Ittetsu Nemoto (right) with a participant in one of his retreats. Film still from “The Departure,” directed by Kirkland native Lana Wilson. Courtesy of DriftingCloud Productions

Kirkland native tackles difficult subjects in documentaries

Growing up, Lana Wilson loved the arts and film.

The Kirkland native and 2001 Lake Washington High School graduate would attend the Seattle International Film Festival. She also interned at area theaters and even worked at the old Blockbuster Video store in Park Place.

Despite her love of film, filmmaking was not something she actively pursued. Her post-college work included dancing and working in various positions at an annual arts festival for eight years. It wasn’t until she learned about an abortion doctor who had been assassinated in 2009 in Kansas and read more about his work that she even considered filmmaking.

Wilson said after researching the doctor, George Tiller, she began wondering if there were any other doctors who provide the types of services he did — third-trimester abortions. She was also curious about the women who were seeking such services.

During this thought process, Wilson realized that it hadn’t occurred to anyone to make a film about this so she decided she would.

The result was “After Tiller,” which won the 2015 Emmy for Best Documentary.

“Lana has always been determined to pursue her visions ever since she was a little girl,” said mother Barbara Wilson. “So I wasn’t surprised that she would tackle controversial subject matters in her documentaries.”

Barbara said she is proud of her daughter for giving women, “who were going through one of the most heartbreaking moments in their lives,” a voice, along with the doctors who risked their lives helping them.

Like her daughter, Barbara did not think Lana would be a filmmaker.

“But since she was always a strong writer and had studied dance since preschool, I believe that combination helped pave the way for her desire to tell stories of people’s struggles that matter most in life through the art form of film,” Barbara said, adding that both Lana and her brother, an environmental attorney, have told her they want to help make the world a better place.

Lana’s followup to her debut film is “The Departure,” another documentary. This one follows Ittetsu Nemoto, a former punk rocker who is now a Buddhist priest in Japan and works with people contemplating suicide, helping them find reasons to live.

Locally, “The Departure” will screen at AMC Dine-In Seattle 10, 4500 9th Ave. N.E. in Seattle, beginning Friday and run for at least a week.

Lana first met Nemoto in December 2013 after she read an article about him in the summer of that year.

“He just wasn’t what I thought of as a priest,” she said, describing Nemoto as hippie homeless chic.

That initial meeting was just that and while she was fascinated by Nemoto, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of her, Lana said. She waited to broach the idea of filming the priest and when she did, he agreed.

The onsite crew for “The Departure” was minimal and included Lana as director and producer, someone to record sound and a translator as Lana does not speak Japanese and Nemoto does not speak English.

In many cases a language barrier could act as an obstacle when filming but Lana said it actually made things easier. She sat in on Nemoto’s sessions with those he helped — who were people from all walks of life — without a translator and was later told that the fact that she couldn’t understand what was being said helped people speak more freely.

While the subjects in her film may have felt uncomfortable being in the same room as a stranger and discussing very personal topics, Lana said they also liked the idea of their stories traveling and touching people across the world and helping them feel less alone.

This was one of the takeaways for Lana from her experience filming “The Departure.”

Although the subject matter may be suicide, it is more about realizing what makes life worth living and what inspires us to live, she said.

She said she was surprised by how much people could have in common. Everyone has their ups and downs and these may manifest differently in different cultures, but Lana said there is an underlying emotional experience that is universal. People just want to connect with each other.

“That was really powerful for me,” Lana said about her realization. “It’s so universal, what we all want out of life…So that was a huge takeaway for me.”

Kirkland native Lana Wilson (right) priest Ittetsu Nemoto while filming “The Departure.” Courtesy of Lana Wilson

Lana Wilson while on location, filming “The Departure” in Japan. Courtesy of Lana Wilson

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