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Canefield Songs: Holehole Bushi, a fascinating documentary peering into the lives of Japanese plantation workers in Hawaiʻi, was screened at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History on Thursday, June 22. The half-hour film was co-produced by University of Hawaiʻi-West Oʻahu’s Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR) and PBS Hawaiʻi.

Joy Chong-Stannard, Jake Shimabukuro, Brandin Soquena and Chris Conybeare

The showing at the museum’s S.C. Johnson Conference Center was accompanied by a talk by Chris Conybeare, CLEAR faculty member and the documentary’s writer and  producer, and Franklin Odo, former UH West Oʻahu Distinguished Visiting Scholar and former professor of sociology and ethnic studies at UH Mānoa. Odo is also a founding director of the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center.

Canefield Songs: Holehole Bushi focuses on the folk songs sung by Japanese plantation workers and tells the story of music teacher Harry Urata and his efforts at preserving musical oral histories. The film is part of The Canefields Songs Project, which explores the songs and stories of Japanese immigrants who came to work in sugar cane fields in the late 19th and 20th centuries. In addition to the half-hour documentary narrated by noted ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro, the canefields project includes Voices from the Canefields, a 272-page book by Odo and a website designed by UH West Oʻahu creative media students.

Filmaker Joy Chong-Stannard also served as producer, director and editor, while UH West Oʻahu Assistant Professor Jon Magnussen served as music advisor for the project. Brandin Soquena, a UH West Oʻahu music and creative media student, composed the documentary’s original music.

The documentary premiered in July 2015 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, and was followed by its Hawaiʻi debut in September 2015 on PBS Hawaiʻi. It was rebroadcast on PBS Hawaiʻi in February 2016.

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