Review: Director Chris Hope on Hatsumi at PEN Picks

By | February 21, 2014 at 10:29 am | No comments | Blog | Tags: , , , , ,

On Feb.10, 2014, PEN Canada opened the PEN Picks series presented in partnership with Hot Docs, at which four celebrated authors were invited to present a documentary of their choice. Dr. Vincent Lam’s selection, Hatsumi follows director Chris Hope as he retraces his grandmother’s experience of being interned with other Japanese Canadian citizens during World War II. In this blog, Hope describes how a post-screening Q&A demonstrated the value of Hatsumi.

Hatsumi: A message from those whose voices were taken away

Chris Hope

Chris Hope

I’m still not entirely sure whether he was joking.

A gentleman took the microphone during the recent Q&A following the PEN Picks screening of my film Hatsumi and quoted my claim that the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II ruined the lives of many in the Japanese Canadian community. He then went on to note that he thought the $21,000 redress paid by the Canadian government to Japanese Canadians affected by the internment was “fair” because Hatsumi seemed to demonstrate to him that no lives were actually ruined by the internment.

That sent a shockwave through the audience.

Although individuals are typically compassionate on learning the details regarding the internment, Mr. audience member’s reaction is all too common. I’d like to think that he was reading from a script intended to provoke a lively debate, but that was clearly not the case.

Hot Docs programmer Robin Smith stands on stage with Chris Hope as they take audience questions.

Hot Docs programmer Robin Smith and Hope take questions from the audience.

I explained that I thought the historical elements of the film were quite clear in demonstrating that, yes indeed, the treatment of the Japanese Canadian population at the hands of the Canadian government did demonstrate a willful intent to destroy lives. I pointed out the fact that the individual perseverance that led to an astonishing lack of bitterness in the Japanese Canadian community after the War shouldn’t be confused with any possible justification for the racist, arbitrary, and cruel acts the Canadian government perpetrated against the Japanese Canadian population until well after the War (the Japanese Canadian population that had largely been based in Vancouver prior to the War was forbidden from returning east of the Rocky Mountains until 1949).

Next, a woman in the audience raised her hand, took the floor microphone, and responded directly. She said she considers herself a child of the internment. Her father had been so deeply affected by the internment that he committed suicide after the War, leaving his young family to cope for themselves. That was a heavy moment. There was no response.

Although the initial comment was enraging at first, after spending years assembling the film for the purpose of driving home a strong, and hopefully universal message of anti-discrimination, the exchange underlined the vital importance of the mission: I am here to perpetuate the message of those whose voices were taken away and to warn future generations that it is our duty as Canadians to ensure that nothing like the Japanese Canadian internment ever happens again.

I am here to perpetuate the message of those whose voices were taken away and to warn future generations that it is our duty as Canadians to ensure that nothing like the Japanese Canadian internment ever happens again.

My goal in making the film was to provide future generations of educators with media that would allow them to put a face on a situation that, to date, has typically been at best recounted in the third person – if at all. It took me twelve years and a remarkable amount of community support to complete the film. In addition to receiving national distribution, I have now presented Hatsumi in person to more than 10,000 people. The level of engagement generated in Q&A sessions about the film and the internment never ceases to amaze and encourage me.

Thank you PEN Canada, and thank you Dr. Vincent Lam for the honour of your “pick”. As our experience at the Q&A for Hatsumi clearly demonstrated, the PEN Picks Film Series provides a critical forum through which audiences are encouraged to discuss and to develop insight into issues that really matter to all Canadians. Thank you too, to Mr. audience member, for coming out to remind us all that there is still work to be done and for personally reinforcing the importance of my telling of my grandmother’s story.

Chris Hope is a lawyer practicing at Cassels, Brock & Blackwell LLP in Toronto, in the areas of business, copyright and entertainment law. His entertainment practice includes assisting clients with a wide range of production, distribution, merchandising and licensing advice regarding the music, film and fashion industries.

In 2013, Hatsumi was a finalist for the prestigious Japan Prize. Hatsumi is Chris’s first film.

PEN Picks continues with selected documentaries presented by Camilla Gibb on March 3, Miriam Toews on March 24, and Linwood Barclay on April 14.

 Photos by Katrina Afonso, headshot courtesy of Chris Hope. You can find more photos from PEN Picks here.

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