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Meet the IDA Documentary Award Nominees: Davina Pardo -- 'MINKA'

By KJ Relth

With her short film Minka, director, producer, and photographer Davina Pardo initially set out to tell a very specific kind of story. What she didn’t take into account was fate’s inevitable intervention: John Roderick, whose memoir about his farmhouse (or minka, in Japanese) was the inspiration for this film, passed away before their first scheduled interview. Instead of throwing out the project, Pardo and her producer, Andrew Blum, turned their attention on Roderick’s adopted son, Yoshihiro Takishita, the man who helped the American journalist realize his dream of setting up permanent residence in a 250-year-old minka.

This quiet story is told primarily through meditative shots of the exteriors and interiors of the minka, accompanied by thoughtful reconstruction of memories from Takishita himself. Flipping through old photographs helps him recall his adopted father who has only recently passed on from this world but whose spirit remains somehow forever etched into the very foundation of this antique, magnificent structure. This brief film ends where it began, leaving the viewer with an ephemeral yet satisfying glimpse into one possible meaning of "home."

Pardo’s short film has been nominated in the Best Short Documentary category at the 2011 IDA Documentary Awards. We sat down with the filmmaker to learn more about her inspiration, how she had to be flexible, and the major obstacles they overcame to get the film where it is today.

IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Davina Pardo: In college I wanted to be a photographer, but I was always passionate about social issues and wasn’t sure how to reconcile these interests. After graduation, I was very lucky to get a job working as David Cronenberg’s assistant on his film Spider. At the end of each shooting day, we’d watch rushes at the film lab—and I think it was then that I fell in love with moving images. Suddenly it clicked that this was how I could combine my creative and social interests. I applied to the documentary film program at Stanford and started making films there.

IDA: What inspired you to make Minka?

DP: My producer, Andrew Blum (who also happens to be my husband), is a journalist who’s written a lot of about architecture. He received a press copy of John Roderick’s memoir about the house, and I was intrigued by the idea of telling a person’s story through their home, and of this particular house as a vessel of memory. So we contacted John Roderick and asked if he’d be willing to participate in a film based on his book.

IDA: What were some of the obstacles and challenges in making this film? How did you overcome them?

DP: The biggest obstacle was definitely when John Roderick died at 93. He was excited about the idea of a film, and we had made plans to interview him in Hawaii, where he had retired. But a few weeks before our scheduled shoot, he became quite ill and asked that we come film right away. We were there the next day, but he was too weak to talk. All of his friends had gathered, and of course, Takishita-san, and I was grateful to spend time with everyone as they gathered to celebrate John’s life.

IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the process from pre- to post-production?

DP: After John died, Takishita-san wanted to continue making the film, and our focus shifted to him as our primary storyteller. We had always thought of it as a film about memory, but the tone changed; it became more of an elegy to John and a story about loss. Otherwise, our sense of the house as a metaphor for a relationship stayed consistent.

IDA: As you've screened Minka, how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been the most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

DP: I think what’s been most satisfying, and definitely surprising, is the way audiences have embraced everything Minka leaves unsaid. It’s a very quiet film, but that hasn’t kept people from really connecting to it emotionally, and letting the mysteries of love, and families, and places, wash over them.

IDA: What documentary films or documentary filmmakers have served as inspirations for you?

DP: So many, including Heddy Honigman, Nicholas Philibert, James Longley, Deborah Shaffer and Anne Aghion.

Want to learn more about the 2011 IDA Documentary Awards? Visit the Awards page for a full list of nominees, honorary award winners, and more.

Buy tickets to this year's Awards ceremony and fundraising event.