check. Meeting the group…

Upon arriving in Tokyo, I met the group for the very first time! Their smiling faces were truly welcoming and some right away offered to help carry the camera into the city (thanks Alyson and Tom!). Even after some brief interactions, I got the impression that I would integrate into the group rather smoothly. As Demetra later put it, “Oh, you fit right in!” This was a big relief considering I was going to be traveling with 17 strangers (at the time) for the next 10 days.

Once in Tokyo, I whipped out my big box ‘o’ tapes and began unwrapping them—I had allowed myself 50 hours of tape in all. Secondly, I began to collect many first impressions to see who I should approach for interviews. And lastly, I began filming, filming, filming! This meant that I was rolling through most activities and events on the itinerary, catching lots of vibrant, poignant, and diverse B Roll footage to capture the fast pulse of Tokyo, the political atmosphere of Hiroshima, and the sweltering weather (and group drama!) in Nagasaki, and then sitting down to personal interviews.

One of the very real challenges I faced throughout the trip was being a one-woman crew. My workload certainly wasn’t unreasonable, but running and gunning with the camera was quite a trial that tested my mental and physical capabilities. Tamara was a fabulous co-producer, bravo to her on her first go at producing! While I would set up the camera or scout out shots, she would often be hunting down the appropriate people to gather release forms from to make sure filming was possible (both in English and Japanese).

My role within the group dynamic was quite flexible. I felt welcome to comment on anything I like but I usually held my tongue so as not to catch in the recording. In essence, I was the outsider always looking in on the group—constantly studying everyone through the camera and collecting the most compelling footage possible for the editor so that a meaningful story could be pieced together. From time to time I would offer some of my thoughts, suggestions, or opinions on issues in the group reflections.

So now, I have nearly 35 hours of footage from Japan on my hands. My favorite footage? Hard to say, but there is a lot that I’m looking forward to! Overall, I’m eager to review the peace memorial ceremonies footage because I remember there being so much energy and color—especially my favorite part of the trip: when citizens of Hiroshima were placing candle-lit lanterns into the Ota-Gawa River on the night of August 6. I remember seeing an 80-something woman, helped by her family, as she feebly bent over to set a lantern in the water; and just upstream, a 3 yr old did the same. It was incredibly moving.

I agreed to be a part of this project with one thing in mind: that I cannot commit to editing. But, in 10 days time we all grew as a unit and it’s quite clear that I’m most familiar with the footage and the characters at hand. So, given the right circumstances and the right set-up, I just may be the editor after all…we’ll see!

Looking forward to posting more about the film when the steps toward the editing process are taken!


  1. Ashley:
    I'm looking forward to seeing the documentary. I'm sure that we'll love the footage. Did you get anything at the Atom Bomb Conference Party? Of course, you left early, and I guess you weren't working that night. Hmmm.
    Steve N.

  2. Peace, Ashley,
    Am not sure if my comment went through, but I am a sister to Fr Louis in religion, Sister Rosemarie Stevens, and my step-father of 95 is a life Navy man and a Pearl Harbor survivor. Perhaps you might want to include him in your documentary?
    Sister Rosemare