Documentaries Bring OU-Southern Filmmakers Into Focus

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Two documentaries produced by staff members at Ohio University Southern are garnering national attention and proving the power of relationships based in the shared experience of being a Bobcat.

Don Moore and Brad Bear work in Electronic Media at the Southern Campus; Moore as the department’s director and an associate professor and Bear as a producer.

Together, they are responsible for Giving Voice: The Japanese War Brides, which premiered at the Asian American Studies Conference in Seattle in April.

The documentary explores the lives of Japanese women married to American GIs in the years following World War II. Moore explains it as an untold story of American history in which love overcomes language barriers, race and enemy lines. Giving Voice received rave audience reviews following the first showing.

"Out of the people who attended our section of the conference, we got really good feedback," Moore said. "One young lady cried all the way through it. She said, 'I had no idea what these ladies went through.'"

During the same production timeframe, Bear was working on another documentary: Where’s the Fair? The film investigates "the United States' flawed attempts when participating in World’s Fairs," according to Bear.

The idea came after Bear’s close friend, Jeffrey Ford, found an old Viewmaster with slides of the 1964 World’s Fair and he wondered what became of the international event.

"A simple Google search didn’t provide the answers, and instead caused him to stumble onto the fact that World’s Fairs still existed," explained Bear. "At that point, Jeff called me and we started talking about whether or not this was the topic for the feature-length project we were wanting to work on together."

Bobcat Ties That Bind

Both filmmakers credit connections they’ve made through Ohio University with jump-starting their projects and making the final products possible. For Moore, he was inspired by colleague Miki Crawford’s book about and personal connection to Japanese war brides–her mother was one such bride.

"Whenever I heard about it, I thought this was going to make a great documentary," said Moore. The two partnered on the project to form a mutually-beneficial experience. "I needed research for my tenure and Dr. Crawford was working toward her full professorship, so why not work together and marry the two?" said Moore.

Crawford’s personal connection to many of the war brides helped set the women at ease and gave them comfort in sharing stories that had not even been shared with close family members.

Bear and Ford are both OU alumni who became acquainted years after they graduated and began working on projects together. Bear says he isn’t surprised by the power a Bobcat connection carries.

"Ohio University has been part of the fabric of who I am since I was 18 when I came to Southern as a freshman in Electronic Media. I finished my bachelor’s in Athens, in what was then the T-Com school. The friends I made over those four years have since become some of my greatest contacts in the industry. Bobcats are loyal, and when you add deep, meaningful relationships to that equation, it can move mountains," he said.

The projects further overlapped when Bear and Ford offered to share resources for Moore’s documentary, helping with such things as digital restoration of archival film to save Ohio University Southern money while providing the best quality possible.

Bear and Moore conduct an interview for "Giving Voice: The Japanese War Brides" in Tokyo

Research Abroad

Each project meant a significant amount of time researching the given topic. In 2009, Moore, Bear and Crawford travelled to Japan with 18 former war brides to re-visit where their stories began.

It was a hard life for them following World War II, he explained, and so the trip was deeply personal.

"People don't realize that Japan had been at war for years with other countries, so they had very little–they were running out of food and supplies. These women had to learn to eat weeds, they mixed saw dust with their food," said Moore.

The documentary crew followed the women for two weeks, capturing their memories and re-creating some elements of their young lives when they met their future soldier husbands working in the Post Exchange or as translators and secretaries.

Bear, along with Ford, spent four years globetrotting to gather research for Where’s the Fair? They traveled to eight countries in Europe and Asia, as well as to two dozen U.S cities. From Zaragoza, Spain to South Korea, the pair hunted for information to tell the story.

"Chasing this story has proven a much more intense time and money investment than we had originally expected," said Bear.

"The film was a labor of love," said Ford. "Early on we decided that we would shoot the film on actual motion picture film. We knew that the project would be self-financed. And we knew that the amount of travel associated with chronicling a global event would be an incredible challenge. And, for that, and other reasons, it has been a challenge to complete. However, Where's the Fair? is much more than a film. It has become a crusade to bring the unique magic of the World's Fair back to the American people."

National Spotlight

The hard work and long hours have paid off now: Each film is receiving national attention. Giving Voice was screened at the Japanese Cultural Center in Seattle following its premiere. Many of the war brides featured in the film attended.

"To sit back and watch their reactions as they watched it for the first time, they had tears streaming down their faces," said Moore.

He’s now working with regional PBS stations to distribute the film, but the work won’t end there. "We've got hours and hours of interviews that we can take and make a living historical website for these women."

Where’s the Fair? was awarded the Best Documentary title and nominated for Best Feature at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival in Wilmington, N.C. At the end of July, Bear and Ford were invited to privately screen their film for a Hollywood studio and began talking to agents for possible representation.

Up next, Where’s the Fair? will be screened at Cincinnati Film Festival Sept. 6-14, the Knoxville Film Festival Sept. 19-22 and the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival, taking place Oct. 3-6.

This article originally appeared in Compass, a production of Ohio University Communications and Marketing. Photos courtesy of Brad Bear and Don Moore.