and time again we have sat down and said, ‘No, it’s
not just going to end in a production company that grinds out
films for the sake of the dollar.’ We have some real stories
that have to be told and some histories that have to analyzed.”
The words of our late executive director, Steve Tatsukawa, still
ring true today at Visual Communications. In all, we have produced
and sponsored 38 documentaries, 11 dramatic features and 12
animated films. They run the gamut from full-blown docu-dramas
about the Japanese American internment experience to anti-tobacco
rap videos for a local youth advocacy group.
Many of these productions have received critical acclaim and
prestigious honors, most notably Chris Tashima’s “Visas
and Virtue,” which won an Academy Award“ for best
dramatic short film. They have appeared on television—broadcasting
to more than 250,000 viewers nationwide— or used in the
classrooms of California’s public school system. And most
have been screened at our annual VC Film Fest—Los Angeles
Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival, whose growing attendance
peaked at 10,000 this past year.
Visual Communications also recognizes the importance of encouraging
artistic self-expression within Asian Pacific American communities.
We back that up by providing media artists increased opportunities
through fiscal sponsorship, training, access, resource sharing
and presentation. Our new VC Lab provides writers
and filmmakers creative spaces to develop their craft. Access
to Visual Communication’s digital editing facility is
also available for rent, with a nominal fee or donation.
And to help further their development, we offer the Armed
with a Camera Fellowship Program for Emerging Media Artists.
Ten fellows are awarded a production stipend and given five
months to complete a short five-minute piece, which will be
exhibited and distributed by Visual Communications.
PRODUCTION UPDATES & FEATURES
NIGHT TO REMEMBER FOR STAND UP FOR JUSTICE
The Education Committee of Nikkei for Civil Rights &
Redress (NCRR), and Visual Communications project staff share
their thoughts about the unveiling of their much-anticipated
film, Stand Up for Justice:
Jan Yen, Associate Producer, Education Committee
A light but steady rain fell outside the Aratani Japan America
Theatre at 6 PM, February 21, 2004. Members of the team who
had spent the last five years producing Stand Up for Justice
waited, nervously watching the Day of Remembrance attendees
arrive. Old friends were greeted with friendly hello’s
and words of congratulations as they picked up their tickets
from Will Call and ducked into the lobby to escape the rain.
The time had finally come for the premiere.
The journey began in 1996 when VC and the Education Committee
of NCRR, applied to the federal Civil Liberties Public Education
Fund to: 1) preserve and index the 1981 footage of the Commission
on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Los Angeles
hearings that NCRR and VC had filmed; and 2) develop a script
for a 30-minute drama based on the true story of Ralph Lazo,
a teenager of Mexican-Irish descent who voluntarily accompanied
his Japanese American friends to the Manzanar concentration
camp. The piece aimed to educate high school students about
the internment experience.
I knew we would get the film done, but I wasn’t sure when....
I was especially pleased that we were able to premiere Stand
Up For Justice at the Day Of Remembrance. Although the film
is designed for the classroom, it is also a tribute to the Issei
and Nisei who went to camp and suffered the humiliation of losing
their dignity and human rights.
If we have played a small role in bringing their story to future
generations, every minute that I spent on the project over the
last 6 years was worth it (and I know all of the committee members
feel the same way). Day Of Remembrance always attracts a lot
of former internees, and it was gratifying to see their response
to Stand Up for Justice.
Kay Ochi, former high school counselor, Education Committee
The Candle lighting Ceremony set the tone for the Day of Remembrance
and the Premiere. It drew strong responses from the audience:
“very emotional. . . extremely moving, and powerful.”
In honoring Ralph Lazo, the Quakers’ American Friends
Service Committee, Fred Okrand, A.L. Wirin, Wayne Collins, and
others, we acknowledged their extraordinary courage at a time
when the entire country abandoned Japanese Americans and the
Bill of Rights. With each candle, we thanked these wonderful
people for their commitment to justice for all. Just as the
honorees did what they knew was right, let’s hope that
the high school audiences will be inspired by Ralph’s
friendship, and that Stand Up for Justice will be a great source
for discussion and thought.
Amy Kato, Producer, Visual Communications
I bemoaned the fact that it was raining, even though they say
it’s good luck. After years of facing the challenges of
producing Stand Up For Justice, it was finally time for the
premiere. The theatre was sold out weeks before and there was
tremendous anticipation: would everyone still come despite the
weather? When the house lights came on after thunderous applause
for the film, we witnessed from the stage a sea of people, young
and old. It validated for me all that we went through. What
might have been a simple act for this Mexican American teenager
became a monumental symbol of courage and solidarity for his
Japanese American friends. That night, so many Nisei, now advanced
in years, came to pay tribute to Ralph Lazo, who in some way
touched their lives. Many brought their children and grandchildren.
As a filmmaker, that evening was magical and gratifying, knowing
I had some part in telling this story.
Kathy Masaoka, high school teacher, Education Committee
Meeting Ralph Lazo’s family at the wrap party and at a
reunion with some of his friends from Manzanar andCentral Junior
High was a unique opportunity to learn more about Ralph. “Ralph
kept our spirits up,” said his Manzanar friends. They
may not have known why Ralph went to Manzanar but what counted
to his Japanese American friends was simply the fact that he
was there. Ralph did not preach his beliefs, although we learned
from a Central Junior friend, Miyoshi, that Ralph was politically
savvy for a youth. His actions spoke for themselves and his
friends remembered this. Ralph’s former wife, Isabella,
shared that he was troubled by his service in the Pacific, feeling
that he might have killed his friends’ relatives. She
believed that he carried this burden for the rest of his life.
She called him a good man.
This good man continues to bring out the best in our community.
Many people have offered their suggestions and want to help
raise funds to spread the story. We have an opportunity to build
links, just like Ralph did, with other communities. People like
Josefina Lopez in Boyle Heights, who already knew his story,
had even written a play about him. I look forward to the relationships
and lessons that Ralph Lazo’s life continues to inspire.
Patty Nagano, elementary school teacher, Education Committee
What a Birth! The gestation of the Lazo Project took six long
years…but well worth the wait. Our committee worked very
hard to make the film a success, from coordinating wardrobe,
recruiting extras, getting food, completing the film, and much
more. The efforts paid off with a very successful premiere.
I heard comments like, “The entire program was very moving,”
“The film was great and more than I imagine,” “Wow,
you did all of this on a limited budget!” and “What
great food!” I feel lucky to be a part of such a terrific
project and can’t wait to get it into the schools.
Richard Katsuda, high school teacher, Education Committee
It was really exciting to see the film take shape in the weeks
leading up to Day of Remembrance. We made sure that we got a
good cross-section of students to preview the rough cut in order
to get a broad spectrum of input. We got feedback from a diverse
group of students from continuation high school to advanced
placement classes, and from all major ethnic groups.
The responses were quite varied, but what emerged universally
was the feeling that Ralph Lazo was a good guy, a role model,
loyal to his friends, courageous, standing up for what he thought
was right. This was so reassuring to the Education Committee,
as it was the essential idea that we wanted to convey to students
in the hope of inspiring them.
Suzy Katsuda, juggler/magician a.k.a. ticket coordinator
I had the privilege of being the ticket coordinator for the
Lazo screening. We were sold out with over 200 on a waiting
list. We “comp’ed” tickets for the cast, crew
and extras (no easy task as that involved more than 180 people).
I wrote the names of the “comp” guests on envelopes
to be picked up at “will call” on the night of the
event. I went over the list at least four times.