Chris Noland was living in Tokyo on March 11, 2011 when the massive earthquake hit the northeast coast of Japan. He recorded the effects of the earthquake on his apartment, and then realized he should and could do something to help. He connected with a foreign NGO and began his first ever stint as a volunteer. Noland’s earnest narration and tears as he uncovers diaries and keepsakes runs in stark contrast to the devastated landscapes in the cities he visits, first to clear and rebuild, and then to investigate the effects of the Fukushima meltdown.

What Nolands finds and reveals in 311 Surviving Japan is painful and disturbing: Bureaucracy hampers relief efforts. Food is turned away or misdirected and agencies do not know relief protocol.  People stuck inside the 30 km zone were told to stay indoors by the government, patiently waiting for supplies that never came.  No fuel to escape or phones to the outside worlds  Government officials did not show up for 2 weeks until the city’s mayor broadcast for help on YouTube begging the world for assistance.  Food “clicks” high on Geiger counters (and if one mayor is to be believed, shipments of Geiger counters were held back by the Japanese government to prevent citizens from knowing the truth about the contamination).  Farmers outside the 30 kilometer radiation zone drive an hour each way to bring hay for their herds–an exercise in futility since the animals and the water they drink are contaminated.  And in the long term, far reaching effects may be worse than Chernobyl.

This is a bleak, sad vision of Japan, where citizens feel betrayed, their sense of self destroyed by the government, by alleged kickbacks to the energy industry which promotes nuclear power, by the need for energy, as much as by the tsunami. Noland’s interviews with victims, politicians, and nuclear experts and images paint a tragic future, though the final scenes of a huge rally–50,000 citizens protesting nuclear energy give hope that Fukushima may change society–if we survive the fallout.

311 Surviving Japan is currently scheduled for screenings across the US on and after the anniversary of the disaster. For tickets click here.