Arts and Entertainment

Humble hero, American Patriot: Documentary by local filmmakers to show in festival

Roy Matsumoto receiving the Legion of Merit for his heroic actions as a member of the World War II combat unit known as “Merrill’s Marauders.”  - U.S. Army photo
Roy Matsumoto receiving the Legion of Merit for his heroic actions as a member of the World War II combat unit known as “Merrill’s Marauders.”
— image credit: U.S. Army photo

Documentaries are very trendy right now.

Entire sections of Netflix and Hulu are dedicated solely to the availability of documentary films, and so-called “reality” based television shows that claim to offer real looks inside unique subcultures are dominating air time. Every film buff with iMovie is working on some sort of personal project. Everywhere you look, everybody has a camera and life is rarely unrecorded. We are all making our lives into our own documentaries as we live them.

Documentaries as a genre have given us some amazing works of cinema, there is no doubt. They have also given an affordable outlet to every quasi-talented, frustrated filmmaker hoping to make a name for themselves on the cheap. Let’s face it, most documentaries don’t use actors, full scripts or much post-production work. They’re 90 percent subject and 10 percent technique, right?

Nope.

Not if you do it right.

Husband and wife filmmaking team Don Sellers and Lucy Ostrander, of Stourwater Pictures, are reminding audiences what great documentaries are capable of, one screening at a time, with their short film “Honor & Sacrifice: The Roy Matsumoto Story.” The awards and acclaim are already stacking up.

“It’s an incredible story,” said producer Lucy Ostrander. “It’s the story of a Japanese family divided by World War II.”

The success of the film is even more noteworthy given its historical subject matter, something which according to Don Sellers, who acted as the film’s director of photography, writer and editor, is not in keeping with current cinematic trends.

“Our films stand on the tradition of documentary filmmaking,” Sellers said.

“The film environment is so competitive these days because so many people are making documentaries. Most of the documentaries we make are historical, unlike most of the documentaries made today which focus on contemporary issues. It’s not what’s most acceptable these days.

“We’re out of the trend, and quite frankly it’s frustrating,” he said. “We love historical documentaries. There’s so much to be learned from history.”

In “Honor & Sacrifice,” viewers learn the life story of Roy Matsumoto and his family through the perspective of his daughter, Bainbridge resident Karen Matsumoto. His trials and triumphs as a young immigrant, exiled alien and eventual war hero are concisely and effectively chronicled through well-paced narration, interviews and the showing of dozens of historic photographs (many being shown for the first time ever in the movie).

The film was recently selected as the winner of the “best short documentary” category at the 2013 Port Townsend Film Festival.

It has also been named an “official selection” of the 2013 Friday Harbor Film Festival, the 2013 Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and the 2013 Heartland Film Festival, among others. It also won the “audience choice award” at the 2013 Gig Harbor Film Festival.

Matsumoto himself describes in the film his various acts of heroism as an interpreter and soldier as part of the famed World War II combat unit “Merrill’s Marauders” in a frank and factual manner, not once glorifying or lamenting the things he had to see or do for his country.

Sellers admitted that it was challenging at first to get Matsumoto to discuss some of his experiences.

“It was difficult,” he said. “We were trying to get more information out of him. A lot of people who went through World War II, they didn’t talk about it a lot. There are a lot of guys who served, who just didn’t discuss it. We were able to get what we were able to get, and that’s part of the process of documentary filmmaking. I think he feels proud of his service. He doesn’t blow his own horn as a hero or anything.”

Matsumoto has attended several screenings of the completed film and has received numerous standing ovations, according to Ostrander.

The film also sheds much-needed light on the contributions of the Japanese-American community and their men who fought for the U.S., many of them having been raised and educated in Japan. Some, like Matsumoto, even had family members serving in the Japanese army.

The importance of the contradiction was not lost on the filmmakers.

“We go for two things: compelling stories and factual accuracy,” Sellers said. “That’s what we try to do, find those truths and present them in a compelling way. We have backgrounds in traditional journalistic documentary filmmaking so, for us, facts and accuracy are extremely important.”

The film is currently showing on the festival circuit and its makers are seeking wider distribution.

“You don’t finish a film and then let the world beat a path to your door,” Sellers said. “Once you finish, you start doing as much marketing as you can. We’re still looking for funding because we are in the process of distributing the film and getting it out there.”

According to the filmmakers, young documentarians who pursue work in the genre often do so with no historical context in mind.

“I think that they [young filmmakers] do gravitate to it [documentary work] because it is easier,” Sellers said. “A lot of people watch a documentary and think, ‘I could do that.’ The equipment is much more accessible now. Things have gotten enormously more accessible and much cheaper, but that doesn’t mean that you know how to make a good film. Most people who have access to the equipment now don’t have the background.”

“Honor & Sacrifice” will play as part of the 15th annual Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival at 2:40 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3 at the historic Lynwood Theatre.

Festival highlights include the opening night celebration and reception at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1 at The Marketplace at Pleasant Beach. Guests can meet filmmakers, including Mark Kitchell director of the Sundance Film Festival hit, “A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet.” Following the reception there will be a special screening of the film at the Lynwood Theater.

The festival will continue throughout the weekend with more than 20 free screenings on Saturday and Sunday between Bainbridge Cinemas at the Pavilion and the Lynwood Theater.

For more information, ticket sales and a complete film schedule, visit bainbridgeartshumanities.org/our-programs/celluloid.

For more information about “Honor & Sacrifice” and Stourwater Pictures, visit www.honordoc.com.

 

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