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Digging to Argentina

Beth Balaban with our wonderful translator Marion and Hidekazu, Saichi's son.  We're all proud of our plate collection!

A few things I’ve enjoyed learning on this trip – outside of our filming: 1. Argentina is where Japanese kids dig to in the sandbox. Yuki (our pet for the past two weeks) is anxious to get to South America, too. 2. In Japan – where being the eldest is such a point of honor – the ranking in twin births is interesting. The first baby born is considered the youngest. The baby born second is the oldest. While filming SON OF SAICHI, we met Saichi’s great-grandaughters – twins Miu and Reika. Their mom tells us that even though Reika was born a few minutes after Miu, she is considered the eldest. 3. Sushi-go-rounds are about as much fun as you can have at a restaurant. An eating frenzy akin to tossing chum to sharks. And cheap. Every plate is 100 yen (108 with tax) – that’s one dollar. Not… LEARN MORE


Giant Hornet Juice

Giant Hornet Larvae Juice.  Couple swigs for power.

Just when I thought there was nothing left to say about the terrifying Japanese Giant Hornet, Hidekazu pulls out his Giant Hornet Juice. “Just one drop, and I feel like stinging someone,” he says. “It’s power.” It turns out being deadly isn’t the giant hornet’s only gift. Its strength, speed, and endurance are to be envied: The giant hornet can lift as much as six pounds, fly up to 25mph, and travel 60 miles in one day. Want that kind of power yourself? Find some inspiration from the worm-in-tequila trick, and just add the 3 inch monster – or its larvae – to your favorite hard alcohol (here, that’s shōchū). It’s giant hornet season right now, and I definitely like them much better drowning in booze than buzzing around above our heads. For more on our filming adventures for SON OF SAICHI, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Crew Survival Stories

It was no fun when the rain started.  So why not just bring the game inside?

Enough about the radiation. The crew has survived:

1. Teens firing a pellet gun in the house.

2. An attempted boob grab. Pulsing fingers and all.
Learn More…


The 49th Day

Hidekazu with the "ihais" - spirit tablets - of his brother and father. Written on the tablets are there holy names.  These tablets are kept at the family altar inside the home.

“This is a very important day for sending his spirit on… for sending him on to the next world,” says Tsugiko Ouchi as she prepares what she will wear to today’s memorial service. Her husband, Hiroshima survivor Saichi, died forty-nine days ago, and in the Buddhist tradition, this is the day his spirit will transition to its new life.

Like everything in life now – the post-evacuation life – events big and small become reminders of what has been lost. After spending 20 minutes rifling through everything in her bedroom drawers and carefully separating her dry cleaning, Tsugiko realizes she’s missing her best black kimono – the very thing she wants to wear to today’s service. The kimono, her son tells her, is back home in Yamakiya hanging in a close that seems frozen in time since they were forced to leave after the nuclear disaster. Learn More…


#RunFukushima

Waiting at the top of the stairs...

Kawamata Town in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

It’s so much fun running in new places! I like getting up and out early and discovering how this new-to-me community wakes up and says Good Morning! to the world. It’s especially great here in Kawamata where four breathtaking mountain ranges hug the valley. Even before 5am, elderly men and women are walking their dogs and tending their gardens along the Hirose and Isazawa Rivers.

Around every bend, I find an invitation Learn More…


Beware of the Giant Hornet

A worker carries radioactive-contaminated branches from the forest in Yamakiya, one of the forced evacuation sites.

Yamakiya, Japan – Forced Evacuation Zone

[This] risky, back-breaking, mind-numbingly slow work… involves being tethered to a tree while worrying about whether the Japanese giant hornet will strike. And there’s good reason to fear…Learn More…


Anti-Nuke Undies

It costs $875 to add 7.5lbs of lead to your booty.

Iizaka Village in Kawamata Town in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

Current top ranking for most ridiculous conversation goes to:
Me: “We need anti-radioactive underwear.”
Balaban: “Do they sell that at the hardware store?”

