Our Stories, Our Voices - Japanese American Experience Series

December 06, 2012

Contact: Michele McKenzie
phone: 510-981-6240

Berkeley Public Library presents a free two-part film discussion series called “Our Stories, Our Voices” exploring the wartime experience of Japanese Americans in California during World War II.  Each session will include a film screening followed by discussion and Q&A moderated by a range of special guests, including local filmmaker Ken Kokka, noted cultural historian Donna Graves, Academy and Emmy award winning director John Korty, and author of the memoir Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. Local members of the Bay Area Japanese American community of all generations are especially encouraged to attend and share their stories.  This will be a unique opportunity to learn more about this troubling chapter of American history, when the United States government authorized the forced relocation and incarceration of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast - through their stories, told in their own voices. All sessions in the film discussion series will take place in the Community Meeting Room on the third floor of the Central Library, 2090 Kittredge at Shattuck, downtown Berkeley.

Blossoms & Thorns

The first part of the series takes place on Sunday, January 13th at 2 p.m. with a screening of the short documentary Blossoms and Thorns: A Community Uprooted followed by a panel discussion with local community members moderated by filmmaker Ken Kokka and cultural historian Donna Graves.  Stemming from a community effort and sponsored by the Contra Costa Japanese American Citizens League, Blossoms and Thorns is a powerful new documentary film about the World War II experiences of Japanese American flower growers in Richmond, California.

Akemi Clyde

"Photo used by permission ©2011
NBCUniversal, Inc. All Rights Reserved."

Family in Barracks

"Photo used by permission ©2011 NBCUniversal, Inc. All Rights Reserved."

Farewell to Manzanar

"Photo used by permission ©2011 NBCUniversal, Inc. All Rights Reserved."

Girl at Fence

"Photo used by permission ©2011 NBCUniversal, Inc. All Rights Reserved."

The second part of the series takes place on Monday, January 14th at 5 p.m. with a screening of the 1976 made for television film, Farewell to Manzanar, followed by conversation and Q&A with the film’s director, John Korty and author Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.  Created in 1976, Farewell to Manzanar was the first commercial film written, performed, photographed and scored by Japanese Americans about the World War II internment camp experience.  The screenplay for Farewell to Manzanar was adapted from Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s compelling memoir about the Japanese-American internment experience, as seen through eyes of a young girl.  Rarely seen for 35 years, the Japanese American National Museum recently released this historical film for the first time on DVD to a new generation of viewers. Trailblazing director of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, John Korty has consistently chosen projects focused on themes of social justice throughout his four decade career in film and television.  Korty co-wrote the screenplay for Farewell to Manzanar with Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and John D. Houston, earning a Humanitas Prize, honoring film and television writers whose work explores the human condition in a nuanced, meaningful way. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s memoir Farewell to Manzanar gave voice not only to the Wakatsuki family, but to the thousands of Japanese Americans who silently endured similar experiences. In the more than two decades since its publishing, Farewell to Manzanar, has become a modern classic and an invaluable contribution to the annals of American history.  In 2012 Farewell to Manzanar was selected by Cal Humanities’ California Reads, a statewide reading and discussion program developed collaboratively with the California Center for the Book with support from the California State Library. Ken Kokka is a Berkeley native and graduate of the MFA Directing Program at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. Kokka has written and directed several short films, including The Chessmen, a dramatic narrative about the plight of Japanese-Americans returning to their former neighborhoods following their internment during World War II. Donna Graves is a public arts and cultural planner, historian and writer based in Berkeley.  Graves is the project director and lead historian of Preserving California’s Japantowns, a statewide historic survey of pre-WWII Japanese American communities. She also served as project director for the Rosie the Riveter Memorial: Honoring American Women's Labor During WWII in Richmond, California. Blossoms & Thorns panel participants include Raymond Fujii and Kaz Iwahashi, whose families owned a cut flower nursery and a florist shop in Berkeley prior to World War II, and Wilton Lee, whose family cared for a San Pablo Avenue florist shop owned by the Nabeta family during the war. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library (http://www.berkeleylibraryfriends.org), both events are FREE and wheelchair accessible.  For more information, call 510-981-6100