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Big Bands in the Japanese American Incarceration Camps
The documentary offers first-person accounts of 9 detainees - big band trumpet players, saxophonists and singers - who created a soulful escape for themselves and their fellow prisoners. Their stories are interwoven with an evocative animation created from woodcuts and drawings by local Arcata artist, Amy Uyeki.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and forced to live in incarceration camps during World War II. As families and individuals endeavored to create a sense of normalcy during their incarceration, many detainees engaged in artistic and athletic activities and some nurtured their love of music, especially the popular music of the day - swing. SEARCHLIGHT SERENADE focuses on the proliferation of big bands in assembly centers and internment camps throughout the West during World War II. Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) quickly organized dance bands when they were evacuated to the fairgrounds and racetracks that were converted into temporary assembly centers and re-organized them once they were moved to the relocation centers in desolate areas of the country. In all, twenty bands were created and thrived in 13 assembly centers and internment camps from 1942 to 1945. Swing music played a vital role as escape, as therapy, and as a connection to the outside American world. Playing and appreciating such a totally American art form was an aspect of their American identity that could not be denied within the confines of the camps or the denial of their civil rights.
PBS North Coast producers Claire Reynolds and Sam Greene collaborated with Amy Uyeki, to tell the stories of former internees who played music in the camps through interviews and archival footage interspersed with segments of Ms. Uyeki's twelve-minute animated short. Created from woodblocks done in a traditional Japanese style, the animation is inspired by actual events and accounts as well as the personal experiences of Ms. Uyeki's parents, who were both interned with their families at Gila River and Minidoka Internment Camps.
Reynolds and Uyeki obtained substantial grant funding for PBS North Coast's documentary project, which allowed the production team to conduct interviews in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Lone Pine, Yuba City and Portland. The Eureka PBS station is one of 24 organizations nationwide to receive 2011 funding from the National Park Service's Confinement Sites Preservation Program to preserve and interpret sites where Japanese Americans were confined during World War II. PBS North Coast received $96,465 from the National Park Service and $22,000 from The California Civil Liberties Public Education Program. In addition, Amy Uyeki received a Victor Jacoby Award from the Humboldt Area Foundation to support her animation.
SEARCHLIGHT SERENADE: Big Bands in the WWII Japanese American Incarceration Camps will be screened as part of the Humboldt State University Campus Dialog on Race on Tuesday, October 30 at 7:00 p.m. at HSU's Founders Hall, Room 118. The documentary will also air on PBS North Coast-HD on Tuesday, October 30 at 8:00 p.m. and on Friday, November 2 at 9:00 p.m.
PBS stations nationwide will also have an opportunity to broadcast the documentary as well.
For more information about "SEARCHLIGHT SERENADE: Big Bands in the WWII Japanese American Incarceration Camps" call Sam Greene at PBS North Coast at 707-445-0813.
DVDs of SEARCHLIGHT SERENADE, including the special DVD feature, SEARCHLIGHT SERENADE: An Animated Tale Told in Song, are available for purchase.
To order a DVD go to PBS North Coast's Shop.
SEARCHLIGHT SERENADE is funded by the California State Library Civil Liberties Public Education Program, which was created with the passage of the California Civil Liberties Public Education Act in 1998. The CCLPEP provides competitive grants for public educational activities and for the development of educational materials to ensure that the events surrounding the exclusion, forced removal, and incarceration of civilians and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry will be remembered and so that causes and circumstances of this and similar events may be illuminated and understood.
Congress established the National Park Service Confinement Sites Preservation Program in 2006 and authorized up to $38 million in grants, for the life of the program, to identify, research, evaluate, interpret, protect, restore, repair, and acquire historic confinement sites. The goals of the grant program are to teach present and future generations about the injustice.