Hyart Film Festival | ‘The Orange Story’ wins People’s Choice Award

It was close this year, but a drama about a man having to give up his corner grocery store in the early months of World War II to report to an internment camp for Japanese Americans won the People’s Choice Award at the Hyart Film Festival this weekend, edging a science fiction film abouta phone connection spanning76 years.Since there are a different number of people attending each session, the People’s Choice Award is factored based on a percentage of those attending a particular session.This year’s People’s Choice Award went to “The Orange Story,” the first of three films shown Saturday night about the experience of Japanese Americans forced to give up all they have and report to what the government called “relocation centers” but what many now call “incarceration camps.”[caption id="attachment_12563" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Producer Jason Matsumoto (left) and Heart Mountain Interpretive Center Museum Manager Dakota Russell pose in front of the poster for “The Orange Story” with Hyart Film Festival Director Jason Zeller following Saturday night’s final session of the festival and a question and answer session. “The Orange Story” won the People’s Choice Award this year.
David Peck photo[/caption]“The Orange Story” is one of three films about the Japanese American experience during the war that were shown at the festival Saturday night, promoted by Full Spectrum Features. Executive producer Jason Matsumoto joined Heart Mountain Interpretive Center Museum Manager Dakota Russell for a question and answer session on stage at the Hyart following the final session on Saturday.In “The Orange Story,” a Japanese American grocery store owner, Koji Oshima, has been trying to sell his small corner store in anticipation of being shipped off to an internment camp and as the time grows near is forced to sell for just $1,000 to a customer. The customer and her daughter are then running the store as, just prior to departing, Koji wants to buy a bag of oranges. The little girl tells him the bags are 50 cents, even though they are marked 25 cents. When he asks why he was told 50 cents, the little girl tells him the oranges are 25 cents “for Americans.” He presses a quarter into her small hand and gently folds her hand over the coin, saying, “I am an American.”In the final scene, the man is riding on a bus with other citizens being taken to the camp for incarceration, and as he peels an orange, he begins to weep.“The Orange Story” received 51 percent of the votes on Saturday night to win the people’s prize, and “Archway 0173” received 45 percent of the vote on Thursday night, albeit a smaller audience. “Archway 0173” is a film from the United Kingdom about a young man who is able to speak to a girl his same age on an antique telephone his mother purchased at an auction. But the girl is calling from 1940.When the boy and his friend look up the address of the girl in 1940, they realize her apartment is to be bombed and destroyed by the German blitz during the Battle of Britain. They warn her, and the young man is able to meet the girl, now living in a senior housing center age 90 or so.“That (vote) was really close,” festival director Jason Zeller said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had it this close before.”Other films receiving strong consideration for the People’s Choice Award, by session, were: Friday night – “Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon” – 28 percent and “The Root Cellar” – 25 percent; and Saturday afternoon – “About Arif”—34 percent.There was an audience of 60 Thurday night, 77 Friday night, 49 Saturday afternoon and a record-setting 152 Saturday night.DiscussionProducer Matsumoto and museum director Russell talked about the film, the Japanese American experience during the war and the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center following the Saturday night session, taking questions on stage at the Hyart.Matsumoto flew in from Chicago on Saturday and said he enjoyed getting to visit what he termed the “Heart Mountain Incarceration Site.” He said he’s a fourth generation Japanese American and that his grandparents were taken to an internment camp in Arkansas.Films are a great way to educate people, Matsumoto said, and in answer to a question said his role as a producer is to obtain support, financial and otherwise, for a film project and essentially “take an idea and bring it to the finish line.”He said one of the goals of Full Spectrum Features is to tell stories about “people who are American but don’t look like typical Americans, and “The Orange Story” fits that mission perfectly.“We wanted it to primarily be an education piece,” Matsumoto said, noting that producers spoke to teachers across the country about how they teach the Japanese American experience during World War II. He said teachers would like to have more content and that “The Orange Story” is an entry point “to have that conversation.”“In 12 to 15 minutes you can appeal to the emotions and humanity,” Matsumoto said. “It’s a narrative fiction, not a documentary.”Russell said since the West Coast had a large population of Japanese Americans at the start of the war, the concentration was on that part of the country for dispersal to camps across the country. Heart Mountain mainly received people from Los Angeles, as well as some from Oregon. He said there were around 140,000 Japanese Americans in the U.S. in 1940, and about 120,000 lived on or near the West Coast. The rest of the population was scattered across the country and those citizens were not targeted by Executive Order 9066, which authorized the internment program, though they did have to register with local law enforcement and surrender any weapons they might own, Russsell said.Matsumoto said it has taken years for the family stories to come out, because there was a sense of shame and guilt among the proud members of the first and second generation families. Finally, the fourth generation was able to speak to their grandparents, especially after the United States government issued an official apology in 1988, which started a movement to tell stories and led to places like the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.Matsumoto said his own family was very outspoken. In fact, his grandfather was active in speaking to schools in the Chicago area about his experiences. He said it was easier for his generation to reach grandparents than for his parents to speak to theirs.Russell said in light of the current political climate it’s not easy to talk about national security vs. personal liberty, noting, “If there were easy answers we would have solved it by now.” He said at Heart Mountain the goal is to talk about what happened 75 years ago in an effort to educate, noting, “If you don’t talk about it and make the stories known, you can’t learn from it.”Matsumoto said the goal of Full Spectrum Features is to increase diversity and inclusion “both in front of the camera and in back of the camera,” and the challenge is to attract funding. Because technology is allowing for an explosion of short films, most of the money is flowing to large projects, so the challenge is for filmmakers to reach “the middle level” and attract funding.“The Orange Story” was filmed in March of 2016, he said, and the crew built the set for Koji’s grocery store in a small Illinois town, taking over an abandoned storefront and creating a 1940s Portland, Ore., store.He said the film was cast locally, and the man who played Koji – Joe Takehara -- had never acted before but was a natural for the role. Matsumoto said Takehara was a third degree aikido participant and had great control over his movements, which worked well as he handled groceries and candy in the film.

By David Peck