Hope amidst the rubble

JP Mitog - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - They say that our stories are the teller of us. For George Foster Peabody awardee Kara David, her stories speak for themselves — and the rest of the country listen. And they listen well.

With numerous documentaries already under her belt, Kara is still constantly searching for stories of people and allowing these stories to be told through her — in what can only be considered as a brand of storytelling that is hers and hers alone.

For her most recent I-Witness docu Pagbangon ng Japan that’s airing tonight, Kara braves Japan’s freezing temperature to film the aftermath of the Great East Japan Quake.

Almost a year following the 9.0 magnitude quake that rocked Japan and brought about one of the most destructive tsunamis in recent history, Kara goes on location to Iwate Prefecture to once again gather stories of great hope and human compassion in the midst of rubble and mountains of debris.

“When I first heard of this concept (to film the aftermath of the quake for I-Witness), I said, ‘Wow, one year na pala.’ Kasi parang recent lang siya kasi it’s always in the news,” Kara explains. “I was excited because they told me this project is in partnership with a Japanese station, TV-Iwate.”

But nothing prepared her for what she was about to see and go through in filming it. The team spent nearly a week to shoot the entire docu and although the first day of filming was a tad challenging — with language barrier as the main issue — the following days proved to be effortless as the Japanese and the Filipino groups finally met halfway.

“My Japanese cameraman and my Japanese audioman can not speak English. Blessing naman na meron kaming Filipino translator who was an entertainer for a long time in Japan,” Kara says. “Ibang iba talaga ‘yung style nila (in filming) sa style natin. Gawa na rin siguro ng culture nila — efficient, disciplined and structured. Talagang on the dot, naka-schedule lahat ng bagay.

Her style and that of her team’s are poles apart from the Japanese’s filmmaking style. Hers is more natural, with a penchant to touch the hearts of the audience more than merely telling the story.

Nonetheless, Kara and her team were grateful for TV-Iwate’s involvement in the project. TV-Iwate was one of the first on the scene during the tragedy, thus providing Kara and her team valuable insight into the disaster. “The Japanese crew was very, very gracious, sobrang nice. They were willing to learn from us and we were willing to learn from them,” Kara explains.

Setting aside differences in language and culture, Kara and her team also had to contend with Japan’s sub-zero temperature. “Dumating kami at the coldest time of winter, negative eight degrees. Kapag gabi, umaabot ng negative 10 degrees and it’s all snow.”

But the story has to be told, with Kara paying little heed to the freezing temperature of Iwate. “Naka-boots ako pero suede siya. Nag-a-absorb siya ng water. The whole time I was shooting, basa ang paa ko. It was very, very cold,” Kara recalls.

Moving ever further into Iwate Prefecture, Kara was brought to the city of Rikuzentakata where she had a most humbling experience while filming. “Akala ko nakita ko na lahat ng trahedya, pero hindi ako na-prepare for this one. It was just overwhelming.”

She adds, “When we got to Rikuzentakata, sinabi nila (Japanese crew), ‘this is Rikuzentakata’ and I said, ‘where?’ Nag-try ako hanapin iyong city, tapos makikita mo siya under the snow.”

Walking deeper into the city, Kara’s team came across a pile of rubble in what seems to be the remnants of a city. “May teddy bear, may wheelchair, may bisikleta, may television sets. Tapos bigla mo mai-imagine na may bahay doon dati, there was a whole city there, tapos debris na lang siya.”

But amidst the ruin, there’s never a shortage of hope as Kara recounts a tree that miraculously stood tall after everything else were wiped out. “Nung time na iyon, naubos lahat ng pine trees doon pero there’s a miracle tree na natira na everybody go to for hope.”

At the end of the day, it is stories like this that make Kara find her career as a documentarist a gift regardless of hardships she may encounter. “I don’t view I-Witness as just a job. I view it as a gift and a privilege to talk to the nation for one hour. It’s always worth it — lahat ng pagod.”

Indeed, storytelling is an art and Kara has definitely mastered her craft — cutting barriers while holding interest not by telling people how to think but giving them questions to reflect upon and letting the stories flow through her even for just an hour.

I-Witness’ Pagbangon ng Japan airs tonight after Saksi on GMA 7.

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