Visual Communications’ first-ever production was not a film, but a photographic exhibit. Commissioned by the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) to produce an exhibit on Japanese American relocation and internment, VC founders Robert Nakamura and Alan Ohashi created the modular, mobile exhibit AMERICA’S CONCENTRATION CAMPS (aka, “The Cubes Exhibit”).
From OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Asian Americans in Cinema, edited by Roger Garcia
Roger Garcia: What led to the founding of Visual Communications?
Robert Nakamura: Someone had asked me to do an exhibit about the camp and gave me the first photographs I had ever seen of it. I did sculptures of photographs on blocks, and eventually they went all over the county. That's when I got the first inkling of how starved we are for history, because the community came out and couldn't get over the photographs. So I decided there was a need for media within our community. Alan Ohashi and myself decided we would create this media organization. We did a lot of silk screens and posters for various community events plus the exhibit. We decided to call ourselves Visual Communications partly because of the initials were VC (note" a reference to "Viet Cong"). We set up a more formal organization while we were in film school, including Duane Kubo and Eddie Wong. In fact we released Manzanar as our first VC film production. Eddie Wong did his first film called Wong Sing Saang with the VC logo on it. All of my super 8 films were released as VC films.
Roger Garcia: Was VC modeled on anything else?
Robert Nakamura: It wasn't. We became a production company but added that we were always community based. We've taken a lot of detours since then but "community based" meant that we always answered to our community of Asian Americans and that our work would be primarily for Asian Americans. That would not discount Hollywood or feature films. One of our big discoveries at the time - when we did Manzanar and the short films - was to screen in the community context. We showed in churches, school auditoriums, we would project films onto walls in parking lots.
Anyway we could, because there was always an audience. It was an amazing experience because people were just starved to see part of their own story up on the screen, it was something new at the time. You know, film or television or being printed in a book kind of validates it. Not only was it very rewarding but it was also so well received and appreciated. And it began to define who were were.
For viewing, here is JANM's tribute to Robert A. Nakamura.