Funded! This project was successfully funded on April 21, 2012.

Update #52

A WEEK OF PRODUCTION IN CHICAGO, WASHINGTON DC, NORFOLK AND RICHMOND VA

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Dear Backers,

I just made it back to New York from a week of production in the midwest and east coast. Luckily I was able to get away before the massive storm hit the DC and Philadelphia areas. It was a great week and all because of your support.

I began last Sunday in Chicago interviewing Jane Suh, Kyla Coyle, Brock and Kumiko Emerson.  All were close to Taylor in Ishinomaki and in fact, Brock picked her up in Sendai when she first arrived. The testimony was so heartfelt and emotional. I am deeply grateful to all and particularly to Brock and Kumiko who came all the way from Bismark, North Dakota to take part.

I flew out of Chicago on Sunday night and after a short stop at home Monday morning to download inteviews to the master harddrive, I headed straight to the DC area. It was a long journey from upstate New York so I arrived pretty late. I was up early on Tuesday to meet cinematographer Hans Charles for two interviews in Washington.  Jessica Besecker, who was a JET in Kesenuma, met Taylor during orientation. They stayed in touch via a book club that joined many of the JETs in the various cities of northern Japan. After the earthquake and tsunami, Jessica was also trapped but when she could get out, she attempted to get to Rikuzentakata to find Monty Dickson. Sadly she was turned away and had to return back to Kesenuma fearing for the worse. We also had a chance to interview Matt Fuller, a former JET who is now working with the State Department. Matt worked alongside the Ambassador in Tokyo during the tough days following the earthquake and he helped coordinate the search for all Americans in the affected areas.  Remembering his time as a JET from his current position, has made him appreciate the experience even more.

We soon were on our way out of DC but it was the start of rush hour. Almost 5 hours later we arrived in Norfolk to meet Julz, Taylor's sister.  Julz had just returned from her honeymoon, but wanted to share loving memories of her sister. She really lifted our spirits after such a long trip. We all had dinner together and with the last bit of energy I had, drove back to Richmond to overnight at the Anderson home.  Even though it was close to midnight when we arrived, Andy and Jean waited up for us.

On Wednesday, we visited two of Taylor's schools. At Randolf Macon College, we met with colleagues from the Japanese Language Academy where Taylor taught prior to becoming a JET.  Thomas, Elizabeth and Hayley all shared wonderful stories about Taylor. Elizabeth and Hayley had been her students and now, they are instructors at the summer Academy.

We ended our day at the Millwood School where Taylor began her education. I expected that these would be some very emotional interviews because this is where the idea of Japan all started. Tyler Delgregg who was Taylor's first Japanese teacher remembered her fondly and shared stories about her devotion to things Japanese so young in life. Betsy Latham and Louise Robinson recalled Taylor's heartwarming ways and Deborah Ellenberg, a former neighbor came by to recall watching Taylor grow and blossom. It was a great day but sometimes it was very tough to witness everyone's sense of loss.

Thursday was our last day in Richmond and we started at St. Catherine's where Taylor graduated from high school. Derek Kannemeyer shared fond memories of one of his most inquisitive students and I had a chance to meet Jennifer Harter who was so instrumental in helping to organize the many tributes to Taylor.  We headed back to the Anderson's for the keynote interviews of the trip with Andy and Jean and for the opportunity to interview James Kenney, who was Taylor's boyfriend.

Andy and Jean both shared stories and memories of Taylor that left us without words to say. You will have to wait for the release of the film to experience them, but you will be moved and inspired by their sharing.  James remembered a truly fun and exciting partner - someone who pushed him out of his comfort zone.

Before we departed, we filmed some of the objects that were a part of Taylor's life in Japan. Small dolls, books, the yukata she wore with Mami after the long bike ride, a small Kokeshi doll she created that symbolized her in Japan and the very famous painting of the Japanese girl in front of a temple that is the cover of the Taylor Anderson cards.  Probably the most moving objects was Taylor's cellphone, the phone that was left behind on March 11th. The phone she wanted to retrieve to call home as she biked back to her apartment as the tsunami advanced. We also got to see her bookbag. This was found 3 months later by a student from one of Taylor's school. Inside were her teaching items, her Kindle, camera, iPod and her diary. Taylor was planning a trip to Hawaii shortly after the graduation in March and on the 11th, she had penned a note to remind her to purchase the ticket. Neatly written alongside her goal for the day, the rest of the page was auspiciously left blank. Taylor wrote in this book "goals" for every day. There was never a day in her life, without a goal.

Filled up with so many stories and sharing, Hans and I seemed to arrive in Washington in no time, but my trip home from there had to be broken into two parts. Just as I departed at 5 AM on Friday from southern New Jersey, the heavens opened and it poured. For me it was a good sign.

