Time 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.



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.