Documentary aims to tell ‘American story’ of internment camps

SANTA ANA — Executive producer Ecar Oden said the story of Japnese American internment camps operating in the U.S. during World War II is an American story.

Oden, writers and producers Jeff Redd and Denis Donovan, and director Brad Hagen, of Video Resources Inc., based in Santa Ana, are currently working on a documentary film to tell that story.

The idea for the film, “Three Lenses,” began with Oden’s interest in landscape photographer Ansel Adams.

While researching Adams’ work Oden discovered a series of photos on the Manzanar internment camp that was donated to the National Trust.

Oden also found documentary photographer Dorothea Lange, and incarcerated photographer Toyo Miyatake, had taken photographs of the interment camps in California, Oregon and Washington.

Each photographer came upon the opportunity differently.

Adams was invited to the Manzanar Relocation Camp by his friend and camp director, who hoped to humanize the camp experince for Japanese Americans.

Lange was hired by the U.S. government to photograph “happy Japanese” for a propaganda campain.

Lange did not agree with the propaganda and included signage in the photographs, such as “I am an American,” that helped tell the true story of the time.

Lange’s efforts battled against newspaper and radio propaganda that labled all Japenese Americans “the enemy.”

“The media created hysteria of the Japense menace,” Oden said.

“Very few people stood up for Japanese Americans. Pearl Harbor was used as an excuse.”

Oden said unjust laws had been written years earlier specifically to curtail the business success of Japense Americans.

Miyatake was the third photographer Oden researched.

He was a well-known Los Angeles photographer, who was incarerated at the Manzanar camp because he was a Japanese American.

Cameras were considered contraband and not allowed in the camp, so Miyatake took a lens and film holder with him and built a box camera.

When it was discovered he was taking photographs it was objected to at first, but after a while he was allowed to continue.

Research also uncovered unexpected heroes.

Oden said he is finishing up a two-and-a-half year process of interviewing people who faced incareration, or were pivotally involved in raising awareness about the injustice of American internment camps.

Interviews conducted so far include a man born in Manzanar, who relocated to Japan with his family, and was drafted into the U.S. military years later during the Vietnam War while still living in Japan.

The man went on to serve in the U.S. military and earn a medal of valor.

Oden said a stirring fact in his research was that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently spoke to a group of college students and said it could happen again.

“In war, laws go out the window,” Oden said, paraphrasing the judge.

Oden said he hopes to arrange interviews with U.S. representatives who spoke up for Arab Americans following 9/11, and explore the possibility of history repeating itself.

Interviews are expected to be completed this year.

The next step is film editing which should be completed by fall.

Oden said he plans to enter the documentary film in several film festivals next spring.

He has not determined which festival the documentary will premiere in, but has the Santa Barbara, Newport Beach and Sundance film festivals in mind to enter.

“A greater knowledge by more Americans of this time in history is our society’s best protection from similar injustices happening in the future,” Oden said.

He added that down the road he would like to see the documentary aired as a three-part series on KPBS and be used as an educational tool in civic classes.

“I hope it has a national audience.

“We’re not just retelling a story that has already been told. We’re digging into the past as it relates to what’s going on in the world today.”

“Three Lenses” was awarded the AbelCine Documentary Grant in October to help fund production.



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