by Robert Ito
International Documentary: The Magazine of the International Documentary Association
… The split with UCLA offered festival organizers a chance to take a few more programming risks, particularly with their selection of documentary films. Conscience and the Constitution, a film about Japanese American draft resisters during World War II, reflects that change in attitude.
Director Frank Abe rejected the traditional internment camp film narrative – with the US government as sole villains, and the Japanese Americans as victims/sheep – in favor of a critical look at the actions of the Japanese American community itself.
His film particularly blasts members of the Japanese American Citizens League, the community’s leading civil rights organization, for its mistreatment and decades-long ostracism of the “resisters of conscience” who refused to be drafted out of the camps.
Considering the Japanese American community’s historical tendency to fund more positive, “uplift the race” types of projects, Abe’s documentary, seven years in the making, took a great deal of courage both to create and present.
The powerful film generated a lot of favorable fan buzz and media attention – probably helped along by the appearance of several of the draft resisters who appeared in the film at a post-screening reception – and went on to win the festival’s audience award for best feature film.