Updated, November 29, 2016. 2:27 PM

Updated, Nov. 30, 9:20 AM

 

Vancouver screenings:

Saturday, Dec. 3 @ 4 PM/ Sunday, Dec. 4 @ 7:30 PM

Vancity Theatre – 1181 Syemour St. at Davie St.

Toronto: Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, starting Dec.2 for one week

 

‘The Apology’ – Profiles of three women of courage

By Ted Alcuitas

Tiffany Hsiung’s award-winning National Film Board of Canada (NFB) feature documentary The Apology is coming to Toronto for a one-week run at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema starting December 2 and screenings at the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver on December 3 and 4.

This deeply moving and powerful documentary feature  follows the trajectory of three survivors who were  kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the  Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

“I’m not holding my breath for an apology,” Hsiung told Philippine Canadian News.com (PCN.com) by phone from Toronto. “I am more hopeful that more people will learn about their stories and pass it on and it will no longer be a secret..and create a another form of justice. I think we can do that.”

Did she do the film because of her own personal experience with sexual abuse? Hsiung said it was a combination of a lot of things.

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“When I first met the women, I realized that this was something that not too many people were aware of. This was something that is currently happening and ongoing and not just a historical past issue.. to understand what these grandmothers are going through and the weight of the atrocities. Understanding that sexual violence is happening worldwide and there is an epidemic happening in every country , in Canada and most communities. Knowing the stories of these grandmothers empowers many people and that the younger generation may one day speak out and really explore and talk about sexual violence and why it is so difficult to come out .”

Some 200,000 young women and girls became ‘comfort women’ and to this day, 70 years later, the Japanese government have refused to acknowledge the crime and apologize nor compensate the victims.

Taken in their prime (some as young as 13) these women are now fading into history, some taking  their secrets to their graves because of the shame.

But most came out to expose the truth about their ordeal despite their old age and frail and declining health.

Three of these grandmothers, Lola Adela from the Philippines, Grandma Cao of China and Grandma Gil of South Korea are telling their stories, ensuring that this horrific chapter of history is not forgotten.

As the film unfolds, their history and the struggles that have shaped them and continue to impact their lives come into view. Intimate scenes of daily routines and affectionate exchanges with friends and loved ones provide a glimpse into how they have managed to carry on despite their traumatic experiences. These moments also reveal the many complex choices the grandmothers have had to navigate throughout their lives – and continue to navigate—as survivors. It becomes painfully clear that the past lives on, along with the challenges the inheritors of their legacy will continue to face.

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Meehyang Yoon supports Grandma Gil as she reads her speech in China.(Supplied)

Gil Won-Ok, or “Grandma Gil”, as she is affectionately known among a well-established network of activists, has been attending weekly demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul for years. Despite her age and declining health, Grandma Gil remains a key spokesperson in the movement for an official apology from the Japanese government. Her exhausting travels eventually take her to the hallowed halls of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to deliver a petition with over a million signatures on behalf of her fellow survivors.

Grandma Cao lives in a remote village surrounded by mountains in rural China, where what happened to hundreds of local girls after they were kidnapped has long been an open secret among the old-timers. Fiercely independent, Grandma Cao insists on living alone despite the protests of her loyal daughter, who has been unaware of her mother’s story. It is only when a historian requests her testimony of her experiences that Grandma Cao agrees to break decades of stoic silence about her painful past.

In Roxas City, Grandma Adela manages to finds solace, camaraderie, and a sense of freedom as part of a support group for other survivors. Though she found love after the war, she carefully hid the truth about her past from her husband. Now widowed, she is wracked with feelings of guilt for not sharing her secret. She resolves to tell her children, but remains unsure whether unburdening herself after all these years will make up for withholding the truth from the love of her life.

Whether they are seeking a formal apology from the Japanese government or summoning the courage to finally share their secret with loved ones, their resolve moves them forward as they seize this last chance to set future generations on a course for reconciliation, healing, and justice.

“A simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, devastatingly powerful experience.”

– Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter November 17, 2016 – Toronto – National Film Board of Canada (NFB)

Grandma Cao with her daughter Gua Hui. (Supplied)

Grandma Cao with her daughter Gua Hui. (Supplied)

and shame about their past, they know that time is running out to give a first-hand account of the truth and ensure that this horrific chapter of history is not forgotten.

Whether they are seeking a formal apology from the Japanese government or summoning the courage to finally share their secret with loved ones, their resolve moves them forward as they seize this last chance to set future generations on a course for reconciliation, healing, and justice.

Produced by Anita Lee for the NFB, The Apology had its world premiere in the Big Ideas section at the 2016 Hot Docs fest, where it was the runner-up for the audience award and was hailed by The Globe and Mail as a “deeply moving film… the women display a resilience and a persistence that is inspiring.” Screenings to date include South Korea’s Busan International Film Festival, in October, where it received the Cinephile Award, given to the best world documentary film in the Wide Angle Documentary Showcase.

Hsiung is a graduate of Ryerson University, where she studied film production and received the Norman Jewison Award for Excellence in Filmmaking. Her award-winning short film Binding Borders (2007) screened in film festivals internationally and propelled Hsiung to direct the RCI/CBC six-part miniseries on Beijing’s first ever Olympic Games, A New Face for Beijing (2008). Whether it is filmmaking or teaching, Hsiung’s work has taken her through and beyond the diverse communities of her hometown, and well across the globe. Her socially conscious work and dynamic artistry spark a unique energy in the stories of marginalized individuals and communities. Hsiung’s approach to storytelling is driven by the relationships she builds with the people she meets. By shooting much of her own work, Hsiung obtains unobtrusive access to the stories she captures.

 

Film maker Tiffany Hsiung. (Supplied)

Film maker Tiffany Hsiung. (Supplied)