Learn More…


Ring of Fire

Our earthquakes are the orange and yellow ones.

10th Floor, Toyoko Inn, Fukushima City

There are lots of fun reasons for a bed to be rattling in the middle of the night. But an earthquake isn’t one of them. The first quake hits at 3:20am. It’s a 5.7 magnitude off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture, and feels like a ride on a coin-operated horse at the grocery store. Within ten seconds it’s over.

The second quake two hours later is slightly weaker – 5.6 magnitude – but closer. About twenty miles away right off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture. Fear strikes in a waiting-for-the-ceiling-to-crash-down kind of way. I stand paralyzed in the middle of my tiny hotel room with one overarching thought, “I do not want to die in the Japanese equivalent of a Holiday Inn.” Learn More…


The Smell of Cabotage in the Morning

The offending itinerary.

Logan Airport, 4:30am “You may be alright,” Chris, the Air Canada ticket agent tells us. “But it’s risky. That’s flying too close to the sun for me.” And so begins Friday the 13th, and our trip to Japan to film SON OF SAICHI. We’ve been accused – more accurately our travel agent has been accused – of cabotage. It’s illegal. And it means we’re grounded. Google cabotage and you’ll find a Wikipedia entry that highlights our exact situation: Cabotage situations can occur as a consequence of hub-and-spoke operations. Consider that Air Canada has a major hub at Toronto that offers flights to several U.S. cities. While a passenger is able to buy a ticket from Boston to Toronto, and a separate ticket from Toronto to Seattle [in our case Minneapolis] that same day, both flights cannot be offered on the same itinerary because this would effectively be a U.S. domestic… LEARN MORE


Freedom Is Like Oxygen: A Story to Honor International Women’s Day

Today – International Women’s Day – Principle Pictures honors Margaret Marsahll, a woman we met this year who inspires us greatly. Growing up in the small coal-and-steel town of Newcastle, South Africa, Margaret Marshall doesn’t remember having any dreams for her future. “It sounds strange, but I just didn’t,” she says. The truth was the women in her life were not the kind of role models who inspired her to dream. “So few white South African women had careers,” Marshall remembers, that she could not envision herself ever having one either. She was 4-years-old when apartheid became the rule of law in her country, and she remembers her father, an industrial chemist, and her mother, a homemaker, staying clear of politics, and accepting the status quo. “In South Africa I knew something was wrong, I didn’t like how black people were treated, but I didn’t have the context in which… LEARN MORE


National Journal Profiles DC Capitol Screening

nj

National Journal is regarded as the most credible and influential publication in Washington, providing more than 3 million influentials in public policy and business with the insights they need to make government work.

An Iraqi Schindler’s List
By Christopher Snow Hopkins

What has happened to the tens of thousands of Iraqis who assisted U.S. military forces during the Iraq War? Some have been ostracized, some have been harassed, and some have been beheaded. In The List, documentarian Beth Murphy traverses the Middle East in search of displaced Iraqis who have applied for a special visa to enter the U.S. and have either been ignored or rebuffed. As the State Department
… LEARN MORE


Capitol Hill film screening to highlight 18,000 Iraqi allies in danger

gp

This report by Rebecca Lee Sanchez first appeared on Global Post on November 20th, 2013 as part of the GroundTruth blog.

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings aims to remind the US that more than two-thirds of Iraqis who aided in US military operations related to the Iraq War have not been resettled as promised.

WASHINGTON — A 2008 program to provide 25,000 Special Immigrant Visas to Iraqis who “played critical roles in assisting American forces” since the 2003 invasion of Iraq is nearing its expiration, set for the end of December. Of 25,000 visas alotted, only 7,000 have been awarded.

Those Iraqi citizens, and their loved ones, who have been left behind live in danger of kidnapping, torture and murder by extremist groups that call them “traitors.” As of August 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office, approximately 70,000 Iraqis had worked as translators, engineers, civil society experts and advisors for … LEARN MORE


Girls’ Schools In Afghanistan Wonder “What Tomorrow Brings”

7th Graders celebrate after doing well on a final exam.

