q&a with the director at the shadow film festival 2005

q&a with the director at the shadow film festival 2005

Following the premier in Amsterdam at the Shadow Film Festival (2005), festival director Stefan Mayakovsky sat down with director ian thomas ash for an in-depth discussion of “the ballad”.

stefan – It’s a pretty amazing film, certainly from the point of view of taking risks. The first thing I want to ask is whether your position in the film was something you decided before you started work on the film.

ian – When we started the film, in our minds it was a ten minute portrait about Vicki. We were just doing sound recordings which is why the whole beginning of the film is interviews with photos. We were going to lay those sound recordings about how Vicki was getting her life back together and had gotten the house under footage of Jake’s birthday party. And that didn’t happen. We had eight hours of footage from that day and brought it to our executive producer and editor, and they both said that the relationship that I had with Vicki was the story. So it very much happened by accident. Maybe it’s rare for a documentary, but our editor was watching the footage as it was coming in and was advising us along with our executive producer as we were filming. It was filmed over nine months but in many ways, the story that you see on the screen came to be in post-production.

stefan – There is an amazing dynamic between you and the people. At moments it’s like we have the most experienced documentary filmmaker of all times and at other times just a normal person. Is that just spontaneous? Do you just have an awareness of things at times and at other times not?

ian – We weren’t taking risks in an educated way. I don’t think we knew what we were doing. Whenever I look like I know what I am doing it is just because I’m doing whatever feels natural.

stefan – The scene where you go and get the boyfriend and Vicki is ill upstairs, a normal person might have just given up. But it’s almost like you’re a seasoned journalist.

ian – At that point my goal was to get Paul to come out or for us to go in. It’s not clear in the film, but that is the day that we interviewed Sister Annaliese, and I was very upset and not at all unbiased. And I wanted the film to end. I did. So I had gone there to confront Vicki. We got sidetracked and met Sean with the bicycles and Vicki asked me to sing, but the fight at the end of the film had been building up inside of me all day.

stefan – At film school, we are taught to be aware of distance with our subjects.

ian – I was aware of my complete lack of objectivity. After the fight I wrote Vicki a letter and said that it felt like she was my girlfriend and that we had just broken up. That’s not something that a documentary film director would typically say or feel, I should think. After the fight you see me call our technical advisor and ask what we should do. He tells us not to go back, so of course we do. Our executive producer and him were like night and day about what we should be doing and in the end the cameraman, Ken, and I just had to do what felt right.

audience member – Did you film more of Jake, at school for example, and then leave it out?

ian – We had a discussion about not making the film any more political than it already was by interviewing their social worker or going to Jake’s school. I would rather the audience bring the political context to the film themselves, because it was never about the politics for us. It has always been about our relationship.

audience member – You have left in many “glitches” which makes the film very complex.

ian – I think that editing in particular is extremely manipulative. That’s why we left in the jump cuts. We wanted to show where we were cutting what somebody was saying. And we left parts in where I am making mistakes and judging them because that’s what is fair.

audience member – Are you going to make more films like this?

ian – It does take a lot out of you. Yet if I’m not going to put my heart into it, I’m probably not going to be any good at it. People ask why I don’t make nice films about bunnies and kitties. I think those would be easier to make and also to watch. Yet I can’t do that. This is the only way that I know how to do it.

used with permission ©2005 Shadow Fest

Ian Thomas Ash

Ian Thomas Ash


Born in America, Ian Thomas Ash earned an MA in Film and Television Production at the University of Bristol, UK, in 2005. His first feature documentary, ‘the ballad of vicki and jake’ (2006), received the Prix du Canton Vaud prize at the 2006 Visions du Reél International Documentary Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland.

Ian’s two feature documentaries about children living in areas of Fukushima contaminated by the 2011 nuclear meltdown, ‘In the Grey Zone‘ (2012) and ‘A2-B-C‘ (2013), have been screened at festivals around the world where they have received multiple awards.

The World Premier of ‘-1287‘ (2014), Ian’s latest documentary, took place in the 2014 Raindance Film Festival (UK). It received the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2015 Nippon Connection Film Festival in Germany, the First Prize in the Asian Competition at the 2015 DMZ Docs Film Festival in Korea and the People’s Choice (audience) Award at the 2015 Lake Champlain International Film Festival in New York. Ian has lived in Japan for a total of 13 years and currently lives in Tokyo. He is in production for two documentaries, one about terminal care in Japan and the other the third installment in his series about Fukushima.



Best Documentary
at the 2016 SoCal Film Festival (USA) for ‘-1287’ (2014)

People’s Choice (audience) Award
at the 2015 Lake Champlain International Film Festival (USA) for ‘-1287’ (2014)

First Prize in the Asian Competition
at the 2015 DMZ Docs Film Festival (Korea) for ‘-1287’ (2014)

Audience Award for Best Feature Film
at the 2015 Nippon Connection Film Festival (Germany) for ‘-1287’ (2014)

Filmmaker Award
at the 2015 Snowtown Film Festival (USA) for short documentary “Even the Birds Need to be Loved”

Golden Honey Comb for Outstanding Work in Film
at the 2014 Lake Champlain International Film Festival (USA) for ‘In the Grey Zone’ (2012) and ‘A2-B-C’ (2013)

Special Recognition
at the 2014 Uranium Film Festival (Brazil) for ‘A2-B-C’ (2013)

Award for Best Documentary
at the 2013 STEPS Rights Film Festival (Ukraine) for ‘A2-B-C’ (2013)

Best of Festival Award
at the 2013 Guam International Film Festival for ‘A2-B-C’ (2013)

Nippon Visions Award (best film by new-coming Japan-based director)
at the 2013 Nippon Connection Japanese Film Festival (Germany) for ‘A2-B-C’ (2013)

Audience Choice Award First Prize for Best Documentary
at the 2012 Rhode Island International Film Festival (US) for “In the Grey Zone” (2012)

Filmmaker of the Future Award
at the 2012 Rhode Island International Film Festival (US)

Prix de Canton Vaud (best first film)
at the 2006 Visions du Reél International Documentary Film Festival (Nyon, Switzerland) for “the ballad of vicki and jake” (2006)



“Dying at Home”, 28 min/ Japan (NHK World)/ 2016
Dr. Konta is on a quest to help people who wish to die at home rather than in hospital.

“-1287”, 70 min/ US & Japan/ 2014
As she nears the end of life, Kazuko’s observations on love, money, marriage and her own death change, as does her relationship with the filmmaker.

“A2-B-C”, 71 min/ Japan/ 2013
Eighteen months after the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, children who were not evacuated are found to have thyroid cysts and nodules.

“In the Grey Zone”, 89 min/ Japan/ 2012
The children of Minamisoma City, Fukushima, living inside the radiation zone head back to school after the nuclear meltdown.

“Jake, not finished yet”, 81 min/ Japan & UK/ 2010
The story of two mothers and two sons whose chance meeting seven years earlier changes their lives forever.

“the ballad of vicki and jake”, 84 min/ UK/ 2006
A family struggles with drug abuse, homelessness and their relationship with the filmmaker.

Michael Croucher

Michael Croucher


executive producer

Michael began his career as a radio studio manager but went on to work with the BBC for more than thirty years as a producer and director. In the earlier years of his career he collaborated with British filmmaker John Boorman before going on to make many of his own documentaries, starting with The Bashers (1962) and progressing to major documentary series and directing drama.

Ken Kwek

Ken Kwek


After shooting The Ballad of Vicki & Jake, Ken Kwek worked as a journalist for The Straits Times in his native Singapore before returning to filmmaking in 2008. His screenwriting credits include The Blue Mansion (2009), Kidnapper (2010), It’s A Great Great World (2011) and Trafficker (2013). He has directed several films including the the comedy thriller UNLUCKY PLAZA, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014 and picked up awards for Best Director (Tehran Jasmine Film Festival) and Best Actor (International Film Festival Manhattan) in 2015. He is currently the creative director of Mindfuel, a Manila-based production company.

Lizzie Minnion

Lizzie Minnion


Lizzie trained in drama and worked as a theatre director before becoming a filmmaker. Since completing an MA in Film and Television Production (1999) Lizzie has been working as a afrelance editor and director. Her editing experience ranges from travel documentaries to independent film. Lizzie also works as a visiting film tutor at the University of Bristol.

Anthea Harvey

Anthea Harvey

assistant editor

Anthea’s previous work includes business development, press management and marketing for creative organisations including the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Following her MA in Film and Television Production at the University of Bristol she is pursuing a career in documentary. She has since edited programmees for BBC, Sky and independent filmmakers.