By Michael Lara
Photos by Michael Lara
"4...3...2...1...Earth below us...Drifting, falling...Floating weightless...Calling, calling home..." No, Peter Schilling was neither in attendance at the 4th Annual UNHCR Refugee Film Festival Tokyo nor in my chat with Danish writer Jan Krogsgaard, but definitely was there in spirit, omnipresent through it all. In the year that gave us this German and English international hit as well as influential films such as Blade Runner, Denmarks’s Jan Krogsgaard and Anders Ostergaard coalesced their passions for the plight of those unimaginably suffering the secret brutality of the military regime in Burma in their labor of love and strength that comes out screaming in Burma VJ-Reporting From A Closed Country (2009).
Winners of numerous accolades, this intense collaboration of hard journalists shows what both sides of humanity are capable of and willing to implement. In being entirely shot via hand-held cameras, the immediacy of all captured and the sheer courage of the various video journalists spread throughout, ensures the world knows what is happening, where, when and to whom in following the 2007 uprisings.
2 years later its occurrence and 3 days after its Tokyo screening, writer Jan Krogsgaard reflects upon what is to be appreciated and on the world we cohabit as we relax in a outdoor café outside his hotel:
THIRSTY: Now, nobody does cute better than the Japanese.
Jan: Yeah, well, probably not (grinning).
THIRSTY: What’s going to happen is that from this Tokyo Disneyland Honey Cookie Winnie-The-Pooh tin, you’re going to pull out an item. And each item you pull out, the question comes from that.
Jan: Okay, all right. So I have to get down somewhere.
THIRSTY: Yes, indeed.
Jan: I could take the top one, but that would be too obvious.
Jan: (Digging around) Oh, I want that if I can...
Jan: (Disappointedly) It’s an empty can?
THIRSTY: Yeah, but it doesn’t look empty you know.
Jan: Yeah, okay...
THIRSTY: Actually this was the first drink I bought in Japan when I landed here in Japan, C.C. Lemon
THIRSTY: Two questions come from this… 1) As a filmmaker, what has been the biggest façade?
Jan: Please explain façade for me.
THIRSTY: Well, in other words, what has been the biggest illusion?
Jan: Ha! The biggest illusion...(Eyebrows up, eyes alive)
THIRSTY: Yes, it seems real, but it’s not.
Jan: From my own perspective?
Jan: My own life...I don’t see it yet actually. I don’t see it yet. The biggest illusion...Hmmm...I don’t think there’s...Okay, the illusion in general, is uh...No, I have just followed what I have wanted to do. And well, illusion-wise, it’s um, maybe sometimes you believe that you can reach more people than you actually can.
THIRSTY: I see. Now this is a can of course and if you could put something, anything into this can...Obviously this could be a movie term too, "Put it in the can" right? But, given the choice, what would you have canned?
Jan: I would put uh some very light mental opium into it. (Grinning) I think I would put that into it, but everybody would have to drink it then right? (Laughing)
THIRSTY: Yeah, everyone would have to deal with the consequences...(Eyebrows up with a smile)
Jan: Yeah, I would say I’d put something like that into it, something that could… What could it do? (Pondering) I would put my experience of living in an island for a very long time into it...Where I received no information from outside and after some months, I realized that other parts of my brain were waking me up. It was like uh, um, when you work with manual work and you haven’t done so in a long time. Then after a couple of months you realize, "What is this?" And you didn’t remember that you had this muscle. That kind of experience I would put in the can, getting the possibility that people could realize that without being under pressure from information from outside all the time, that there are actually other ways to think. I would put that kind of experience in this can.
THIRSTY: That’d be a good drink. Go ahead and pick the next one...
THIRSTY: Open it up!
Jan: It’s a map!
THIRSTY: Ah no, but you’re too late. It’s schedule for this all Brazilian film festival that ended last night!
Jan: Okay, that’s a shame, isn’t it?
THIRSTY: It is, but you still can look it up online. It opens your mind you know. Now, if you could jumpstart a new festival, what would it incorporate? Would it be geographically specific like this one or by genre or what?
Jan: It’s always like to me, it would be like, something that talks about that there are other ways to look at the world. But I think it’s very difficult to do so as a filmmaker to do this. It’s creating expressions...Where will you get these things from and who’s doing these kinds of films? It’s like, uh, people will get bored. Definitely get bored. It would never get a big audience. It could never.
THIRSTY: I like the title, "The Other Ways Festival."
Jan: Yeah the "The Other Ways Festival" maybe. Again, it’d be something against speed. It would be something against the speed we are living under. The pressure of speed and that’s a paradox because working with media and stuff like that is very much about speed. Right?
