1992, 60 minutes, 16 mm color, Harvest Productions Ltd., Roles: writer, producer, director, narrator, co-editor DOP: Tony Westman, Editor: Janice Brown, Sound editor: Gael McLean, Music composer: Michael Conway Baker, Original music written and performed by Ian Tyson.
Ohama has constructed a haunting portrait of displacement symbolized by the final harvest of her family's potato farm. In response to government internment policy during World War II, the Ohamas left the West Coast in 1942 for the Great Plains area of southern Alberta. Working as farm laborers permitted many Japanese Canadians to stay together as a family during the war. They eventually bought a farm there, grew prize-winning potatoes, and became an important part of the local community. In 1992, farm foreclosure uprooted the family again, and they joined thousands of North Americans caught in the economic crisis of farming.
This story is a beautiful testimony to the strength of the human spirit and love for the family and the land.
Original music by Canadian singer/songwriter icon, Ian Tyson, was created for this film.
"1,000 origami cranes...under cerulean skies...taking "The Last Harvest" out of the realm of family tales and into the perspective that is impressively broad and harshly relevant." Ron Yamauchi, The Georgia Straight.
"...a metaphor about universal struggle, or keeping semblance of self-esteem in the face of collective insult." Ray Chatelin, Vancouver Province.
"...a bittersweet, moving chronicle of their last homage to the land over which four generations of Ohamas were loving stewards." John Haslett Cuff, The Globe and Mail.
"The Last Harvest" was my very first experience of storytelling on film.
It was shot on 16 mm and was one hour long, so a rather big project for a beginner. I had come to a subject and story that I didn't know how to paint, yet needed to express it or felt I could burst.
Unlike painting, my first discovery was: 1) that films cost a lot of money, 2) need a talented team of artists to work together, and 3) require a lot of luck and stamina.
Not independently wealthy, I had to look for various ways of raising the money needed to start making a film. I baked organic apple pies (and selling them for a high price), solicited friends and acquaintances and strangers for loans, applied for grants, and garnered a lot of goodwill from many people. One person I kind of knew but not that well, withdrew $8,000 from her Visa credit card and gave it to me. A friend called up and gave me a $1,000 cheque, no questions asked. My daughter's boyfriend gave me a $10,000 loan. And so on and so on, until I had enough money to begin shooting. The bare basic costs included flying a crew to the location in Alberta, renting camera equipment, purchasing filmstock, getting production insurance and buying enough groceries to feed everyone. The first (of several) location shoot cost about $30,000 cash.
In the quest to make this film, I also wrote lots of letters to people I knew and didn't know. People like Wayne Gretzy (who lived in the same province and had lots of money and I didn't know), Clint Eastwood, Jodi Foster, and singer/songwriter Ian Tyson. Anyone I could think of that had a connection, however remote, to my work. Not everyone responded. But Clint Eastwood and Ian Tyson did.
Clint Eastwood was shooting his movie, "Unforgiven" in the same location (Brooks, Alberta) as my little film. I was able to get my S.O.S. letter to him (with some help and luck) and was offered the use of any equipment he had on hand for my back-up. In the letter to him, I also mentioned that "if he liked fresh corn, my uncle (a retired farmer) grew the best corn not far from the production motel, in an empty lot from the back of a pick-up truck. Clint Eastwood's office ordered dozens of corn and asked my uncle to deliver it in person, at a specific time. My uncle (who was also a huge Eastwood fan) took the corn, met his hero, and loved to tell that story. Later that year, after all the filming was done, Mr. Eastwood's office called me in December to ask for my uncle's address. Clint Eastwood wanted to send my uncle a Christmas present. That became a legend for my uncle to tell for years.
A similar story and luck came to me with amazing support from singer, Ian Tyson. He ended up writing and recording original music and a closing song ("Great Plains") for the film after I showed up at his ranch in the foothills, one stormy snowy night, hours late for our appointment and bringing along my 3 year old daughter, my father and mother. His response, "bring everyone in!"
Making "The Last Harvest" was the way I learned how to make films from start to finish. Producing, directing, editing, working with sound and music, and the importance of distribution. I have to thank the professionals in the industry who worked with me so patiently, and taught me what they knew. This first film gave me a love and respect for this art form and way of storytelling.
Just imagine this. On the first day of shooting, it was windy and cold and we were filming an elderly person outdoors. I was directing with a documentary crew led by the experienced award-winning DOP, Tony Westman. Since we were a small crew, you learned quickly to help each other (my natural style) and become a team.
On this first day, after shooting one roll of film, the camera assistant---with his hands full and trying to keep the tripod stable in the huge wind---asked me (I was standing nearest to the equipment bag), 'to please hand him a 'mag' from the bag'. Not experienced enough to even know what he meant, I closed my eyes and bascially grabbed 'something' out of the bag. It turned out to be the mag. Thank God for beginner's luck! (It is embarassing since the mag is one of those important things to have: loaded film!)
That night at dinner with the crew, I confessed my luck AND my lack of knowledge, and asked everyone to help me. (Today, several films later, I still rely on a lot of luck and help from people!!)
I have discovered over and over, that there is something much more exciting than the finished film itself. The real payoff is all the magic that one experiences during the process of telling a story together.
And that's how I developed a passion and love for telling stories on film.
Awards include: - Canadian Heritage Award, Yorkton Film Festival 1993 - Golden Sheaf Award, Best Sound, Yorkton Film Festival, 1993 - Silver Cup, Philadelphia I.F.F. 1994 - Silver Plaque, Chicago I.F.F. 1994 - Bronze Plaque, Columbus I.F.F., 1994 - Best Documentary, Banff Television Festival 1995
- New York Intl Asian American Film Festival 1993 - Vancouver Intl Film Festival 1993 - Hawaii Intl Film Festival 1993 - Bombay Intl Film Festival 1994 - San Francisco Intl Asian American F.F. 1994 - Cinema du Reel, Paris, France 1994 - Intl CUSO Conference, Bangkok, Thailand 1995 - Sydney Intl Film Festival, Sydney Australia, 1995
Prime time first window television licenses:
CTV Television Network(English version) in Canada and NHK (Japanese version) in Japan