Director James Payne on Far Western
Full Frame is proud to present the following Q+A with director James Payne. Far Western will screen for free on September 28 at the Cary Theater in Cary as part of the Full Frame Road Show Fall Series, presented by Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc. and American Tobacco Campus. The free ticket reservation window opens to First Team on Monday, September 25 at 9 am, followed by Spotlight Members on Wednesday, September 27 at 9 am and the general public on Thursday, September 28 at 9 am. See the Event page for more details.
Country and western music may be the soulful sound of the mountain, far, and Deep South, but after World War II, it also shaped a generation growing up in the Far East. Far Western is a music-fueled, character-driven film about Japan’s history and obsession with American country music. The Far East Network (FEN), established just after the war, broadcast the music to the soldiers stationed in Japan during the U.S. occupation. While the tunes soothed the troops, the music also captured the imaginations of a “ghost” audience of young but very committed Japanese listeners. Through the stories of colorful musicians, fans, and venue owners, the film explores how this simple yet profound form crossed geographies, languages, and histories to create a strange cultural channel between two countries and those who enjoy it in the Far East as well as the Far West.
Q: How did your relationship with Charlie Nagatani and the other musicians begin?
A: I first met Masuo Sasabe from the Blueside of Lonesome in Tokyo in 2006 while I was producing a live concert film for an American band touring Japan. Sasabe introduced me to a lot of people in the bluegrass community in Tokyo and Yokohama and took us to clubs such as Nashville, Rockytop, Pettycoat Lane and Lonestar.
We became aware of Charlie through our research. He’s the only Japanese country artist to play the Grand Ole Opry 27 times and he’s the promoter of the biggest country music festival in Japan. We tracked Charlie down through his manager in Nashville—Judy Seale.
Q: What drew you to filming them and their experiences?
A: On one level I was curious about how this music found its way here; why is there a signed picture of Waylon Jennings in a bar called Rockytop in Ginza Tokyo? And then the bigger, perhaps unanswerable, question is why does this music we think of as a regional, folk music culture resonate so strongly with people on an island half way around the world. It shows the strange ability for music to communicate emotions or experiences like nothing else can.
Q: The interviews with Nagatani and the others are incredibly endearing and a vital and rich part of the film. How did you establish a sense of trust with your subjects?
A: I think with just about everyone we spent time with, it was readily apparent that we were doing this story because of a love for music and telling people’s stories. It was simple. We’ve made great friends. This year Blueside of Lonesome will make their fourth annual trip to our hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma to play a show. We keep up with Charlie and his family as well.
Q: The film emanates this very simple, but powerful idea that music can be universal and need not abide by cultural ownership. Did this idea factor into how you approached making this film?
A: I think in a broad sense, yes. I thought from the start that this film is more about this phenomenon than a biopic or character driven story. In the end, this film is a collection of mini-portraits surrounding this larger idea.
About the Director
James Payne is a freelance director and producer in documentary, television and commercial media. It began with the cult classic Okie Noodling, a story about fishing for mythical, monster catfish with your bare hands (PBS, Discovery Europe). Payne co-directed The Creek Runs Red, a sweetly dystopian story of a toxic American town (PBS—Independent Lens). Payne then produced Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo set within the walls of Oklahoma’s oldest maximum-security prison (HBO Documentary Films). Other documentaries which he has produced include The Flaming Lips, U.F.O.s at the Zoo (Warner Bros.) and Winnebago Man (Kino International). He has produced branded commercial documentary content for clients such as YETI, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and Costa del Mar. His T.V. producing credits include Mudcats (National Geographic) and Ultimate Survival Alaska (National Geographic). His films have been accepted to major festivals including SXSW, Toronto, Los Angeles, Hot Docs, Rotterdam, Berlin, and Sheffield.