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JCC alum showing documentary at Rhode Island International Film Festival


Jefferson Community College 1998 alumnus Ian Thomas Ash was in Japan when the Fukushima nuclear power plant had a meltdown last year in March. He witnessed horrifying scenes of the tsunami and earthquake disaster that preceded it.

More than a year later, the Watertown native is showing his documentary ‘In the Grey Zone,’ which depicts the lives of children within a high radiation zone, is having its world premiere at the Rhode Island International Film Festival on Saturday.

“The first two days after the disaster, I was in shock like everyone else,” said Mr. Ash in a phone interview. “It took someone else to get me into action.”

The area he shot from, Minamisoma City, was within a voluntary evacuation zone 20 to 30 kilometers away from the power plant. During his time there, he learned that those who had the money to evacuate did. Others in the rural area had all their money tied to the land, now toxic crops and farm equipment. They had no money to move elsewhere.

“Because the government wasn’t offering appropriate compensation, they weren’t really given a choice,” he said

The adults had to continue working, so the local school reopened for children so they would have a place they could be supervised.

Mr. Ash and his crew were all exposed to radiation while there. To combat this, they took non-radioactive iodine tablets mailed from the U.S., wore face masks and changed clothes frequently. He said the radiation was contained in dust, so it was everywhere.

“Me and the crew were taking (the tablets) knowing the children weren’t taking it,” he said.

He also learned there was no data that could predict what would happen to the zone’s inhabitants because the amount of radiation pouring out of the power plant is still growing.

The entire film was taken over a two-week period in April 2011 and was edited in six months. However, he is still in the “grey zone” he documented because he wants to continue telling the story as the situation progressed.

“We didn’t just stop with that film,” he said. “We’ve continued to film and will continue to film the story.”

He said the story of Fukushima is relatable to everyone.

“We are citizens of our country, and we think our country is always going to take care of us, and that’s not always the case,” he said, mentioning Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters. “We need to understand our role as citizens.”

Mr. Ash graduated from Watertown High School in 1994. After graduating from JCC and SUNY Plattsburg, he moved to England to work toward a masters degree at the University of Bristol. He has lived in Japan for nine years. In addition to making documentaries, he makes commercials and directs a cooking show.

To follow Mr. Ash, visit his YouTube page at or his personal blog

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