Director Beth Murphy is in Afghanistan filming the documentary “What Tomorrow Brings,” and as part of a year-long reporting project to document the drawdown of US troops. This ‘Special Report’ was first published by GlobalPost, NBC and Huffington Post, and is funded in part by The Ford Foundation.

KABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan — On the outskirts of Kabul, the mountainous land is rocky and dry, haunted by decades of war. Although the people here are fortunate to have avoided the violence that has pervaded other parts of the country during this fighting season—a time that stretches across the spring, summer and early fall—it is still a tense time in … LEARN MORE


A Daughter’s Poem

Shakira shares her poem "Mother" with her class.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Being held by her mother when she was sick is what inspired Shakira, a 9th grader at the Zabuli School in Afghanistan, to write her first poem. Shakira was lying down and shaking with fever when her mother knelt down on the floor beside her, and delicately embraced her.

“It was a feeling I had never known, and I didn’t want it to end,” she says. “This was the first time I ever felt physical comfort like this from my mother.”

When her fever subsided, she was anxious to … LEARN MORE


Good To Be Back, Kabul. I Missed You.

Kabul Arrival

On our first day back filming WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS, some sure signs I’m not in Massachusetts anymore:

1. This morning’s rush hour experience: watching a truck plow into a motorbike and speed away (as fast as is possible in the chaotic, unrelenting stop-and-go traffic that defines Kabul). A traffic cop gave chase – first on foot and then by jumping into the back of a passing SUV – waving his traffic paddle all the while. No one seemed too concerned about the motorcyclist limping to the side of the road.

2. Having a perfectly normal conversation about … LEARN MORE


Dad’s Litmus Test

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My 12-hour layover in London is coming to an end, and I’m about to board for Istanbul with a final leg on to Kabul. Here, I’d like to share “Dad’s Litmus Test” that was first published by Huffington Post earlier this month.

Before my father passed away, he asked me the same question before each of my trips to Afghanistan. “Afghanistan,” he’d repeat back to me, mulling it over like any father might and then after a pause he’d say, “Do you really think that’s necessary?”

My answer was always yes, along with a quick synopsis of the film I was working on and the footage I hoped to bring home. It was never a question of how necessary the trip was to me, but rather the simpler matter of following each story where it … LEARN MORE


Indiewire Announces Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund Recipients

indiewire

The Tribeca Film Institute and Gucci announced today the nine recipients of their Documentary Fund. Now in its sixth year, the Fund provides production and finishing finances to documentary filmmakers from around the world with feature-length films that tackle critical social issues. Nine films have been selected out of the 500 submissions from 60 countries, receiving a total of $150,000 in funds. The films this year come from a group of filmmakers that reflect an expansive range of experience. Established directors such as Marshall Curry (“Run and Gun”) and DA Pennebaker & Chris Hagedus (“Unlocking The Cage”) are a few of this year’s recipients. Others include the emerging talents of Jeremy Williams (“On a Knife Edge”), Johan Grimonprez (“The Shadow World”), James Spione (“Silenced”), and Ryan White & Ben Cotner (“Perry v. Schwarzenegger”). The range of subject matter presented in these projects is just as varied, covering issues such as… LEARN MORE


Reflections from Sahera

Sahera Nazia sends her sympathy to Boston.

