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New Film Documents A 'Changing Season' On The Masumoto Farm

Jul 7, 2015

  In the tiny community of Del Rey sits one of the nation's most acclaimed organic farms. The Masumoto family has been farming the land there for generations, and their heirloom peaches are sought after by the country's top chefs. But the Masumoto farm is also in transition, a transition of generations, as David "Mas" Masumoto's daughter Nikiko has returned home to work with her father and keep the farm alive for another generation. 

The story is the subject of a new documentary called "Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm" by filmmakers Jim Choi and Chihiro Wimbush. The film is currently being submitted to a number of film festivals, and is scheduled for a national broadcast next year on PBS. It makes its Central Valley premier on Saturday with a special limited RSVP only screening at the Masumoto Farm in Del Rey on Saturday. 

Nikiko Masumoto joined us on Valley Edition to talk about making the film and her family's story.

Interview Highlights:

Q: When the filmmakers first approach you, what was your family's reaction?

"I think we were all in shock. Stephen Gong who is the director of the Center For Asian American Media which is the producing non-profit, they approach us want to just explore filming something. We have a great relationship with Steven, and so a very small crew came down and did just one day of shooting. We thought it went super well, and we thought originally it was going to be a just short documentary, just a couple minutes long. But then they kept coming back and back and back. They ended up following us for an entire season. We were honored and shocked. It was also a really fascinating experience, being involved with a film, because it was a completely new medium for us. You know, my dad writes, I have written a little bit. We've done storytelling and public speaking, but never film. The adventure of filming was really interesting."

"As a family of writers and performers [we] tend to want to write out the narrative. So halfway through we really had a deep understanding of how much trust you have to have with a film because they're capturing these really intimate lives."

  Q: Did you have an idea about what the filmmakers wanted to do when they started out. Did they have an idea?

"The film director Jim Choi, we had lots of conversations about it, and his style of filming documentary is really rooted in letting the story unfold, as he kind of embedded in our lives and observed us. That was really interesting because we as a family of writers and performers tend to want to write out the narrative. So halfway through we really had a deep understanding of how much trust you have to have with a film because they're capturing these really intimate lives, and ultimately we were giving our trust to the driect Jim Choi and the editor Chihiro Wimbush to represent us, and that is a really magical exchange."

Q: How difficult was it to go about your normal activities on the farm or around the dinner table with a camera crew standing next to you?

"When they first started coming I had trouble with it. I kept on trying to hide from the camera, because it's kind of awkward. You're supposed to act like they're not there, but there's this big camera that you know is recording every move and you have a microphone on you and every sound is recorded but as the year progressed, really the director, the sound tech, the editor they really became our friends, and so it became easier and easier to become as organic as possible."

Credit Jim Choi and Chihiro Wimbush / Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm

  Q: When you see your dad, talking about farming and the toll it's taken on him, what do you feel inside?

"I feel a really deep inhale. One of the things I've learned coming back to the farm is not only is this transition about me ascending and learning and growing and reaching for my vision of the future on the farm, but it's also about witness and being intimately involved with my parents' aging. And I think that's a side of family farming that we tend not to talk about. We tend to focus on the next generation, which as a next generation I'm grateful for because I have a lot to learn. But the "Changing Season" is also about my dad and my mom, but particularly my dad because he's the one I farm next to every day, it's about him reflecting on his life, and this transition, part of it is about letting go."

"If someone had told me when I was a 17 year old and I left that I would be following in my dad's footsteps literally I would have laughed in their faces."

Q: Tell us about coming back to the farm. Your dad had to make that decision as well. Do you feel you can gain some insights from him? But also, it's different for you as well? 

"My dad and I, our trajectories are fascinating. They're very similar. We both had no intentions of coming back to the farm. And we both ended up right back where we grew up.  One of the ironies is if someone had told me when I was a 17 year old and I left that I would be following in my dad's footsteps literally I would have laughed in their faces. And here I am and not only am I back in the physical valley and physical home, my dad is both my boss, my teacher, my mentor, my friend, my coworker, and so part of our dynamic is captured in this film which is all of these shifting roles. I'm never just an employee, I'm always also a daughter and part of learning to farm, part of working alongside him has been negotiating all of those similarities and all of those differences."

Q: How do you learn to do that? Is it just by trial and error? Do you have others to lean upon? The one person who has experience doing that is your dad. Because there was another transition before this one.

"Right, My dad came back and learned to farm from my jii-chan, my grandfather, his father. And we talked a lot about those double transitions. So much of it we end up talking about our personalities. My jii-chan was a very quiet man. So a lot of the lessons my dad learned were in these really subtle silences on the farm. And my dad and I by contrast are both very verbal people. We end up talking a lot. Through the years, the first year coming back was challenging. We're both fairly strong personalities. I'm so glad you asked that question. It's been a practice for me to cultivate that silence, because my dad and I talk so much that in a way I've had to intentionally make room for silence and reflection. Maybe that was what my dad had with my jii-chan, automatically because of his style who he was as a person."

Q: When the film was finished, you all sat down I imagine to watch this. Did you watch it alone, as a family? What was that like?

"The director and editor Jim and Chihiro, and one of the producers, Don from the Center for Asian American Media they came down to the farm and brought a television screen and brought the latest version of the film and we sat in our living room, my mom, dad, brother and I and we watched this film.  I don't think I've ever had such an intense experience with a film. Watching was like this out of body experience because you never get to see you life the you see it on film because you're always in your body you're always in your life. We all wept, we laughed, and afterwards when it was done there was just this silence that was so full of tenderness. Jim and Chichio they really listened to our lives and they really made choices in the filming and editing that showcased who we were and not just the happy side of our family but also some of the struggles and also some of the moments of unexpected tenderness and emotion."

David Mas Masumoto

  Q: You mentioned some of those unexpected moments. Your dad went through a major situation during the production of this film. Would you care to talk about that? 

"Who would have known at the beginning of the filming that later my dad would go through a triple bypass heart surgery. And that just happened to be during the window that we were filming. There are moments in his recovery that were completely unexpected, conversations that were captured in this film, that when I still watch it, I still cry, because there are these moments of uncertainty between a father and daughter where health and mortality are really present in the room. And what is fascinating listening back to those moments of exchange is I realize in watching the film that while I was processing his life and really bracing for the future, he was still processing the loss of his father. So there really was an intergeneration of his health in the room, even through my jii-chan, my grandfather has passed away, his story was very much alive in those moments."

Q: What's it like to see other people watch the film and see their reactions and see what they get out of it?

"It's the most interesting type of nerve wracking that I've ever experienced in my life because it's such an intimate window into our lives. I get nervous every time even though I don't have to do anything, somebody just presses play." Nikiko Masumoto

  "It's the most interesting type of nerve wracking that I've ever experienced in my life because it's such an intimate window into our lives. I get nervous every time even though I don't have to do anything, somebody just presses play. Every time we've shown the film we've gotten to have a talkback session, a question and answer period. And I have been really floored by the openness of the audiences. People have come up to us and asked these really beautiful questions about all these things that are present in the film. Farming and agriculture. The Central Valley as a place for our next generation to take root. Death and transition over generations. Gender. Queerness. The film captures a story about me and my experience about me and my experience being queer in the Central Valley. And so people have come up to me saying "you're so brave," and I'm just so honored. I don't always feel brave in my everyday life, but these small exchanges remind me there is something bold and beautiful about who I am and what I'm trying to do, what we're trying to do as a family on our farm."