Thank you all for making this wonderful journey possible!!!


Update #51

POWERFUL INTERVIEWS FROM TAYLOR'S FRIENDS

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Dear Backers,

I returned Monday from the southwest and a weekend of very moving interviews with Taylor's former co-workers and friends.

I started the trip in Baltimore, meeting two of Taylor's friends from college. Kim Bowman and Taylor were friends starting in the 8th grade, a friendship that continued into their college years. They were roomates!  I also had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth Andrews who was one of Taylor's sorority sisters in college. They didn't have the chance to visit Taylor in Japan, but their memories of her early years building up to becoming a JET clearly illustrate Taylor's lust for life.

5:30 AM the next morning, I met cinematographer Hans Charles at BWI and we jetted off to Phoenix to meet Aaron and Mami Jarrad, Katherine Sheu, Canon Purdy and Bob Nguyen. It was already over 100 degrees when we landed, and with so many interviews, Aaron's Mom graciously allowed us to meet at her home.  The testimony was so powerful as each recalled their times with Taylor and the impact she made on their lives. Mami Jarrad, Aaron's wife, is not a fluent English speaker but she rose to the challenge to share precious times they shared together.  Mami stands next to Taylor in the photo on the website.  Bob was our last interview and he shared something so powerful. He talked about how everyone, regardless of being Japanese or not, worked to help each other.  He shared a term in Japanese that translates into "we are all in this together, we are all family"  when he told the story of a woman who extended food to him even though she had children to feed.  Both Hans and myself did our best not to break.

By 4:30 the next afternoon we were back on the east coast, but inspired by the stories we witnessed and the kindness and hospitality we received in Phoenix.

Tomorrow I am headed to Chicago and another series of interviews with Taylor's co-workers and friends.  I will share those stories when I return.

Thanks to all who sent messages of support and inspiration.

Regge


Update #50

PRODUCTION IN THE WEST STARTS THIS WEEKEND

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Dear Backers,

It is late on the east coast as I write this, but I wanted to send a short message.  I am heading to Phoenix in the morning where I will meet and interview, Aaron and Mami Jarrad, Kat Sheu (she was in a previous update from Tokyo), Bob Nguyen and Canon Purdy - all friends of Taylor's.  Canon was based in Minami Sanriku, a city just north of Ishinomaki.

I will post another update at the end of the weekend. Keep me in mind this weekend and send some good energy!

I finished two interviews tonight with friends of Taylor from the 8th grade all the way to a sorority sister from her college. Great stories!

Regge


Update #49

FILMING IN JAPAN IS DONE FOR LIVE YOUR DREAM

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Dear Backers,

I have just returned from Japan and I wanted to share a few more highlights from the trip. I wrote previously about meeting Jimi Okelana, one of Taylor's friends from elementary school. What a nice man and so insightful about his memories of Taylor that led all the way to Japan. As it turns out, Jimi's brother and Taylor's brother are very good friends.

Tony Olexa told great stories of his life and times with Monty Dickson in Alaska, Taiwan and finally in Japan. Tony shared these memories with great passion and enthusiasm. On the same day we met, I had to pleasure to meet David Chum in Matsushima. His courage during the tsunami saved lives and he remains in Japan. He got married only a few months ago. He told me that he wanted to continue on because it was important to him to know how the young people in his community were doing. He wanted to see the students he previously taught, some he even saved during the crisis. 

I am still coping with the reality I observed and shared with all of you in Rikuzentakata. I only pointed the camera in one direction, but if I turned 360 degrees, you would have seen the extent of the destruction. As I set up the camera to film the single "matsu" (pine tree) at the water's edge, the leg of my tripod almost landed on top of what was left of a children's doll. Only the head, covered in dried mud. A stark reminder of the lives lost and now scattered.

Finally on the eve of my departure, I met Nancy Marsden, who met Taylor in Virginia as part of a Leadership group. They continued their friendship when Nancy finally took a job teaching English in Japan. They were due to meet again in Hawaii the week after the tsunami struck Japan. Nancy wears one of Taylor's bracelets to remind her of a friend who remains with her in spirit.

I have attached a short film clip. This is unedited footage I filmed of David Chum in a park that overlooks Matsushima. Gazing below, I can guess what is on his mind.

Please visit the website and share a comment. I hope it was a good holiday weekend.

Regge

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Update #48

A RECENT ARTICLE IN JQ MAGAZINE

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Dear Backers,

Many of the Backers for LIVE YOUR DREAM are JETs and former JETs. The attached article came out last week. Enjoy!

JQ Magazine: JQ&A with Director Regge Life on ‘Live Your Dream: The Taylor Anderson Story’

By Renay Loper (Iwate-ken, 2006-07) for JQ magazine. Renay is a freelance writer and associate program officer at the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. Visit her blog at Atlas in Her Hand.

