Paul Bonesteel’s The Mystery of George Masa (2002) tells the story of Japanese immigrant George Masa (real name: Masahar Iizuka), a photographer and conservationist who ended up in Asheville — with a job at the Grove Park Inn. He slowly became something of a fixture — thanks both to his photographic skills and his apparently personable demeanor. His reputation grew and his fortunes grew and shrank over his years here. Everyone seems to have known him — at least sort of — and liked him, though only one man, fellow conservationist Horace Kephart, appeared to really know him in any depth. He eventually had his own photo studio, contracts with several film companies for newreels, etc. None of this may sound all that compelling, but in Bonesteel’s film Masa’s story becomes fascinating — as much by what it can’t tell us as what it can. Very little of Masa’s photography — his views of the mountains and other nature studies — is known to survive. Some of them may have become attributed to the man who came to own them. Despite the fact that Masa kept journals and many letters have survived, the man himself remains something of an enigma — and a mass of contradictions in the bargain. Using interviews, archival material, and even some dramatic recreations (don’t think cheese like you see on the History Channel), what Bonesteel’s film finally gives us is really a portrait of an enigma, but a fascinating portrait all the same.
Local filmmaker Paul Bonesteel will speak and show his documentary film The Mystery of George Masa on Monday, July 28, as a fundraiser for the Environmental and Conservation Organization (ECO). The showing will be in the McIntosh Room of the Blue Ridge Conference Hall, 180 West Campus Drive, at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock. At 6 p.m., a preview reception will feature refreshments catered by The Purple Onion restaurant in Saluda, wine, beer provided by Highland Brewing, a talk by Bonesteel, and reserved seating for the film showing. Cost for the reception is $40 per person. At 7 p.m., the film will be shown with an introduction by Bonesteel. Cost for attending the film only is $15 per person.