Premiere of "Otaku Unite!" set for launch this month at
Anime Weekend Atlanta
by Jonathan Cook
Over the past 30 years, there have been some great directors in the history of film. George Lucus, Ron Howard, Steven Spielburg, Wes Craven, The Farley Brothers, Eric Bresler... What? You've never heard of Eric Bresler? Don't worry if you've never heard of him. But chances are if you've been an anime fan for the past year you may have heard of his movie. Eric Bresler is the brains behind the much anticipated "Otaku Unite!", which will make it's official premiere at this year's Anime Weekend Atlanta. Following AWA, it will tour across the country at various conventions in North America.
Over a year and a half in the making, "Otaku Unite!" documents both the anime subculture as a whole as well as its history in North America, dating back to the 1960's. During the final days of post production, Eric was more than happy to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk with @anime! about the movie's backstory.
@anime!: So what prompted you to do a documentary on the history of the anime subculture in the United States?
Eric Bresler: I was introduced to anime fandom in the Summer of 2000 when I attended Otakon in Baltimore. I was hosting a weekly Japanese-themed radio show in Philly at the time, spinning everything from X-Japan to Melt Banana. A listener informed me of a dance that would be held at the convention and I immediately decided to attend in hopes of discovering new bands to add to my playlist. So I went to Otakon, accompanied by future OU! crew member Charles Smith, and was amazed by the number of fans in attendance. At the close of the convention I was determined to discover the roots of this subculture and the reasons behind my failure to acknowledge its existence sooner, thus Otaku Unite! was born.
@a!: During filming, what types of fans and industry reps did you interview during your year of cross-country expedition?
EB: Otaku Unite! concentrates on the history of anime fandom rather than on the animation itself thus we concentrated our efforts on the people that helped organize the fan movement as well as the individuals whose efforts allow it to thrive today. We interviewed the founders and chairmen of some of the country's oldest and largest anime conventions, members of the first anime clubs, founders of the first anime distributors, veteran and current cosplayers, frequent anime con guests...the list goes on and on. There are too many names to mention, but some of the most recognizable faces that will appear in this documentary include Steve Bennett, Scott Frazier, Robert DeJesus, Doug Smith, Carl Macek, Brett Weaver, Dave Merrill, Trish Ledoux, Sailor Jamboree, Carl Gustav Horn and Anime DJ/ radio personality Johnny Otaku.
@a!: How many people helped you with the project once it was officially off the ground?
EB: The OU! crew is made up of five individuals, including myself, who shared camera, sound, and lighting duties. I handled all aspects of the production myself, from research to editing and all of the funds came out of my own pocket. Otaku Unite! would not have been possible without the help of literally hundreds of anime fans, they know who they are.
@a!: Given the recent "anime renaissance" that has mushroomed in the two years, do you sometimes think about the irony as to the timing of this movie's release?
EB: Well the timing is perfect. My discovery of fandom was timed well, if anime wasn't on such of an upswing at the time then I probably would never have learned of the existence of anime conventions in the first place. If I didn't come along and make Otaku Unite! then I'm sure someone else would have. Mike Tatsugawa, the founder of Anime Expo, told me about how there are at least a few film crews that show up at Expo every year with the same intentions as myself, but nothing ever seems to come of their aspirations. I am proud to say that Otaku Unite! is the definitive overview of the history of anime fandom in the U.S., the first of its kind. Anime has been imported to the U.S. since the early 60's and organized fandom has been around since the late 70's so its about time someone properly documented the existence of this unique subculture.
@a!: Can you name of some of your more memorable interviews while filming "Otaku Unite!"?
EB: My personal favorite was with Carl Macek, which was also the final interview we conducted. We met up with Mr. Macek at an anime con in Virginia that happened to mark his return to the anime-related public...if you don't know his back story then Otaku Unite! will surely teach you a thing or two. Mr. Macek helped promote anime in the U.S. to a greater degree than anyone before or perhaps since his dealing with Robotech, thus the interview was great since he was able to answer specific anime-related questions while simultaneously giving us an outside opinion of the subculture's current status. Our trip to I.C. Entertainment (formerly Studio Ironcat) and the Kaiju Big Battel events we attended were also quite memorable.
@a!: One thing I'm personally curious about, of all the cons to premiere OU! why did you chose Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA)?
EB: We chose AWA as our premiere for two reasons. First, out of the dozen cons we captured, it was one of our favorites so we're excited to return. Second, Dave Merrill, the AWA chairman, appears in the project quite a bit, as do many of this year's guests. Atlanta certainly isn't the most convenient of places to premiere the documentary at since we're based out of Philadelphia, but the number of faces that will appear in both OU! and at the convention make it worth the trip.
@a!: If successful, do you have any plans to show OU! in other venues not affiliated with anime cons? (Ex: Cannes and Sundance)
EB: Definitely, I'm confident that OU! will appeal to individuals both in and outside of fandom itself.
@a!: What do you hope for viewers of the documentary to get out of (or learn) from watching Otaku Unite!?
EB: I hope to simultaneously educate and entertain. The exposure of fandom to outside audiences will only aid in the expansion of the subculture. The education of fandom's history will enable the new fans to appreciate the efforts of those who came before and will thus help said fandom continue to thrive. I edited OU! with audiences outside of fandom in mind in order to avoid a "lets laugh at the people in funny outfits" response. I want all audiences to admire and respect this documentary's inhabitants as much as I do.
@a!: Can you give us a hint as to what other future projects or films are in the works (if any)?
EB: No, but this is most likely my only venture into anime fandom.
@a!: How was the Otakon panel? How many estimated attended? What kind of clips did you show? (Just an overall briefing)
EB: There were about 30-35 people in attendance at our Otakon panel, which was a good turn-out considering it was a last minute deal and we mentioned in the program book. I was accompanied on the panel by OU! crew members Charles Smith and Kelli Cain both of whom have recently relocated to LA so it was good to see them before they left. We showed a promo reel of scenes from the documentary as well as footage of Kaiju Big Battel and some music videos from some of the Japanese artists who are supplying the soundtrack to OU!. It was definitely a lot of fun and it was good to see that the people in attendance actually had intelligent questions to ask. I hope we responded in a suitably intelligent manner.
Hometown: Watertown, NY
Currenty residence: Philadelphia, PA (6 years)
Attended Drexel University, majored in Film and Video, minored in Literature
I specialize in Japanese film and exploitation cinema.
Shooting began at Sugoicon in 2000 and wrapped in April of 2002. Editing has been underway since then with the world premiere set for September 2003 at Anime Weekend Atlanta.
The OU! crew is made up of: Eric Bresler, Regan Brunetti, Kelli Cain, Charles Smith, and Gaeson Taylor.
For more info, check out the OU! website at www.otakuunite.com