A Story of Unity: Japanese Internment, Islamophobia and Wireless Video

Fri, May 26, 2017
Manzanar documentary captured with Teradek Bolt
Image courtesy of Jeff Dolen.

At the end of April every year, thousands of Japanese-Americans and others make the pilgrimage to one of the largest internment camps during World War II: Manzanar. The camp, located in a remote region in Inyo County, California, was home to over 110,000 Japanese-Americans after President Roosevelt signed the infamous executive order to force the Japanese into incarceration.

But what you might not know about the annual pilgrimage is that, since the events of 9/11, many Muslim-Americans have made the journey as well. That’s because many Muslims living in the states see a parallel between the xenophobia the Japanese faced during WWII and the Islamophobia that exists today. As a show of solidarity among similarly disenfranchised groups, Manzanar is commemorated by both ethnic communities.

Muslims attend 75th anniversary of Manzanar pilgrimage
People of different ethnic backgrounds make the pilgrimage to Manzanar every year in April.

“It’s a story about unity within minority groups. When the Muslim ban happened at the beginning of this year, a lot of Japanese people went to LAX to support the Islamic community,” said Jeff Dolen, DP and cinematographer. “This year was especially important because it marked the 75th anniversary of the signing of the executive order which made it all happen.”

Jeff Dolen and his director Tani Ikeda are no strangers to making documentaries. Their docuseries Wonder Women won an Emmy for Best Travel and Adventure Series in 2016, putting their work in the spotlight. For this Manzanar piece, it would be another collaboration between the two.

Shooting For Awareness

Alexa Amira with Teradek Bolt 500
Alexa Amira camera with Bolt 500 transmitter.

The purpose of the documentary is to discuss the history behind racial and ethnic discrimination in the United States and how important it is for people of all backgrounds to come together. In order to convey the proper sentiments of the Manzanar event in the documentary, Ikeda and Dolen needed the right footage.

Dolen employed an Alexa Amira cinema camera with a Bolt 500 transmitter attached with an Oben ball head. The transmitter sent his video feeds with zero delay to a Bolt receiver, which director Ikeda was able to see from her SmallHD 702 handheld monitor.

Tani Ikeda with Sahar Pirzada in Manzanar documentary
Director/Activist Tani Ikeda with activist Sahar Pirzada

As Ikeda moved around for interviews and B-roll shots, she carried the SmallHD monitor with her to see the shots in real-time as Dolen filmed. She would then be able to work together with Dolen to plan out the next scene together. This helped ensure that the footage was in line with her creative intent for the episode, and that the shots exhibited the same emotions as her dialogues.

Changing the World By Changing How Documentaries Are Made

Monument at Manzanar. The inscription reads "Monument for the Pacification of Spirits."

Events like the Manzanar pilgrimage only happen once a year, which means they only get 1 shot at getting all the right footage to create a compelling documentary. Moreover, on similarly low-budget documentaries, acquiring the right footage isn’t easy. Without Ikeda monitoring the shots, Dolen has to capture footage without her input, leaving him to shoot blindly and hoping the footage available at the end of the day is what she wants.

Since Dolen incorporated the Bolt into his system, this is no longer an issue. Both Dolen and Ikeda are able to work together on the acquisition process, discussing each step as they go and making sure they’re constantly on the same page. It’s helped them to collaborate on a closer, more creative level.

“In the documentary world, [Bolt] has really changed the approach to how we shoot,” explained Dolen. “Typically my director would have to look over my shoulder or peek at what I’m shooting. Now she can see exactly what I’m shooting without having to stand next to me the whole time.”

May Day demonstrations captured with Teradek Bolt
May Day demonstrations captured by cinematographer Jeff Dolen and director Tani Ikeda

Wireless monitoring with zero delay makes filming on set or on location much more efficient. For Dolen and his director, despite the small crew and low production budgets, the Bolt has allowed them to capture all of the dramatic elements they needed to create Emmy-award winning content and shed light on a multitude of social issues in the world.

“Now she can always see exactly what I’m shooting by glancing down at her monitor. In my opinion, the more the director knows, the better.”

With more creative collaboration between them thanks to the Bolt, they prove that even small productions can achieve great success with reliable, real-time wireless monitoring.