I first met Sahera in 2006 while filming BEYOND BELIEF, and it was comforting to be with her again just hours after learning about the Boston attack. This image of her is not part of the original photo series “To Boston. From Kabul. With Love.” because I wanted to share in a more substantive way her moving reflections about the tragedy and the experience of being able to send a message of sympathy to America. This is what she said: We are all creatures of God. It is my feeling as a human being. My feeling for humanity. Because we also suffer a lot in Afghanistan. We see these things happening all the time. And this was my personal feeling – I became very sad when I heard the news on the TV. Also, my kids – my whole family became very sad. These people just went to see the… LEARN MORE


The Story Behind the Pictures

BostonKabulLove1

This is the story behind my photo series – To Boston. From Kabul. With Love. When I left Boston for Afghanistan nearly 6 weeks ago, it was with some trepidation – the first I’ve felt after several filming trips here. Why now? Perhaps because the Afghanistan I’m visiting this Spring is not the same as the country I traveled to in 2001/2002, 2006 and 2009. It has experienced a decade of war, and I’ve seen firsthand how the outlook has changed among so many — from one of cautious hope for a better future to one of grim acceptance that this last painful, protracted period of violence and political upheaval may still not yield freedom from oppression in this country. Just last week I woke up to frantic emails and texts from home after the worst insurgent attack in the country in over a decade. “Yes, I’m fine. Safe.” I… LEARN MORE


To Boston. From Kabul. With Love.

BostonKabulLove1

A photo series. Click Here to read the story behind the pictures. Click Here to read Reflections from Sahera.


God’s House

Beth Delivering Food Small

Friday has become a sacred day for me here in Afghanistan. Not because it’s the Muslim holy day and we take part in any religious service, but because we’ve been able to help Razia Jan as she devotes her day to serving others. Again this morning, Razia and I made 40 halwa sandwiches (cream of wheat cereal mixed with cardamom, raisins, sugar and butter nestled in yeast-free paraki flatbread) that we delivered to people on the streets of Kabul. The halwa hot wraps went from our hands into those of many walks of life: women sitting nearly motionless in the road, cradling their babies; young boys busy collecting scrap from garbage heaps – hoping to trade it in for some money; and police officers working long hours at the checkpoint closest to our house (because as Kevin points out, there’s a little politics in everything, right?). I spent my entire… LEARN MORE


HuffPost: The President Said What?!

This is a piece I contributed to today’s Huffington Post. KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – For many years, I kept this Madeline Albright quote tucked beneath the glass cover on my desk: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I’ve always believed that to be female, by definition, is to be feminist; and I don’t subscribe to any movement to redefine feminism to include a fight for all social justice issues (human rights activism has that covered), any more than I’d want to redefine gay rights to include a fight for equal pay for women. Feminism, at its core, is advocating for women’s social, political, economic and educational equality. Despite — or perhaps because of — the affinity and responsibility I feel to women both locally and globally, I’m appalled by the minutiae that is consuming our public discourse in the U.S. about what is… LEARN MORE


The Taliban & The Ice Cream Enemy

THE topic of conversation here is Tuesday’s big Taliban attack. Nine bad guys driving Afghan Army vehicles and disguised as Afghan soldiers attacked a government compound to free 10 of their friends, all prisoners who were being transferred to a courthouse to stand trial on a range or charges, including planting roadside bombs. They were all wearing suicide bomb vests – but only two of them put the vests to use. Death toll right now is up to 53, and there’s conflicting information about whether the 10 prisoners are on the loose (in news here the Taliban says they’re free; government says they’re dead). It’s one of the worst insurgent attacks in 10 years, and the Afghans we’re working with are visibly shaken by what such a large-scale attack says about the strength of the Taliban movement. “This is exactly how it started last time,” our translator told us, referring… LEARN MORE


Progress

President Karzai addresses an audience at Georgetown University's historic Gaston Hall during a trip to Washington.

“Progress” is one in a series of poems I’ve written based on speeches. All of the words here are extracted from a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai at Georgetown University on January 11, 2013. Progress Forget less pleasant aspects Of our relationship A great cause: Freeing Afghanistan It went all right With the U.S. taxpayer’s money (Laughter) (Laughter) (Laughter) (Laughter) It did contribute massively To mobile phones We had walkie-talkies: Orange Progress. In Afghanistan there is a life Donkey carts, music, honking A return of the Taliban. The War on Terror Has been costly. We have lost. You’ve heard of grapes? (Laughter)