Monday, June 14, 2010

A Brave Theater Owner and a Guest Blog

By Ric O’Barry
Campaign Director
Save Japan Dolphins

Earth Island Institute

Osaka, June 12: This blog focuses on the very brave decision of Mr. Atsushi Matsumura, owner of the Dai Nana Geijutsu Gekijo theatre in Osaka, who canceled his scheduled screening of The Cove in the wake of harsh intimidation by radical right wing groups, but reversed his position and decided to screen The Cove in his theatre on July 3rd. Mr. Matsumura had formerly joined two other theatre owners in Tokyo who scrubbed the controversial, Academy-Award-winning documentary, but explained his reversal to a press conference held at his theatre.

We were in the theatre, and the owner, Mr. Matsumura, and I were sitting at a table on the stage with microphones in front of us with about 30 journalists in the audience from major dailies and TV outlets. They asked Matsumura-san if he was afraid to screen the film. He said, yes, I'm afraid, but “I have to do this! This (intimidation) is treading on my freedom of expression, and it could possibly take many theatre owners out of business if these militants dictate what we can say and what we can do.” He added, “Yeah, I'm afraid, but I have to do this, and we're going to do this July 3rd."

A Day With the Nagoya Dolphins By Mark McBennett
Guest Blogger, Founder of Japan Zone

Today was, for me personally, a good day. The occasion was Ric's visit this morning to Nagoya International School (NIS), where my daughter is a second-grader. To have Ric actually visit the school in person was, as you can imagine, a great thrill and a wonderful learning opportunity for the students. We also had a good number of administrators, teachers and even one or two parents present for what was to be an enjoyable but thought-provoking discussion with Ric about the dolphin Campaign.

Ric O’Barry at Nagoya International School.
Photo by Chiho McBennett.

I've only known Ric for a matter of months, but, like anyone who knows him or indeed knows about his decades of activism, I have the utmost respect for him and have spent the last few months working to support that activism. So when he asked me to post something as a guest blogger today, I was more than happy to oblige.

So how did Ric end up at NIS today anyway? The connection goes back to the beginning of this year when I was sent a copy of The Cove on DVD for review on Japan Zone. That led to my doing a couple of interviews via Skype, with director Louie Psihoyos and Ric himself. Later we talked about what could be done to help get the message of The Cove out to the Japanese people, and what could be done that would lead to ending the slaughter in Taiji. There were, and still are, no easy answers.

But it was clear that one important step is to reach out to those people who are interested in knowing more and are maybe looking for a way to get involved. For the most part, that means people who have seen the movie and have discussed the issues in an informed way. So I approached NIS to see if the school would be interested in seeing a copy of the movie, only to find that some students had already completed a unit called "Talk to the Animals" which had included watching it. We looked at building on that, maybe doing a Q&A session with Ric or Louie on Skype, but when I learned that Ric was going to visit Japan in June, an actual visit to the school seemed a much better idea. And as the school's mascot is none other than the dolphin, well, it all seemed like it was just meant to be.

We managed to keep a couple of days open in Ric's hectic schedule. We got him into a quiet, out-of-the-way hotel in Nagoya away from nationalists and reporters where he could get a few hours to himself and decompress. Then this morning we took him and the Save Japan Dolphins Team along to NIS. The school library was set up nicely for the event, and there was an eighth-grader manning the computer for a screening of a short video that served as an introduction.
Seventh/eighth-grade teacher Todd McKeown then gave an eloquent rendition of the journey he and his students had taken to this point. It really is inspiring to hear how they have embraced this topic, difficult and controversial as it is. They have done a wide variety of research and project work and wrote more extensively on this topic than any other they had studied. They welcomed Ric with warm and sincere applause, but had a wide variety of questions ranging from the predictable to ones he had never considered.

Even as we went half-an-hour over time, the students’ questions kept coming. They ranged from things like "Do you work on dolphin issues in other countries besides Japan?" (Enter a copy of the Solomon Star newspaper about Earth Island’s efforts there for dolphins) to "If Flipper hadn't committed suicide, would you have become an activist?" (After a bit of thought Ric's answer was yes, that event was basically a "tipping point" in his work with dolphins). Japan's food tradition is often mentioned as a defense of whaling and the dolphin hunt, and one student asked Ric if he had any traditions that were important to him. Momentarily stumped, he conceded that apart from things like Mother's Day or birthdays, tradition was less important to him than the fact that there is always change, times change, and sometimes things that are considered tradition have to change, too.

Ric talked about his plans, still taking shape, for there to be a major gathering in Taiji on September 1st. There was enthusiasm and support for the idea and hopefully some of the NIS student body and faculty will be able to be there in person.

I hope that some of them will take what they have learned at school, and from their encounter with Ric, and find a way to put that knowledge and experience to good use.

I think that the students who took part in today's event should be rightfully proud of the courage and inquisitiveness they showed. Through their questions they set an example for others in this country and beyond, showing that the ability and the desire to see things from more than one perspective is vital to any true understanding of a complex issue.

No comments: