by Robert Ito
The Independent Film & Video Monthly
Conscience and the Constitution, an emotionally charged documentary about Japanese American draft resisters during World War II, scored the festival’s audience award for best feature.
After refusing to be drafted out of U.S. internment camps until their constitutional rights were restored, the resisters spent years in federal penitentiaries – followed by decades of ostracism from members of their own Japanese American community.
Director Frank Abe’s crew included Eyes on the Prize II editor Lillian Benson, who helped weave the admittedly complex, multifaceted story into a cohesive narrative, as well as some of the top Asian American voice talents in the business.
Abe gave the film a sense of urgency by incorporating recent events into the film – most notably, the ongoing discussion on whether the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the community’s leading civil rights organization, should make a formal apology to the resisters for its past actions against them. Anti-JACL sentiment ran high in the packed house: when resistance leader Frank Emi described a pro-JACL war hero as an “asshole” in the film, the crowd erupted in laughter.
In addition to raising consciousness about a long-forgotten part of history, Abe’s powerfully persuasive film – due to air on public television early next year – will probably have a major impact on the Japanese American community’s current debate over this hot-button issue.