News / Vancouver

B.C. filmmakers aim to trace tsunami debris back to Japan

Two years after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, debris that continues to wash up on the West Coast transports beachcombers across the ocean and back in time.

The March 11, 2011 magnitude 9 earthquake and the resulting tsunami killed more than 15,840 people and swept about five million tonnes of debris into the ocean.

The loss and destruction is incomprehensible.

To this day, pieces of people’s daily lives and remnants of a country’s infrastructure surface along the beaches of British Columbia.

Some are indistinguishable, others – like the Harley-Davidson motorcycle found by Peter Mark last year on Haida Gwaii – are a vivid, direct reminder of what was lost that day two years ago.

Many items have already be identified, traced back and returned to their owners in Japan and now two filmmakers have joined an army of beachcombers who have made it their mission to recover debris, learn the story behind it and possibly bring it back home.

“We were reading stories [after the tsunami] how all of this stuff had to wash up somewhere, but figured it would never make it all the way across the ocean,” said Nicolina Lanni, co-director with John Choi on the work-in-progress documentary Lost & Found. “But they are. We’re actually trying to trace these items back and connect the owners with the people who found them.”

Lanni and Choi have already extensively covered the beachcombing community on the West Coast and have been part of tsunami debris salvages.

The filmmaking duo is trying to raise $30,000 through Hotdoc’s DocIgnite funding platform to cover the costs of travelling to Japan and document the items returning home.

Stories of successful reunions have spurred on Lanni, but she doesn’t expect all of their endeavors to have happy endings.

She got a small sense of the panic the earthquake caused while on vacation in Hawaii at the time.

“Our hotel was evacuated [due to the tsunami warning] and we had to go on top of this volcano,” she said. “There were a lot of Japanese tourists trying to call home and finding out what was happening with their families.”

Returning even seemingly unimportant items “carry so much weight,” Lanni said.

By returning those possessions, the filmmakers hope to take some of that weight off tsunami survivors’ shoulders.

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