I want to first apologize for not writing a thorough update.
In the last few months we’ve been updating through Instagram and captions but
this is our first full blog since March. A lot has happened since then but it
was easier to update in small pieces.
Back in April, I was out in San Francisco meeting with our
editing consultant when I got a call from my mother telling me that my
biological grandmother had a stroke. We were set up do a pick up shoot in China
but the news propelled me to change my entire trip to go to Taiwan first. The
backstory of my biological grandmother is that 9 years ago I started filming
this documentary about finding my mother’s biological mother through that
process I reunited my mother with her birthmother. 9 years later I still haven’t
finished editing it yet. I feel a great sense of guilt that I was never able to
complete that film for my family.
Unfortunately, during the trip to Taiwan I got news that
lola Adela was admitted to the hospital for heart failure. That made me extremely
nervous. I kept calling her house so it would be passed onto lola Adela that I
was coming to the Philippines as soon as I could.
But of course I had to go to Taiwan to see my grandmother.
When I reached the hospital, my grandmother was unresponsive because the stroke
had damaged a large portion of her brain. My mother and her sisters had also
flown in to Taiwan. It was difficult to see my grandmother in that state.
On April 20, 2 days before I was scheduled to go to the
Philippines, I phoned lola Adela’s daughter. While I was waiting at the
hospital in Taiwan, I received the news that lola Adela had already passed away
that morning. And I was too late.
Originally, I was supposed to go to the Philippines to
deliver good news to lola Adela- an invitation to go to Korea. Earlier last
year she had made a wish in our sample reel to be able to go to Korea to unite
with several other survivors. The Korean Council saw the video and organized a
trip for her in August- which she didn’t know about yet. When I finally arrived
in the Philippines, the first thing I did was to pay my respects to lola Adela.
It was heartbreaking and depressing because I felt so much disappointment in myself
that I wasn’t able to finish the film fast enough. I always had this envisionment
that she would come to the premiere with me and present this film next to me.
Out of all the survivors, I was closest to lola Adela. I still can’t believe
I didn’t know what a traditional, Filipino funeral entailed.
I attended the 10 day wake which took place in her daughter’s living room,
where people would pay their respects during the 10 days. It ended after lola
Adela was placed to rest next to her husband. It was through her funeral that I
got to know who she was through her family- who she was with her kids, how they
felt about her, things like that. This trip back to the Philippines was an
awakening of how important it is to tell each other what we need to say before
it is too late.
Right after the Philippines, we went to China, to Quo Dong
village where grandmother Chao lives. Throughout our 4/5 days in China we
caught a glimpse of the complex relationship between grandma Chao and her
daughter, where nothing is really said but through actions, evidently, they
care for each other.
Following China, we were off to Korea where unexpectedly, we
had a busy eventful trip. 2 of the grandmothers were going across Japan for a
thorough tour. We decided to join them because there was a lot of noise in the
Japanese Politics scene, involving the mayor of Osaka. Toru Hashimoto made a
public statement saying: “When soldiers are risking their lives by running through storms of
bullets, and you want to give these emotionally charged soldiers a rest
somewhere, it’s clear that you need a comfort women system.’’
His remarks made international headlines. To make matters
worse, he also provoked outrage on Okinawa Island- an island with a strong U.S
military presence. He suggested that if U.S troops started using the local sex
industry, military-base related crimes could be reduced because the sexual
energy of the men would be controlled. He also continues to deny that the
former sex slaves were forced.
The controversy with the mayor and the trip the 2 survivors,
Kim Bok Dong halmoni and Gil Won Ok halmoni, were making to Japan, propelled a
storm of international press. We travelled for 10 days from Okinawa to
Hiroshima to Fujiyama to Okiyama and then finally Osaka. We went with 4 members
of the Korean Council and many Japanese allies of this issue. During the tour
we also met up with Japanese citizens who were supporters of this cause for
over 20 years now. They worked in solidarity with the Korean Council as
translators for the grandmother and host families as we moved across the cities.
In Okinawa, there were close to 5000 people who gathered at the rally-just an
example of the overwhelming support we received in Japan. Although, during our
trip, we encountered some resistance from right wing nationalists, who
demonstrated against our cause by protesting at the press meetings. It started
in Okiyama, where protestors were screaming into megaphones, berating the
survivors and being derogatory. In a small town outside of Osaka, called Nara,
there was a young woman who was protesting. I remember her because it was
disappointing to see her full of hate for a cause that encourages solidarity
amongst women as well. Before each talk we ensured that the grandmothers were
When our trip ended, I had to sit down and decompose everything
that had happened. From Taiwan to the Philippines, to China, to Korea, to Japan
and then back to Korea. I was on 25 flights in 5 weeks and feeling overwhelmed.
But the result of this shoot was powerful, amazing footage.
For our Kickstarter
backers who’ve been emailing us for the lack of updates, we are trying our best
to document these women’s lives as they unfold in order to create a compelling,
authentic story that best represents their voices. There’s no one that wants
this film to be finished faster than I do, but we certainly didn’t expect to
shoot as much as we did.
Our next blog will be about our post-production process. We
are currently in Berkeley over the summer working hard to organize and subtitle
all our footage.