HONOURING OUR PEOPLE STORIES OF THE INTERNMENT CONFERENCE: filming stories of Canada’s internment of its Japanese citizens
Today I was a videographer at the Honouring Our People Stories of the Internment Conference at the National Nikkei Museum & Heritage Centre in Burnaby, BC. Since moving to Vancouver two years ago I have had many opportunities to reconnect with my Japanese-Canadian heritage; I jumped at the chance to be part of this event and I hope to bring my own family members from Alberta to participate next year.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, thrusting the Allies into a new front in World War II. One of Canada’s and the US’s reactions on the home front was to effectively declare war on their own citizens; anyone of Japanese descent – men, women, children and the elderly – were harshly discriminated against in what became one of the most shameful violations of civil liberties in our countries’ histories (this was recognized through formal redress by both the Canadian and US governments in 1988). The entire population of Japanese Canadians (20,000) and Americans (120,000) were promptly stripped of all of their property and rights; families were split up, and “evacuated” to internment camps in the interior of British Columbia. In Canada one of the only opportunities for families to stay together was to move to the prairie; due to a serious labour shortage in the sugar beet industry, whole families were permitted to move to Southern Alberta to live and work in the fields – backbreaking manual labour that was normally done by transient workers during the summer. My father was the youngest child in of one of these families.
My grandparents immigrated to Canada from Japan in 1917 and worked a confectionary store next to Oppenheimer Park, in Vancouver, BC. In the early 1930’s they left Vancouver and settled near Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island to work in the lumber industry. In February, 1941 my father was born and one year later, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the family avoided the internment camps by moving to the Raymond District of Southern Alberta to work the sugar beet fields. In 2007, sixty-five years after my family was forced from their home by their own government, I was the first to move back to the west coast of Canada.
At today’s event I was witness to a circle of seven people who shared their evacuation stories and what ensued afterwards in their lives. As much as I thought I knew about this period in my family’s history, I realized that I actually know very little. The more I learn, the more I am inspired to learn.
The videos I helped to shoot today will be added to the archives at the National Nikkei Museum & Heritage Centre in Burnaby, BC.
Surviving In The Cracks is an auteur creative documentary about a group of unlikely subjects who, from abusive backgrounds, homelessness, addiction, prostitution and poverty, struggle and succeed along with a youth support group and some university researchers to complete a remarkable theatre production based on their lives.
Creating this film has been a remarkable experience. It carries significant weight in my decision to depart the corporate world to pursue film, although when I made that decision I had no idea that the project even existed let alone was just itching to be filmed.
That realization came quickly though – not fully one week into the summer semester of the Digital Film Program at Langara College, I attended a rehearsal for the “Surviving In The Cracks” theatre project to investigate whether it was a viable focus for my grad project. After that first rehearsal, and for the many rehearsals and events that followed, I couldn’t tell whether it would be viable. But I kept on shooting.
What resulted has turned out to be far far more than I could have ever expected. Sure, it met the requirements for my grad film – but it CONSUMED me for the entire four months of the summer. Today, the pursuit of getting funding to complete a long version of the film continues to be a major motivation, and a little frustration, in my life. I strongly believe that this is an important film to complete, for its social and educational value, for academics and participatory researchers, aboriginal advocates, street-involved youth, and parents – and it is in this spirit that I am trying to complete it.
Today it exists in a 2.5 minute trailer (above), a 10 minute short and a 15 minute short. Within the 20 hours of footage, there is a strong broadcast hour length version just waiting to be cut.
Thanks to the kind support from the Vancouver Youth Visions Coalition, the UBC Center for Health Promotion Research, CBC Archives, Tegan & Sara, Tobacco Brown, and Connor Robinson, not to mention the instructors and fellow students at Langara.