THIRSTY: Oh yeah and increasingly so. It’s easy to get sucked into it and then when you do slow down you then have some enlightening moment and say to yourself, "Wow, that was really a very enjoyable sauna."
Jan: Ha-ha! Yes. So it could be "The Slow Op Festival." (Grinning)
THIRSTY: "The Slow Op Festival." And would you have the mental opium?
THIRSTY: Would that be one of the booths, absinthe also available? Any mind-opening hallucinogens...
Jan: Yeah absinthe, something like that.
THIRSTY: Hammocks included?
Jan: Hammocks would definitely be included! There would not be much productivity in this right?
THIRSTY: Could it be an outdoor film festival then?
Jan: Would it be an outdoor festival? Yeah-yeah-yeah.
THIRSTY: It might be better to be away in the woods somewhere or seaside I don’t know.
Jan: Oh yeah, it could be in a canyon or on the beach. It’s pretty banal actually isn’t it? But to me it’s always getting back to some kind of grounding because this Danish writer said if you look very close at society, it’s just like it’s there hovering 15 centimeters over the ground. And it’s like you try to get your hand in between society and the ground. And we are not very grounded when it comes to it. And uh, I find it very stressful.
THIRSTY: What do you think is the elixir or miracle drug to get and keep the grounding? Or is it just an ongoing battle?
Jan: I think it’s very ongoing. And well, it’s a luxury for me to have the possibility to go to an island okay and I’m out 4 months. I cut off everything...It’s pure luxury. Everybody’s on their stress and they will come into Burma because somebody is always stressing you to do something all the time. And you have the recession now and why do we have the recession? Because of a handful of people who are extremely greedy right and tricks people into some kind of deep that they cannot get out of. And, uh, that’s another kind of example, like with Burma, where it’s just very, very clear what they are doing: The gun pointing at you and you have to do what they tell you. And that’s somehow what is happening in our world too. It’s just a bit more sophisticated. So that’s what I’m an opponent of this pressure you have to do this, you must do this and suddenly you’re trapped and people cannot get out of that. It creates more stress and um, it’s just a bad spiral. It is a bad spiral.
THIRSTY: Indeed. It’s the toilet bowl.
Jan: Yeah. (Laughing)
THIRSTY: Down you go! (Shared dark humor grins) 2000 flushes and then some...(Shared laughter)
Jan: And I can feel it that I am getting into it sometimes. Whoa! I’m getting sucked into it. Then suddenly there are too many emails and stuff like that. And you have to respond and respond and respond.
THIRSTY: Have you felt that here in your short time in Japan?
Jan: Yeah. You can feel it immediately when you step into this society. You can feel it and you can see it: People sleeping in the streets, falling apart while sitting there...And that’s the illusion maybe that we come back to the illusion that you believe that we can maybe change people’s minds in this kind of state of human beings in the Western world and you probably can’t. You can only take care of yourself and the people around you.
THIRSTY: For sure. I mean, I’ve been to New York City countless times since 1994 and you know, after moving here in 2000, the pace of living in Tokyo is just exponential compared to New York. Back when I did move here, I went to NYC in October 2000 and I was at this relatively old Irish bar in the Tribeca neighborhood and I simply said to the bartender, "New York’s so quiet next to Tokyo." And next thing I know, I’m in a world of pain with all patrons there, including him, pissed off and had to buy everyone drinks to calm them down as they were all ready to jump me. While their tempers flared, I just had to repeatedly say to them, "Just relax man. Chill." So I bought a round for everybody.
THIRSTY: In some ways, why do you think there is such a duality within people? I mean in one way they’re insensitive and at the same time too sensitive?
Jan: At the same time?
Jan: Insensitive and too sensitive at the same time?
Jan: We’re not stable with stable things are we? (Laughing) We’re definitely not stable things. And we must shut down sometimes. We must shutdown. Or if we are receiving and receiving and receiving then we are blown away. We are...Um but I think personally I would prefer to stay sensitive then take the heat al right.
THIRSTY: Because you have the mental opium too, you know.
Jan: Yeah, you can find it inside yourself, you can find that mental opium and then say, "Okay, okay…we’re a little bit down, but we’re still okay." Ah, so that’s possible, but again that’s back to the pressure. But if you just shutdown then maybe you shutdown something in yourself that should not be shut down. And finally then, we get more hard right?
Jan: And who actually wants to die hard-hearted? I’m not sure it’s very funny in the end.
THIRSTY: Not if you’re lying on your back and thinking, "This is it."
Jan: I don’t feel anything anymore.
THIRSTY: It’s not a feel good movie.
Jan: No-no-no-no-no. I think it’s essential. I prefer to make the most around me.
Doing just that in showing no need to countdown, only to slow down, Krogsgaard and Ostergaard are Major Tom’s for our decade just closed. Look no further to come out screaming in coming home: