In Depth

Safari Media, ITVS, Chris Sheridan & Patty Kim for PBS: ‘Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story’

PBS’ weekly film series “Independent Lens” is no stranger to the duPont Awards. In fact, in 2006, “Seoul Train,” a film about human trafficking, was an award-winning entry from the series.

“Independent Lens” will be honored again this week for “Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story,” a powerful portrait of a family’s suffering after their daughter is abducted from Japan to North Korea. The film was written, directed and produced by Patty Kim and Chris Sheridan, and feature director Jane Campion (“The Piano”) lent her expertise as executive producer.

“We were absolutely thrilled for the filmmakers, especially because they worked so hard on this film, getting the story and getting information out of North Korea. It was a real labor of love for the filmmakers, so we were really happy for them to receive this honor,” said Lois Vossen, “Independent Lens” series producer.

“Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story” tells a controversial story, but that wasn’t what made “Independent Lens” interested in presenting it. “We look for great stories. Controversy tends to follow great stories sometimes, but it’s not our goal to have controversy. It’s our goal to have untold stories well made,” said Ms. Vossen.

“Abduction” begins in Niigata, Japan, 1977, when teenager Megumi Yokota, walking home after school, disappeared without a trace. Government operatives had abducted her for no apparent reason, and her family searched for decades to find her. Years later, North Korea admitted the girl was part of a nefarious program to teach youngsters to become spies for the Communists in Japan.

“There are a lot of great stories out there, but they’re not always well told. Sometimes there are well-told stories but they’re not new,” said Ms. Vossen. “We try to tell new stories that nobody has seen or that we’ve only heard about in a sound bite, but we haven’t really had a chance to go inside the story to really learn about it. This is sort of a perfect ‘Independent Lens’ film because it’s all of those things. It wasn’t in the mainstream media. Also, the film was beautifully shot and they had great input from Jane Campion. She gave wonderful comments to them while they were making the film.”

The creators connected with Ms. Campion as the project was under way.

“She’s a brilliant filmmaker and she had been a fan of their work, so they just contacted her saying they would love to have her input,” said Ms. Vossen. “She wasn’t involved on a day-to-day basis, but she provided artistic feedback. That was really helpful and added a lot to the film.

“Winning a duPont is actually really important because it really reaffirms the value of the work. There are so many programs out there of all kinds from how-to shows to cooking shows to dramas, etc., so to get real estate, to get broadcast time on PBS for independent film, is something we’re really committed to. Every time one of our films wins an award like the duPont or an Emmy or a Peabody, it really is a tremendous affirmation to the work of the filmmakers and the value of these incredible independent films,” Ms. Vossen said.

Unlike the Emmy or the Peabody, however, the duPont truly is about journalism. As Ms. Vossen said, “Independent filmmakers are some of the best journalists working today, and something like the duPont Awards absolutely affirms that and gives credit to that. These filmmakers are not just telling entertaining stories, they really are journalists, and they’re digging deep and they’re revealing stories that are happening around the world.”