Middle Row, Centre: Local Filmmaker Uses Family History to Investigate the Nature of Forgiveness

Inner questioning about how meaningful apologies can be took Whitehorse filmmaker Mitch Miyagawa on an emotional journey that culminated in his documentary A Sorry State, showing this weekend at the Yukon Arts Centre.

“[The film] starts with an incident with my kids fighting and making them apologize to one another and realizing that apologies can be so meaningless,” Mitch says. “There’s a great little scene where Sam is apologizing to Tonio, but clearly doesn’t mean it and that’s really the kick out the door of the journey, with me starting to wonder, ‘Did the apologies to my family mean anything at all?'”

Mitch’s parents, Carol and Bob, were among the 22,000 Canadian citizens of Japanese extraction who were rounded up by the Canadian government with the outbreak of World War II. Their houses, property and worldly possessions confiscated without compensation, they were forced into internment camps for the duration of the war and many of them never saw their home communities again.

When Mitch’s grandparents first immigrated to Canada in the 1920s, they farmed berries on three hectares in Mission, B.C. When the internment began, the family left their farm with barely the clothes on their back and was relocated to Picture Butte, in southern Alberta, where they were forced to farm sugar beets for four years. Along with his nine siblings, 10-year-old Bob Mitch spent the war years in Edmonton, Alberta; their family roots in B.C. a fast-fading memory.

Mitch recounts visiting the home in Mission that his parents were dispossessed from and talking to the current owner.

“There’s a scene where the woman who owns the house says ‘That’s really sad what happened to your family, but what can we do? What’s done is done,'” says Mitch. “In Japanese, shikata ga nai. That’s a theme that runs through the whole movie; that you can’t change the past, so don’t bother going back there, which was sort of my dad’s point of view. Or, do we need to reopen the past and recognize it, which other people in the film say. So there’s this tension between those two ideas.”

Etheline Blind, Bob Miyagawa’s second wife, is a Cree woman from Saskatchewan, raised by her grandparents and the third generation of her family to be subjected to residential school, where she stayed from age 5 to 12.

“Etheline… was Christian and isn’t really any longer a Christian, but is still a very spiritual person and definitely the idea of forgiveness – and release from the past through forgiveness – was a big part of her journey,” says Mitch.

Harvey Kwan is Mitch’s stepfather, whose Chinese immigrant family were forced to pay the Canadian government’s infamous and racist head tax when they entered the country in the early part of the last century. So Mitch can state that his family includes three ethnic groups who have received official apologies from various Canadian governments for the injustices that were perpetrated on them.

Canada has followed up on the apology to its indigenous peoples with the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, the first Western democracy after the original South African model to establish such a body. In his film, Mitch visits Ottawa hearings of the committee and tries to establish for his audience what the whole process has meant, along with whether it has helped to reconcile a society with much to answer for.

A Sorry State is a powerful film, combining family recollections and interviews, archival footage and encounters with various government representatives and members of visible minority associations, in a sincere and probing attempt to find out what “sorry” really means.

A Sorry State is being presented as part of the Yukon Film Society’s monthly Available Light Cinema series at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Showing along with it that afternoon is the documentary Chasing Ice, about an award-winning former National Geographic photographer’s remarkable efforts to capture indisputable evidence of the shrinking of ice caps and receding glaciers in the Arctic and their implications for global warming.

Also featured is Cinema Paradiso, a lyrical 1988 film that has become a contemporary classic, about a young boy, an aging projectionist and their touching relationship in the world of a small-town Italian movie house a few years after World War II.

The films will be shown on Sunday, Nov. 25. A Sorry State starts at 8 p.m., Chasing Ice starts at 6 p.m. and Cinema Paradiso is at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are: $12 for adults, $12 for seniors, $12 for children 12 years old and under and $5 for ArtRUSH teens.

Brian Eaton regularly writes about film for What’s Up Yukon.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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