This post was written by Sharon Young, a mentee in our Digital Media Mentoring Program.
Linda Hoaglund, a daughter of American missionaries, was born and raised in Japan. She attended Japanese public schools and is a graduate of Yale University. Linda has subtitled 200 Japanese films, including Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and has produced and directed her own. The Wound and The Gift is Linda’s third film to be featured at DOC NYC.
It was very clever connecting the story arc with real life events. What inspired you to create this documentary?
- Linda Hoaglund: The original idea for the film began when my composer, Satoshi Takeishi, told me about his experiences playing drums for the annual Blessing of the Animals celebration at St. John the Divine cathedral in New York City. Thousands of people bring their pets to be blessed and there is a dramatic procession of the animals with camels, lamas, oxen and other large animals. But I quickly began to wonder if animals really need to be blessed by humans, or if in fact, it is humans who are blessed by the presence of animals on our planet. And then I remembered my favorite folktale from my childhood in Japan, about a wounded crane, saved by a peasant, who repays his kindness by weaving a magical cloth. I decided to use this folktale to weave together stories of people caring for animals they have rescued.
As a filmmaker, what comes first? Do you have a story in mind or do you shoot the footage as the project progresses?
- LH: When I begin a film, I start with a basic idea or theme. But The Wound and The Gift evolved as I was filming because I didn’t know precisely how I would integrate the real life stories with the folktale. But I began to see a clear outline for the film, once I heard about Crane Village in northern Japan and the grandmother who has been feeding cranes for 40 years. I knew that with that ending, I could turn around the sad ending of the folktale and use my film to provide an alternative ending: that humans can keep their promises to animals.
As a child I remember the Japanese folklore, but your film really helped me see it in a new light. How was the process of adapting, translating it, then modifying it for the film?
- LH: I am delighted that you had heard of the story as a child. It was a favorite of mine as a child as well. Initially, I thought I could just use the story as it has been told for generations so I started by translating it from the Japanese original into an English folktale style narration. However, I gradually realized that I needed to adapt it for my film, so the audience can clearly understand how it applies to animal rescue. The insight I had was that the cloth the crane is weaving is magical because the crane is weaving trust. Trust is magical because it can only be given, it cannot be taken or bought or stolen. We all know how freely animals give of their devotion and their trust to those who care for them and I wanted to use Victo’s illustrations to portray the inner lives of animals that have been abandoned but decide to trust their new caretakers.
What was it like collaborating with Vanessa Redgrave and Kristen Johnson?
- LH: Kirsten Johnson is one of the best cinematographers in the U.S. When we talked about the film and she asked me about the theme of the film, I told her, “The theme of the film is beauty.” This is because I believe that beautiful images have the power to reveal something we think we already know – in this case animals – and show them in a new light. Kirsten’s images are so beautiful that you just want to keep looking at them. And in fact this made the editing process very challenging because she provided so many beautiful images to choose from.Vanessa Redgrave is the Academy Award winning actress who has performed in hundreds of films and theater productions. She has incredibly high standards and during our recording session, she provided me with many fantastic ideas for how to improve the narration that I had written. I believe that with her revision and her majestic voice, she transformed a folktale into a legend.
What made you choose Victo Ngai as the illustrator?
- LH: I had been searching the internet for a suitable illustrator, but all the illustrations of fables and animals were either sentimental or tacky. Then I stumbled on Victor’s illustration of a short story in The New Yorker and instantly I knew I had found the perfect artist. Her art is suffused with visual storytelling, movement and amazing attention to detail. I could also see that she was influenced by traditional Japanese artists, such as Hokusai, the woodblock printer, as well as Miyazaki, the great animator. When I contacted her, she was immediately interested because she loved the folktale and had never worked on a film before. I started by commissioning her to draw the first two illustration scenes of the wounded crane in the river and of the crane flying up into the sky. It wasn’t until after I had completed most of the editing found my interpretation of the folktale that I asked her to create all the other illustrations. In the meantime, she has been awarded two Gold medals from the American Society of Illustrators and been selected a Forbes 30 Under 30, a great honor for a young artist.
In the film you shot in a variety of locations, traditional and non traditional, from horse farms to the snowy landscape of Japan. How did you choose these locations to shoot?
- LH: I choose the locations in the film, mostly by following my instincts. I started with the Super Adoption of the dogs because that event gives you a visual understanding of the scale of the animal rescue movement. Soon after that, I was visiting my sister in Colorado, when my brother-in-law told me about The Wild Animal Sanctuary. When I visited that sanctuary and the director gave me permission to film there, he told me about the Wolf-Dog sanctuary. I came across a story about the prison program working with retired racehorses to train non-violent inmates to groom horses on the Internet. When I contacted the director of the program, she immediately gave me permission to film there. The last scene we filmed was the Crane Village in northern Japan where I decided to film during the coldest month of January. It was minus 25 degrees Centigrade, which is why the footage of the mist rising from the river is so otherworldly.
On the website I saw that your cats (very cute) were your technical advisors. What is you personal connection with rescue animals?
- LH: I never would have made this film if I had not “rescued” two cats more than ten years ago. Sweetie was a homeless cat who wandered into our house and she seemed so lonely when I was away from home that I went to the BARC shelter in Williamsburg where I found Bones. They have completely different personalities and I’ve learned so much about the inner lives of animals that I decided to name them Technical Advisors on the film!
What message do you hope viewers will get from the film?
- LH: The message of the film is simply to urge everyone who sees it to consider adopting an animal in need of a home or to consider volunteering at a shelter or donating to a rescue group. There was a time when it breeding and buying pets was considered acceptable. But that time is quickly fading in the face of the enormous scale and momentum of the animal rescue movement.
What advice do you have for young aspiring women filmmakers?
- LH: If you are a young woman filmmaker with a vision for a film, look for team members who respect you and your vision. It’s hard work to make and finish a good film. You’ll need to work with crew members who have your back.
To learn more about Linda Hoaglund and her work, check out her official website.
Watch the trailer for The Wound and the Gift here.
Sharon Young was born and raised in New York City. She is a high school junior at The High School for Math, Science, and Engineering. She began writing stories in second grade and never stopped. When she was small she spent every moment drawing, dressing paper dolls, and reading fairy tales. Sometimes she still does these things. When she’s not pulling all-nighters she enjoys photography, blogging, daydreaming, walks in the park, and cupcakes.