What do you do if your family is “the most apologized-to family in Canada?” If you’re Mitch Miyagawa, local writer and filmmaker, you create a documentary about it.
Miyagawa’s documentary, A Sorry State, chronicles his family’s experience of receiving three official government apologies for historical injustices: one issued to his First Nations stepmother for the residential school program; a second to his father for the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII; and a third to his stepfather for the Chinese head tax which was charged to each Chinese person entering Canada between 1885 and 1923.
“Obviously it was a very important story for me to explore on a personal level, with it centering on my family’s story,” says Miyagawa. “But I also wanted to explore and foster dialogue on the concept of apologies more generally. We apologize for things every day — from the insignificant to the very large — but how often do we make a real commitment to change with the words ‘I am sorry’ versus simply trying to smooth the waters? How do we make apologies meaningful?”
Miyagawa cites the leaked government memo in British Columbia focussing on fostering the ethnic vote which listed apologizing as an electoral tactic.
“Situations like this will only lead people to view government apologies with even more cynicism than they already do,” he says. “That said, these official government apologies still have meaning despite the justified cynicism surrounding them.”
Miyagawa hopes that his film helps viewers ask themselves hard questions about reconciliation.
“I would like to see it prompt discussion about how we as individuals help move our nation towards reconciliation instead of simply relying on the government to do it for us,” he says.
So far it seems to be doing just that. The film premiered at the Edmonton Film Festival last fall, was screened by the Yukon Film Society in November, had its television premiere on TVO in January, and will now be shown on Knowledge Network on March 26.
“It’s been really gratifying to get some positive feedback,” says Miyagawa, “After seeing the film, a number of people have reached out to me via email to let me know that they found it powerful and moving.”
And it’s not just the general public who are taking notice. Miyagawa has been named a finalist for the Canadian Screenwriting Awards, which will be awarded on April 22.
At 47 minutes, A Sorry State took more than three years to pull together.
“It was a long and very intense process to complete,” says Miyagawa. “Filmmaking is hugely challenging and it is much harder to change than writing if you mess something up — you can’t just scrunch up a piece of paper and do something different.
“That said, I feel very lucky for the opportunity. I had full funding for the project, great business partners, the Yukon film community was incredibly supportive, the Yukon Film and Sound Commission was great, and I feel very happy to have the project finished.”
He adds, “And of course it was a real honour to do this project with my family. My father passed away before the project was finished, so I really value the time I spent with him working on this project.”
There will be a public screening of A Sorry State to honour Anti-Racism on March 21 at the Whitehorse United Church at 7 p.m., followed by a panel discussion.
Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at [email protected].