November 16, 2022
For Ann Kaneko, what started as an art film became a complex, deeply-rooted historical piece with threading points of view. Kaneko started working on her five-year project in 2017, taking many trips to Payahuunadü, “the land of flowing water,” a rich historical land between the scenic Sierra Nevada Mountains and the White and Inyo Mountains.
Containing Manzanar, California, the land carries emotional ties for various local communities who made Manzanar home — Nüümü, a Native American community forced to relocate out of the valley, Japanese Americans incarcerated in concentration camps and environmentalists of a ranching family fighting to preserve their home. “Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust” portrays the complex relationship these communities formed with this land, representing their history and culture.
“Trying to shed light on the complexity of this landscape empowers you to make your own agency and make your own decisions of understanding the world,” Kaneko, director and producer of the film, said in a Q&A.
“Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust” screened on Nov. 2 at the Perry-Casteñada Library, featuring a Q&A with Kaneko afterwards, sponsored by the Center for Asian American Studies, radio-television-film, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Geography and the Environment, American Studies and UT Libraries.
The film documents Japanese Americans, Native Americans and environmentalists who call Manzanar home as they actively work against environmentally racist policies, primarily the draining of water from Owens Lake by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
“The film does an amazing job at presenting Manzanar as an intersection of not only environmental justice, but (also) indigenous rights, generational trauma, historical trauma and the culture of incarceration,” said PJ Raval, an associate professor of radio-television-film and co-host of the event’s Q&A.
Kaneko took an array of questions from the audience after the film screening, including questions about the filmmaking process, her personal experience and the complexity of the film’s subject. Q&A co-host Mohit Mehta, the assistant director and advisor of the Center for Asian American Studies, said having a dialogue with the creator points out what isn’t apparent to the viewer from only seeing the final product.
“We don’t know the hours of interviews, archives or research. We don’t get the backstory or the technical process coming across the film,” Mehta said. “Having the director to share that with us adds further depth and complexity to how we interpret a piece of art.”
Kaneko said assigning characters to landscape and water gave life to the film. Water also became a vehicle to tie the narratives of each community together.
“How great is it to have water as an organizing structuring device?” Kaneko said. “It was this idea that water would flow, and so these communities flow between each other as well.”
Kaneko said the film highlights the connection that Japanese Americans feel to the nature of Manzanar from being farmers and fisherman. Each community formed their own distinct connections to Manzanar, yet worked together to preserve what they deemed home. “Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust” captures the hard-hitting and ongoing resistance from communities creating an alliance in the midst of various barriers and setbacks.
“(It’s) a great opportunity to talk about coalition building and solidarity within this larger context,” Kaneko said. “It’s this convergence of all of these histories in this one place, and what an opportunity to tell a much bigger story.”
Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin