Featured that evening is “Rancho California (por favor),” a film about the racial politics of migrant worker camps among gated designer-home communities in suburban Orange and San Diego counties, directed by Professor John Caldwell.
The second film on the program, directed by Professor Robert Nakamura, is “Toyo Miyatake: Infinite Shades of Gray,” the fascinating life story of one of America’s most distinguished art photographers, who captured images of life behind the barbed wire of the Manzanar WWII internment camp.
Both films screened earlier this year at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
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Critic and Outfest/L.A. Programmer Shannon Kelly praised Caldwell’s documentary in Film Guide as “an extraordinary feat of artistic and political fusion” that “explores a charged American debate on the meaning and consequence of immigrant culture.” The San Diego Union Tribune lauded the film as “a provocative and eye-opening work, touching on the many difficulties camp residents face — from pesticides to bad nutrition. The film also explores the life force that animates the camps, as manifested in music and art.”
Producer/director Caldwell also directed the 1989 feature documentary, “Freak Street to Goa: Immigrants on the Rajpath,” depicting the migratory patterns of hippies who dropped out in the 1960s and immigrated to India and Nepal, where they live to this day.
Caldwell is a professor of film, television and digital media at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, and has written numerous essays and three books on media and culture, including “Televisuality: Style, Crisis, and Authority in American Television” (1995), “Electronic Media and Technoculture” (2000) and “Globalization, Convergence, and Identity” (forthcoming).
“I didn’t realize when I started the project that it would bring together such different parts of my background — as a filmmaker, media studies scholar and former seasonal farmworker,” Caldwell said of “Rancho California (por favor).” “I grew up in the rural Midwest, where people who worked the land still had some claim to it. The agriculture in California simply strips the system of this human sense of ownership, leaving laborers cut off in a complex world of subcontractors and middlemen, which guarantees that workers never live in one place for very long.”
The result is what Caldwell terms Southern California’s “dirty little secret — a new suburban plantation culture — where indigenous Mixteco workers are housed in wooden boxes only yards from gated designer-home communities.
“That such a system flourishes in the current NAFTA era of globalization and affluence is both hard to grasp, and also somehow logical,” Caldwell said. Located in what he terms “zoning fault-lines and arid flood plains where neighbors simply look the other way, Rancho de los Diablos, Kelly Camp, Loma Bonita, Porterville and Pala Camp all function as integral economic parts of some of the most affluent suburbs of Southern California including Carlsbad, Del Mar, San Marcos, Coto de Caza, Escondido and La Costa.”
The April 8 evening will also treat Los Angeles documentary film fans to Robert Nakamura’s elegant and penetrating “Toyo Miyatake: Infinite Shades of Gray,” about the extraordinary life of veteran photographer Miyatake, who died in 1979.
During World War II, 120,000 Japanese Americans were taken from their homes without due process and incarcerated in ten “relocation camps” across the country for no other reason than they looked like the enemy.
In Manzanar, the camp in Owens Valley, California, where Nakamura was a five-year-old boy, Miyatake fashioned a makeshift camera with scrap wood and the lens he smuggled in, and secretly captured camp life.
After being discovered, Miyatake, who had been an accomplished pictorial photographer before the war, was allowed to photograph freely and created some of the most famous images of this shameful period of American history.
The film presents Miyatake’s pictorial and modernist photographs for the first time since they were exhibited in the 1920s and 30s, as well as many of his never-before-seen photographs of Manzanar.
As Miyatake was the first to capture Manzanar in still photographs, Nakamura was the first to capture the experience on film with his groundbreaking 1974 documentary, “Manzanar.”
Nakamura has earned more than 30 awards for his innovative and evocative films and is the artistic director of the Media Arts Center of the Japanese American National Museum. At UCLA, he holds the Endowed Chair in Japanese American Studies, is the associate director of the Asian American Studies Center and a professor in the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media.
The UCLA Documentary Salon is a co-presentation of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and the International Documentary Association.