by Eddie Wong
I had the pleasure of working with Alan Kondo in the 1970s at Visual Communications, a grassroots media group in Los Angeles. Unlike many of us who were still students at the time, Alan came in with some serious film editing skills. In 1974, he directed a marvelous documentary “I Told You So,” about the poet Lawson Inada. (See an excerpt here: https://www.newday.com/film/i-told-you-so)
But many people in the community know him today as a financial advisor. Now that he is retired, Alan has returned to his roots. This interview delves into his latest work, “Fort Sill Protest, 6/22/19” and his observations about current activism and documentary work. – Eddie Wong.
EW: When did you get the idea of covering this event and how did it come about
AK: Initially I was planning to cover (upcoming) the pilgrimage in November at Crystal City, Texas, one of the detention centers for Latino immigrants. I thought it was a good story because it links the past incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II with the current incarceration of Latino immigrants and shows solidarity between the Japanese American community and the Latino community. While then Tsuru for Solidarity organized a protest at Fort Sill because the government were planning to detain 1,400 Latino children there. I didn’t have very much time to plan but we decided to do it on the spur of the moment and I thought it would be a good thing to add to the larger project later on. It kind of stands alone as a record of the protest.
EW: Are you still planning to go to Crystal City in late October/early November?
AK: Yes, I am.
EW: Hey, maybe I’ll see you there. I’m trying to get Chinese Americans to go because many of us are Angel Island descendants, all children from the Chinese Exclusion Act era and that history actually has a big impact on how we grew up. It’s the same sort of restriction, exclusion, and vilification so we have to tell that story.
AK: It’s all linked.
EW: Exactly. So when you decided to take up this work was it an outgrowth of you being retired or had you wanted for a while to get back into production?
AK: My official last day was June 30 and I thought, “Well, what am I going to do now?” And I’ve always enjoyed film making. And the times that we’re living in right now there is a real need for news to get out and for people’s struggles to get more publicity. So I thought maybe I could employ the skills that I’ve used in the past and use it in this current era where it might be useful.
EW: I noticed that Walt Louie edited the piece. How did the two of you shape the story?
AK: Well, it was because I had my camera package together but not my post-production package set up yet and this happened so fast that I just asked, “Walt, I need help.” And he was generous with his time, you know he was working on his birthday on this project. We got it out really quick because these days media gets old after about a week. We wanted to get it out as soon as possible.
EW: so you ended up cutting it on Final Cut Pro or…
AK: No, I have Final Cut Pro but I’m not up to speed on it. Walt has a post-production company Flash Cuts so he cut it on an Avid, which is much more professional and faster.
EW: Well, it looks great. Both the shooting and the editing are top-notch. Congrats to both of you.
AK: Well, l that’s deceptive because my shooting was very shaky, and Walt was really the story teller. He was able to take some really shoddy footage and make a compelling story out of it so kudos to Walt.
EW: I noticed that it is about 24 minutes long or something like that.
AK: I think it’s 19 minutes.
EW: Have you thought about breaking it up a little and doing different versions?
AK: For this 19-minute version, it’s the final but as things happen, I’m going to take these shorter segments and build them into a larger project. And especially after the Crystal City pilgrimage, I’ll have a lot more footage to work with and come out with a final longer version maybe at the beginning of the year.
EW: How did it feel to be out there shooting? Is the technology different or the same?
AK: The technology is really different, and it really struck home that when you and I were doing this we were physically cutting film, which really seems primitive now. So, I’m glad we have better tools to work with but the fundamental techniques are the same thankfully. What really made a difference for me on a personal level is I was kind of tired of sitting at home and watching Trump on TV doing his thing and feeling depressed.
But when I went to Fort Sill, I met all these people – Japanese Americans from all over the country, Native Americans, Latinos, African Americans, progressive white people – and they were all working together really well. They clicked immediately and it was all very supportive – wonderful people. And all of a sudden, I felt happy like I was fighting back. So this is just my way of fighting back.
EW: When you talk about meeting the young people there, what are your impressions of them?
AK: I was kind of floored by how knowledgeable they are, and they know exactly what’s happening politically. They’re very committed and that made me optimistic that things are going to change. I feel there’s a growing a movement across all generations and you could see it at Fort Sill. We had people in their 20s and all the way to people in their 80s and 90s as well. So it’s a very broad movement and very organized and motivated. It makes me feel a lot better about what’s going on.
EW: Are you finding people who want to take this up on a semi-professional basis? I see a lot of people out there with their iPhones shooting footage and posting it which is great because it’s immediate. But the thing you and I do requires a little bit of training. Do you think there are people wanting to do that?
AK: I think there’s a place for every level. For certain things like press conferences where you want to get it out there right now, there’s live streaming to Facebook and that serves a real purpose. I think there is another level where it’s what you and I are doing; we want to do a little cleaning in post-production and to make a point. We have to get it out fast because media is so time-sensitive right now. So, if we can get it out in a week or two, it’s still useful. And then there’s the third level where there is a lot more thought in the organization to come to a finished project, and it’s usually a longer project. There’s a place for that too. So I think for people who are out there with their phones or their mini-cameras or full-blown ENG (electronic news gathering) rigs, it’s all useful and it’s all necessary too.
EW: One thing I like about your piece is the behind-the-scenes footage. You not only see the events, but you also see the organizing and care that goes into it. Is there anything in the piece that you want people to focus in on?
AK: What personally impressed me the most about going to Fort Sill was how organized it is. Tsurus for Solidary takes a lot of care in informing their members and protecting them. I think that really came out In the preparation meeting the day before the protest where they were talking about this is what’s going to happen, are you really sure you want to do this, we have the ACLU there to protect you legally if anything happens. They were really prepared. That was really an important point, because there is a place for civil disobedience, but you don’t want to do that on the spur of the moment without any preparation.
EW: What are you plans to distribute the video?
AK: I’m making it available to anyone who wants to use it to get the message out. I hope it will be useful as a mobilization and educational tool.