Filmmaker Lucy Walker (pictured) told attendees at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Doc Conference how her plans to make “a visual haiku about cherry blossom” in Japan changed radically following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that tore through the country.
The Oscar-nominated director, whose past films include Waste Land and Countdown to Zero, spoke yesterday following the world premiere of her 40-minute doc short The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, which looks at the experiences of survivors of the March 11 disaster and how the cherry blossom season has brought encouragement to the hardest hit areas.
Walker said she had originally planned to make a short doc about the flower, which blossoms quickly and lasts for only a short time.
“I’ve always been obsessed with cherry blossom and have tried to photograph it,” she told TIFF delegates. “For me it has always been very beautiful, but it also talks to the ephemeral quality of life.”
With the disaster striking Japan however, she was quickly forced to reconsider her film. “My first thought was, ‘Gosh, I can’t do this now.’ But then my second thought was that actually, now is a more important time than ever to show our solidarity with the Japanese people.”
The director and her team received backing for the film from Supply & Demand Integrated, with funding from the company’s managing partner Tim Case and MD Kira Carstensen.
Walker said she was not sure what to expect arriving in Japan for the quick turnaround shoot. “People were very open and keen to open up emotionally,” she said.
She added that she did not want to impose the metaphor of cherry blossom and the fragility of life on her interviewees, but said that as it was the season for the flower while she was filming, the film’s subjects picked up on it as an obvious metaphor anyway.
The film does not yet have a distributor and Walker told the TIFF crowd she was looking for someone to buy it, adding that she would like to be able to launch it to tie in with the first anniversary of the disaster on March 11, 2012.
She also pointed out that March next year marks the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of some 3,000 cherry blossom trees to Washington DC, made in 1912 as an act of friendship towards the United States.
Check out the trailer for Walker’s short here.