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Friday, April 22, 2011

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Cold fusion: "Arekusei to Izumi (Alexei and the Spring)" introduces Alexei as one of the few young people to remain in his village after the Chernobyl disaster. SEIICHI MOTOHASHI

Nuclear film festival marks 25 years since Chernobyl disaster


Special to The Japan Times

Nuclear film festival marks 25 years since Chernobyl disasterThe explosion of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26, 1986, sent a plume of toxic radiation over much of Western Russia and Europe, but the towns and villages in the then-Soviet state of Belarus were the worst hit, including one, Budische, 180 km from the plant. When Japanese documentary filmmaker Seiichi Motohashi first visited Budische in 1991, he found the village still heavily depopulated by the forced evacuation five years earlier, with the remaining villagers living much like their 19th-century predecessors.

He also discovered a resilience in the people and a haunted beauty in the nearly deserted but still fruitful land that inspired him to return to Belarus nearly 30 times over the next decade and make two documentaries — 1997's "Naja no Mura (Nadya's Village)" and 2002's "Arekusei to Izumi (Alexei and the Spring)." Both received honors and plaudits abroad, including a best-documentary prize for "Nadya's Village" at the 1998 Hawaii International Film Festival.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, Motohashi's films, together with 15 others on nuclear themes, will screen at Theater Pole-Pole Higashi-Nakano in Nakano Ward, Tokyo, from April 23 to May 6, accompanied by talk events and, from April 19 to May 1, an exhibition of Chernobyl-themed paintings by Hiroshi Kaihara.

"I wanted to make 'Nadya's Village' to give energy to the audience," says Motohashi at his office in Higashi-Nakano. "I wanted to show how people who had experienced this terrible disaster had come back. At the time, I didn't really think it had something to do with me personally. Now I know that that sort of accident can happen anywhere, especially in this country. ... There's no way to make a nuclear plant totally safe. It's a kind of human arrogance to think otherwise — nature is always more powerful. Human beings ought to be more humble in their dealings with it."

Disasters such as Chernobyl and the current one at the Fukushima No. 1 plant are making humanity confront a choice, Motohashi believes. "How are we going to live? The way we've been using electrical power is no longer sustainable. We have to get used to living with less, little by little. If we could cut our use of energy by even 10 percent, we could acquire it much more safely."

While concerned about the status of the Fukushima reactors, Motohashi is more worried by potential future temblors. "If a big quake hits Shizuoka, as is being predicted, it could affect the nuclear plant in Hamaoka — and that would put Tokyo in danger," he comments. "The Hamaoka plant is about the same distance from Tokyo as Chernobyl was to Budische."

While Motohashi has no plans to make a documentary on Fukushima, he has produced "Hori no Shima (Holy Island)," a new documentary by Aya Hanabusa about a decades-long campaign by the inhabitants of Iwaishima, a small island in the Inland Sea, to prevent the construction of a nuclear power plant on a nearby shore. It will also screen at Pole-Pole from April 23 to May 3, as well as at other venues around the country.

"I can never forget what an old man in Budische told me when I was making 'Nadya's Village,' " says Motohashi. " 'Why are they telling us to go somewhere? It was human beings who defiled this land.' In other words, this disaster is our responsibility. ... If we can reduce our energy use by even a little, we can help ensure that this country will still be fit for our children to live in. And that's true everywhere, not just Japan."

For more information about the screenings (in Japanese), visit www.mmjp.or.jp/pole2.



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