YIDFF 2011 International Competition
Vapor Trail (Clark)
An Interview with John Gianvito (Director)

I Continue to Record American Responsibility

The reason I made Vapor Trail (Clark) goes back to 1996. Ever since seeing a pollution survey in a Boston newspaper, this issue has always weighed on my mind. I made this film feeling that I, as an American, had to take responsibility for what the American government has done, that I had to confront the environmental pollution problem in the Philippines. This isn’t something most Americans think about. Normally, the things our government and military do are hard to understand as an individual’s problem. But that’s not how I think. I think we have to do something, that we have to take responsibility for the things Americans and the American government do, in whatever way we can. I’ve met the peace activist Noam Chomsky and have been thinking about justice since I was young. As a result I have strong anti-authority feelings, and I think these thoughts are reflected in this film.

I faced no particular difficulty entering the Philippines as an American. Rather, I was shocked by the poverty, the tremendous scale of the problems before my eyes. There were times when I felt I was in bodily danger. It was my third day of shooting, when I went to see an area inside Clark Air Force Base with particularly high levels of contamination. I went with the activist group Myrla Baldonado, which appears in this film. The Philippine secret police happened to be on patrol, and if we had been less lucky we could have been killed. Had I turned on my camera, I might not even be here now. I encountered danger just as I began shooting, so I directly felt how these kinds of things are part of everyday life in the Philippines. This situation has not changed, even now.

My film is very long. I had no idea it would end up this long when I was making it. But when editing, I felt some length was necessary for people to express themselves as they did when interviewed. This isn’t a topic that you can easily sum-up and explain. This much length was necessary to express it. I didn’t do anything strange in the editing, which I think better expresses what becomes apparent in our conversations: what diseases emerged, how many people died, what Filipinos think and what kinds of dangers they face, as well as what philosophy they live their lives with. This is a complicated issue, and you can’t take the easy route by summing it up in brief. The length of the film also shows how complicated this problem is.

I didn’t put a high point or climax into this film. As a result, I have no thoughts on which scenes are most important. I can’t choose any above the others. Life doesn’t have three acts. I tried to make a place where the people affected could express themselves naturally, as they are. I made this film with the goal of having those appear tell their life stories clearly, and have the audience take them in. It’s a slow movie that allows you to think at your own pace. So I made only 50% of it. The other 50% is the space offered in the film, made by those who appear in it as well as the audience. I wanted it to be democratic, and to not discriminate between scenes. That theory drove my production.

(Compiled by Watanabe Miki)

Interviewers: Watanabe Miki, Sato Hiroaki / Interpreter: Shimizu Kikumi / Translator: Kyle Hecht
Photography: Nihei Tomomi / Video: Umeki Soichi / 2011-10-08