Japan's Nuclear Disaster Seen Through the Eyes of Local Surfers

We Are All Radioactive, a forthcoming documentary series, tells the story of one seaside community's efforts to rebuild in the wake of the 2011 disaster. 

We Are All Radioactivea forthcoming documentary series, tells the story of one seaside community's efforts to rebuild in the wake of the 2011 disaster. Motoyoshi, a small town and surf spot about 100 miles from Fukushima, was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, and now it's unclear how damaging the effects of the Fukushima meltdown could be. We Are All Radioactive is a collaboration between Lisa Katayama, a journalist for Wired, Fast Company, and The New York Times, and Jason Wishnow, a filmmaker and director of the TEDTalks series, with the support of locals, who are contributing their own footage, and viewers, who are crowd funding the film

Katayama and Wishnow traveled to Motoyoshi twice last year to document the recovery effort, and the multifaceted story grew beyond the bounds of a feature documentary to justify doing an entire series. They will release each new episode if and when it's fully funded, launching the first episode this Sunday on the one-year anniversary of the disaster. Katayama describes the development of the series in an interview below, and explains the funding process in this pitch video. Visit the IndieGoGo page for We Are All Radioactive to support the series.

The Atlantic: How did you decide to tell this story from the perspective of this one community, and surfers in particular? 

Lisa Katayama: We first heard of Motoyoshi from Cameron Sinclair, the founder of the U.S. non-profit Architecture for Humanity. He's a friend of mine and Jason's and he told us about a group of surfers who were leading the rebuild effort in a small town in the Tohoku region. I thought that was such a neat story. My background is in print journalism, so my initial thought was to write story about them for a magazine -- but since I was traveling with Jason, who's a film guy, we decided to take a camera and sound equipment with us and see if we could document it that way. 

A year after the disaster, what are some of the challenges facing this community? 

I just got a Facebook message from one of the surfers, and he said a lot of the rubble has been cleared, but they're still facing a lot of the same logistical and psychological issues that plagued them a year ago. I don't want to say too much, because this is all stuff that we're going to reveal in due time via the film. 

How long did you spend shooting in Japan? 

We went to Japan twice last summer to shoot the interviews, but a lot of the footage is shot by the subjects themselves. Before we left the second time, we showed them how to shoot video, left them some waterproof cameras and hard drives, and they've been sending us footage as they fill up these hard drives.  

Did you go in knowing what story you wanted to tell, or did it emerge in the course of production? 

We definitely didn't go up there with an agenda. As much as possible, we want to tell the story from their point of view, their lens. That's why the footage from the locals is so important. 

Do you think crowd funding the series and releasing it online, rather than through traditional channels, has shaped the format, or the story?

Definitely -- we were initially planning to do this as a feature-length documentary, but it makes so much more sense to do it online. That way, people get to see it sooner. And many, many more people will see it if it's immediately released online, for free, in short digestible episodes. We're also coming up with all these creative ways to engage the audience -- fundraising is of course a key part of that, but we're also eventually going to have sessions where you can chat with the characters online, or log radiation readings on an interactive map, etc. 

What are your goals for the series?

We want to remind the world that a magnitude 9.0 earthquake isn't just "breaking news" with big numbers of casualties. Beyond all that, there are these real human stories, the resilience of people who are living with this every day. That's the story that we want to continue to tell, and continue to have people engage in. 

For more information about We Are All Radioactive, visit the IndieGoGo page, and stay tuned for the first episode of the series on the Atlantic Video channel. Don't miss Jason Wishnow's comedy short, Mister Handsome, on the Atlantic Video channel

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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