Historical wrongdoings, government apologies and one Canadian’s journey into his family’s past are the focus of the new documentary A Sorry State, a TVO commission making its world broadcast premiere Wednesday January 9 at 9 pm. As a Japanese-Canadian with an Aboriginal stepmother and a stepfather with Chinese ancestry, filmmaker Mitch Miyagawa’s family is perhaps one of the most apologized-to families in the country. His family has received three government apologies for past misdeeds. Wondering how he’ll pass on his family’s legacy to his young sons, Mitch is prompted to revisit history and investigate the meaning – and impact – of formal apologies.
Based on his 2009 essay of the same name, A Sorry State sees Mitch retracing his family’s past, one tightly interwoven with Canada’s own history. He begins his journey in Alberta, where he meets up with his father, Bob Miyagawa. Born in British Columbia to Japanese immigrants, Bob and his parents were forced to relocate to labour camps in Picture Butte, Alberta in 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. To Mitch’s surprise, his father isn’t angry and feels he didn’t need Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s 1988 apology.
Harvey, Mitch’s Chinese stepfather, reacts similarly to Stephen Harper’s 2006 apology to Chinese Canadians. In 1919, Harvey’s grandfather had to pay a $500 head tax – an enormous sum at that time – in order for Harvey’s father to enter Canada. But for Harvey, it was simply the price you paid for a better life.
However, Mitch’s visit with his stepmother Etheline – a survivor of the Aboriginal residential school system and the third generation of her family to attend a residential school – reveals that apologies haven’t healed the wounds for many in the Aboriginal community.
“Government apologies are a window to the real history of Canada, and a reflection about what we value now as a nation,” says writer/director Mitch Miyagawa. “I also think that apologies, and how we deal with the mistakes we make in our personal lives, are a key part of what it means to be human. They can be powerful or meaningless, they can heal or hurt. I wanted to touch on that universal experience by telling my story.”
“TVO is pleased to play a role in getting A Sorry State made,” says Jane Jankovic, TVO’s commissioning editor. “In a country as diverse as ours, where nationhood and a sense of identity are important to us as citizens, Mitch Miyagawa’s story provides an opportunity for discussion around what being Canadian means to each of us, and examines the impact of being told you’re not Canadian enough.”
A Sorry State will also air Wednesday January 9 at midnight, Thursday January 10 at 9 pm and Sunday January 13 at 11 pm. The film can also be streamed at TVO’s Doc Studio following its world premiere broadcast on Wednesday January 9 at 9 pm. Doc Studio is an online showcase and learning community for point-of-view documentary filmmaking.