 

Live Your Dream: The Taylor Anderson Story is the latest work by filmmaker and Global Film Network founder Regge Life, who has been making groundbreaking films for over two decades including the acclaimed Doubles: Japan and America’s Intercultural Children, and most recently Reason to Hope, which chronicles the events surrounding the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Live Your Dream not only shares the story of JET alum Taylor Anderson (Miyagi-ken, 2008-11) who tragically lost her life in the 2011 tsunami, but it also seeks to celebrate the lives of those who live their dreams and inspire others to make a difference. JQ caught up with Life to discuss the film, which is being prepared for a November release.

Your relationship with Japan spans over two decades. What stirred you to first go there, and how has this relationship grown over time?

This is a question with a very long answer, so let me try to be brief and to the point as possible. Japanese film has always intrigued me, so as a young filmmaker I would watch marathons of Japanese films at a cinema on Eighth Avenue called the Elgin. After years and so many movies,
I was introduced to the Creative Artists Program of the NEA and Bunka-cho, and that is how I went the first time to witness the making of Tora-san #43.

How has it grown? Well, leaps and bounds. Four completed films, almost four years in residence in Tokyo, and a current feature project in development for almost 10 years.

What inspired you to make this film and document Taylor’s story?

Like most people, watching what was happening [during the time of the tsunami and earthquake] was mind-boggling and devastating. I have never been to Ishinomaki before, but I have been to Hachinohe, Morioka, Ichinoseki, and other parts of the region; so when I saw water rushing over rice fields like that and trucks and cars being carried—I just couldn’t believe it. It was devastating [to watch] for someone who has never been there before, but when you have been there, you [can better understand] the magnitude of what was happening. So at that time I’d just finished the film about Haiti, and from my work there, I realized there was probably going to be a story that needed to be told: something that no one would cover. 

I don’t remember where I saw the fist e-mail about Taylor’s story or how it came to be, I just remember reading about her online. I made a few calls and one thing lead to the next, and slowly but surely, I was able to get in touch with Taylor’s family. And even still, it was all about timing. As a parent, I would have completely understood if no one got back to me. Then suddenly, I got this email from Andy, Taylor’s father. Giving him credit, he did his due diligence and did some research on me and became familiar with my work. [This all happened] at a time when they were swarmed by the media, so I took my time and we worked as they were comfortable. 

Every step of the way, I checked in. Andy connected me with some of Taylor’s friends from Ishinomaki, so when I went back to Japan, I carved out some time to spend with them. One of her friends picked me up from the train station and that’s when it really hit me. At that time [the devastated area] was pretty much cleaned up—but even still, there was a lot to be done. Visiting Ishinomaki and meeting [Taylor’s] friends solidified it with me. I knew I needed to share her story.

Since this is a documentary about a JET participant, what cooperation did you receive from JET Program itself for the making of the film?

The CLAIR office in Japan was very generous to the film and made a remarkable pledge. We also received support directly from one of the people on staff! The JET alumni chapter in New York City (JETAANY) was also very generous, as well as JETs from all over the U.S. and even abroad.

What is it about Taylor’s story that is different from any other story or any other JET participant?

Not taking anything away from anyone else or any other JET participant, but everyone who speaks about her talks about what an unbelievable kind of person she was, about her passion for life, her passion for Japan. For instance, the story behind one of the photos we’ve used for the website is inspiring. Earlier that day, she and all her friends had done a huge bike ride scavenger hunt where they had rode their bikes all around Ishinomaki finding different things just for fun. It was summer, so you know it was very hot!

When it was done, everyone was tired and all they wanted to do was go back home, take a shower and chill. Taylor wouldn’t allow it. She told everyone that one of her kindergarten classes was having a summer matsuri and they all were going! So she made them all put on a yukata and go over to the school. Apparently, this is what she did. She just grabbed people and said, “come on, this is what we are doing’” and “let’s do this and let’s do that.” That passion and zest for life, that “let’s not waste a moment of this precious thing called life”—that’s just inspiring to me!

It reminds me of not only my time in Japan, but also my first time abroad when I went to West Africa. I realized the meaning of being in the “present”…that it really is a gift. It also makes me think about how much we take for granted. Think about if you find yourself somewhere where nothing is taken for granted, it makes you really look and appreciate life, every moment of it. That’s the impression I get of Taylor. That’s the kind of stuff I want to celebrate and let people know about.

