“VC: Less Money, More Risks”

by Robert Ito
International Documentary: The Magazine of the International Documentary Association
July/August 2000

… 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.

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The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration

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