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Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust cover image

Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust 2022

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Good Docs
Produced by Jin Yoo-Kim and Ann Kaneko
Directed by Ann Kaneko
Streaming, 84 mins

Middle School - General Adult
Asian American History; Native Peoples; Water

Date Entered: 10/26/2022

Reviewed by Allen Reichert, Electronic Access Librarian, Otterbein University

This film highlights the complex history of a place by focusing on the issue of water and water rights. Manzanar, Diverted focuses on these issues from the Payahuunadü/Owens Valley in California. Many topics converge by focusing on this region; the forced expulsion of the Paiute/Nüümü peoples, development of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and continued environmental impacts after the second aqueduct was created to divert more water to Los Angeles in the 1970s. The director Ann Kaneko handles this deftly, producing a film that provides such a strong sense of place and change over time, while maintaining the focus on the people impacted by decisions about water. Manzanar, as the concentration camp for Japanese Americans, isn’t divorced from the historic timeline, rather it is part of the overall narrative. Indeed, the two central communities of the film are those of the Paiute and those of the Japanese Americans. Their stories are told through water, and they ultimately intertwine as both groups move to oppose a solar panel farm which would have detrimentally impacted the valley.

The film is beautifully shot and credit to all the aerial photographers for their work. It is used effectively to pull the viewer into this location. The film offers a mix of styles and along with the aerial work there are 22 named interviews about the valley, newsreel footage, a public meeting recording, and even a talk radio call in. All of these styles are woven together making an engaging, informative film that gives a clear history. [* see footnote for further information on captioning.]

There is the longer 125-minute full length film and a shorter 52-minute film for classrooms. The 52-minute version really captures the themes of the film and effectively shares the Indigenous and Japanese American voices. What is removed are portions about the white community, such as how the apple orchards were largely destroyed by the draining of water in the early 20th century and some of the commentary from the Owens Valley Committee. The short version is well designed, but the longer version does capture more nuances pertaining to the history of the valley and offers a fuller picture.

This film does a great job of listening to the voices of the Paiute and Japanese Americans that lived in or were impacted by their time in the valley. Still, no single work can fully convey all aspects of an issue. In the longer version of Manzanar, Diverted there is a suggestion of possible solutions to the water issues facing the valley as well as Los Angeles. A number of films regarding water rights have been released over the last few years, including Reflection: A Walk With Water that includes at least two of the individuals interviewed in this film. These other films could pair nicely with this excellent account on water and Manzanar.

*Footnote: Originally, this review noted that closed captioning was auto generated and inaccurate at times. However, in conversation with the distributor, only the review copy had auto generated captioning through the Vimeo preview, whereas the version available for purchase has fully vetted captioning.

Best Documentary, San Diego Asian Film Festival; Asian Voices Award, Portland Film Festival (Oregon Premiere); Special Jury Award for Editing, LA Asian Pacific Film Festival (LA Premiere and Opening Night Film); Honorable Mention, CAAMFEST (West Coast Premiere, Centerpiece Film); Honorable Mention, Milwaukee Film Festival (Wisconsin Premiere); Best Music Score nomination, IDA Documentary Awards

Published and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Anyone can use these reviews, so long as they comply with the terms of the license.