Also, I am trying to build the Monty Dickson (Iwate-ken, 2009-11) story as well—it’s proven difficult because there’s nobody that can really talk about his experience in Rikuzentakata, so I am still looking. Though, the more I learn about Taylor and Monty, the more I am learning that these are two kindred spirits. Whether they knew each other or not, they both were living a dream. Taylor’s happened for her early on when she was a little girl: she just knew this is where she had to be. There was nothing that was going to stop her. For both of them, you realize something really clicked; and it was something about Japan and their life there. After all these years working with Japan, I have a deep appreciation for that, for people who can connect with the country more than the superficial level. I want to celebrate that. 

Both Taylor and Monty had this philosophical side to them—they had sayings and expressions that they shared with friends. Without giving it all away, I think these are two people who kind of knew they weren’t going to be here much longer. You will see in the film that their friends have since started to make sense of their pieces of advice and little sayings. It all now has a new resonance; it is starting to come back up. And it makes you begin to wonder, “what did they know?”

It really makes you stop and think, you can’t live life at 30 mph, you have to live at 60 mph. 

U.S.-based production starts in June, and you'll be going to Japan this month. What are your plans there?

In Japan, I am doing more interviews with friends of Taylor and some of the companion stories about the experience of other JETs during the crisis. I am also hoping to get to Rikuzentakata to meet someone who knew Monty Dickson and can speak about his life and times there.

What else do you want to include in the film?

As I just shared, Live Your Dream is principally about Taylor, but it is actually the story of all the JETs who come to Japan, so I really want to look at what the experience is for a variety of people and how that experience changes both the teacher and the students they interact with.

As we know, you were running a campaign on Kickstarter and I see that you have surpassed your fundraising goal, congratulations!  Moving forward, what can people do now to continue to support the film?

Kickstater is great, because it does just that, kick start. It is not the entire budget for the project—the goal was about 70% [of the total budget] and was what was needed just to shoot the film. It did not take into account original music, making a Japanese version, and of course all of the things that have to be done to promote and disseminate the film after it is made. The next phase is editing. So if anyone would like to be a part of contributing to the dissemination and distribution of the film, that would be great! For making the Japanese version, helping to see that this film is distributed widely in both the U.S. and Japan, contact me at www.thetaylorandersonstory.com and regge.life [at] gmail [dot] com.

You mentioned dissemination. What are your plans?

First, we are going to try and get it distributed as widely as we can, for example through organizations such as the American Association Teachers of Japanese. We would also love to see this get into the Monbusho in Japan. We would love to see this introduced into the Japanese educational system. I think this would be an invaluable tool to help kids to really think outside of the boundaries.

After 20-plus years that I have spent coming and going [in Japan], the thing that I have noticed that still plagues Japan is that it is so insular; and a lot of it [has to do with] the educational system. The educational system is not teaching kids to look outside. We feel this film can be a step in the right direction; a needed step, I feel.

How do you think this film will help kids to look outside?

I think they need a role model in a way. They need somebody from the outside who came to their country and interacted with them, and became a part of their community. I am learning more about Monty, but I know for sure that’s what Taylor did in Ishinomaki. Her mission was to really become part of the fabric of the community. And I think if Japanese kids see that, this whole thing of us and them—the Gaijin and the Nihonjin—will start to break down. To me, the power of the [JET] Program is being able to go out and explore Japan, find out what’s going; not just being the “gaijin on display.”

What about your dissemination plans here in the States?

Most of my films up until now have been in higher ed, so I have to admit this is kind of a new world for me. I am really looking to get into the secondary school world.

You have mentioned tons of takeaways from the film, but for the JET community in particular, what do you hope we walk away with?

I am not saying everyone should try to be Taylor or try to be Monty, but everybody, particularly now, needs to be more open and in some respects humbled at the opportunity of being a JET and an ambassador between two countries and two cultures. Don’t limit the assignment to merely being the gaijin on display. See it as an opportunity, a real chance to be and do more; to leave something behind when you go and encourage those who you may meet, or have met, while in Japan to follow your path in America. Maybe even one day you, would get a call from a kid you taught in a far-off place in Japan or someone you interacted with, saying they are now in America because of you, because of what you showed them.

It’s about reaffirming the mission of the JET Program and the encouraging the new generation of JETs to become the generation that builds the new relationships for “a brave new world.” We know the world is changing. The U.S.-Japan relationship is going to change, too. We can’t do what we did 10, 15 years ago. Times have changed. There is something new going on. The JETs of today and tomorrow have to be part of that newness and part of that change.

To me, the story of Live Your Dreams is not so much what happened to Taylor, but more about the good works. Yes, her story is in it and she is not here with us in the physical sense anymore, but Taylor’s mission is still very much alive.

Live Your Dream premieres Nov. 9, 2012 at Saint Catherine’s School (Taylor’s High School) and CenterStage in Richmond, VA. For news and additional screenings, visit the film’s homepage at www.thetaylorandersonstory.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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