Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Empty Chair


The Newport Public Library will host a screening by filmmaker Greg Chaney of his film, The Empty Chair, on Saturday, November 29 at 2:00 p.m. The Empty Chair is a documentary about how Japanese Americans from Juneau, Alaska were sent to prison camps during WWII and how the small Alaskan community stood in quiet defiance against the internment of American citizens.

The Tanaka Family
Japanese immigrants came to Alaska in the early 1900's and settled there to raise families. Several Japanese Americans from Juneau, Alaska were sent to prison camps by the US government from 1942-1945 because all people of Japanese heritage were considered national security risks.

John Tanaka's graduation ceremony
Among them was John Tanaka, who was born and raised in Juneau. In 1942 John was going to be the Valedictorian of his high school graduating class but was interned before the graduation ceremony. In response, the school board voted to hold a special early graduation ceremony for him before John was sent to a relocation camp for Japanese Americans. When the official graduation ceremony was held for the class of '42 they set aside an empty chair on the platform to acknowledge his absence.

The Empty Chair Memorial in Juneau, Alaska
John Tanaka volunteered to join the US Army to fight the Axis powers during WWII while his family was confined in the Minidoka Idaho relocation camp. He was a member of the 442nd regimental combat team. This Japanese American unit was the most decorated Army unit for its length of service.

The Empty Chair documentary is composed of interviews of survivors from that period, rare historical photos, never before seen archival footage, US Government documentaries and historical accounts. All of these sources are woven together to draw the viewer back into this little know chapter of American history.

Chaney, the son of Newport resident Patsy Brookshire, was born in Oregon but has lived in Juneau, Alaska since 1982. Greg describes his filmmaking as "an out of control hobby." He is keeping his day job as Juneau's Lands and Resources Manager, but continues to work on diverse movie projects after hours. His projects have been as diverse as short comedies, music videos extending up to feature length documentaries. His films have been selected for dozens of film festivals and have been shown on every continent except Antarctica. Over time he has collected a handful of awards, his favorites being "Best of Fest" at the Anchorage International Film Festival and a "Special Jury Award" from the Banff Mountain Film Festival for his documentary Journey on the Wild Coast.

This program is free and open to the public.

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