“Our Mr. Matsura” Documentary
By Beth Harrington, For The North American Post
Thank you for this opportunity to provide further information on the status of our documentary film in progress, “Our Mr. Matsura.”
The film tells the story of Frank S. Matsura (born Matsuura Sakae) who journeyed from his native Japan to live in rural Washington State in the early 1900s. The son of a samurai of the Matsuura Domain, Kyushu (near Nagasaki), Matsura was orphaned at a young age, then raised in Tokyo by extended family. In 1901, he emigrated to Seattle and later to Okanogan County, Washington, where he embedded himself in a community of Native people and homesteaders. In the decade he spent in the Okanogan, he became one of the area’s leading photo-chroniclers and, arguably, its most beloved citizen. Of the 8826 historical photos in the online collection of the Okanagan County Historical Society, 2492 (28%) were taken by Matsura.
Frank Matsura created a body of work that transcended mere documentation of his adopted home. He depicted, with obvious warmth and personal connection, the diverse peoples of North Central Washington State. He also produced a great volume of playful, often unconventional self-portraiture. In addition, he often extended this creative exploration into surprising collaborative visual storytelling with area residents who frequently played with costume, skit-like in nature. His distinctive portfolio of imagery is a striking departure from the staid portraits we associate with early 20th century works of its category; it expands on and complicates the better-promoted narratives of Western U.S. history. More than 2500 photos of his making survive today.
Matsura’s popularity owed much to his active participation in the lives of the individuals he encountered. Upon his untimely death from tuberculosis at the age of 39, the people of the region deeply mourned him, with members of the tribal communities keeping vigil over his body. Over 300 people from all walks of life attending Frank’s funeral, the largest seen up to that time in the region.
The goal of our film is to present a picture of the American “frontier” that departs from the existing, dominant visual narratives in popular culture and celebrates the singular contribution of a fascinating, under-the-radar creative force, Frank S. Matsura.
Our project has received development funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the women’s film advocacy organization, the Faerie Godmother Fund. This has allowed us to do further research and initial filming and create a trailer.
We currently await further funding from the NEH and other groups. In the meantime, we are anxious to continue filming and are hoping to get the word out to potential donors interested in supporting such a project. Donations made to the project through the well-regarded Center for Independent Documentary would be tax deductible. We are hoping to raise $25,000 in the coming months.
This funding would allow us to begin filming in Japan with co-producer/co-director Hatsumi Asaka at the helm, doing critical interviews with extended family members including Akira Matsura, the 41st head of the Matsura clan. Before becoming a freelance film and TV producer, Asaka worked for NHK for 26 years.
Please visit our website to see more about the film, our production team (including Hatsumi and myself) and our stellar academic advisory committee.
Thank you so much for your help and interest as we attempt to get the word out. It is deeply appreciated. Everyone involved in this project believes it to be an important under-told story and is committed to bringing it to life.
Beth Harrington, Producer/Director
805 SE 101st Avenue
Vancouver, WA 98664, 503-260-7020