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By Lawrence Lerner
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Kimi Takesue, an Associate Professor in RU-N’s Video Production Department, has been nominated for the prestigious European Doc Alliance Award for her latest film, 95 And Six to Go.
Hers is one of only seven films selected internationally by the European Doc Alliance, a consortium of seven prominent documentary festivals in Europe, each of which attracts between 100 and 150 films and nominates one for the award.
95 And Six to Go was nominated by the Doclisboa International Film Festival in Portugal. The other European Doc Alliance festivals take place in Switzerland, Germany, France, Poland, Denmark and the Czech Republic.
Takesue and the six other finalists will learn their fate when the award winner is announced in August at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland.
“Just getting into these international festivals is very difficult. So, then to be selected by one of them is incredible,” says Takesue. “The nomination alone is a real testament to their belief in my project. It’s a huge, huge honor.”
95 And Six to Go was shot over six years and is a deeply personal film about Takesue’s Japanese American grandfather, Tom, a retired postal worker and widower in his 90s who was born to immigrant parents in Honolulu, HI—and about intergenerational bonding and a granddaughter’s discovery of the man she never really knew.
It was also a happy accident, a film that rose from the ashes of another film’s demise.
In 2005 Takesue was developing a major feature film project with prominent actors and producers when she visited her grandparents in Honolulu, abuzz and optimistic with screenplay in hand.
Growing up, her grandfather had been more or less on the periphery, distant and strict, while her grandmother had been radiant and engaging, showering love on her and her sister. During this peak of excitement, however, Grandpa Tom read his grandaughter’s script, a cross-cultural love story set in New York City.
He showed surprising interest in the project, offering creative advice and screenplay revisions that were shrewd, imaginative and funny.
“He had always been the pragmatic, hard-working, authoritarian grandfather who consistently reinforced the importance of family obligation and a steady job,” says Takesue. “I was caught off-guard and delighted. I began to see an untapped creative dimension to him. It was at that point that I decided to film him and my grandmother with no particular intention in mind.”
In 2007, Takesue’s grandmother died, prompting her to return to Honolulu for a few months over the winter holidays to help Grandpa Tom, spending quality hours alone with him for the first time.
The optimism surrounding her feature film project had faded as financing fell through at the outset of the Great Recession. Grandpa Tom expressed fears of dying alone.
Both were in periods of transition and emotional loss.
She offered him company; he offered her advice on her film project and life in general. The romantic screenplay became an anchor point for their conversations and allowed him to reflect on his experiences of love, loss and endurance. His own life had been defined by stoicism and sacrifice, but in his fictional universe he opted for romance and sentimental happy endings.
All the while, she kept filming.
“I was fascinated by how unself-conscious he was as a subject,” says Takesue. “He was frank, unfiltered and funny as he reflected on the world and his and my life.”
Although he was aware of the filming process, Grandpa Tom intermittently stopped and forbade Takesue from showing the footage publicly. She took these threats seriously and honored him. She was still driven to film out of personal interest, but she never thought the footage would materialize into a finished film.
In spring 2011, she returned to Honolulu to visit Grandpa Tom while he was in hospice care for bladder cancer. He exhibited his trademark perseverance and will to live, despite all the hardships he’d faced in his life, including losing his mother early on and feeling intense loneliness as a child, growing up poor and unable to afford college, experiencing discrimination during World War II, and working three jobs to support his family and ensure his kids attended university.
While sitting at Grandpa Tom’s bedside, Takesue kept filming.
He died that spring, at the age of 95. Just before he passed, he gave his blessings for her to make a film. He even came up with the title.
“After I returned home, I still wasn’t sure I’d actually follow through and hadn’t looked at the footage, begun editing or applied for grants,” says Takesue. “It’s a challenge doing such a personal film. My grandfather was compelling to me, but I wasn’t sure how it would resonate with larger audiences.”
She released the film in 2016 to wide acclaim at festival after festival in the U.S. and abroad.
Audiences both young and old have connected to the universal portrait of her grandfather, using him as a vehicle to reflect on their own memories, says Takesue. But the film’s nonlinear structure also pushes the envelope. The challenge was finding a balance between the two. Walking that fine line deftly has made the film a hit at traditional and experimental documentary festivals, she says.
“It’s incredibly satisfying and rewarding that this film has been so embraced,” says Takesue. “There’s always a scary moment when you put a film out into the world. You never know how it will be received. I’m so happy it’s resonating with so many kinds of audiences and feel very, very grateful to have received this nomination.”
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95 And Six to Go will be screening at CAAM Fest, San Francisco on March 19 and at CPH:DOX in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 19 and 24, before it moves on to more festivals throughout the spring and summer, including the BAFICI-Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, in Argentina (April 13–24), one of the largest festivals in Latin America, drawing nearly 400,000 visitors over a 10-day period.
You can learn more about the film and watch trailers at the following sites: