Few volunteers from the Downtown Eastside showed up in 2009 when the then 33-year-old Powell Street Festival migrated to Woodland Park.
“Which I thought was really not that far,” said festival general manager Kristen Lambertson. “But it actually became pretty evident when we set up the festival and [during] take down, we’re like, oh we’re missing a few familiar faces.”
That recognition prompted organizers of the Japanese-Canadian arts, culture and heritage celebration to commission a short documentary about its non-Japanese-Canadian contingent of volunteers.
Filmmaker Greg Masuda’s resulting work, The Spirit of Nihonmachi, or Japantown, screens Aug. 4, at 3:30 p.m. at Chapel Arts, with a question and answer period. The 28-minute film follows two residents of the Downtown Eastside who feel the festival is their own.
Masuda will also attend the Aug. 4 and 5 event to help launch a nationally funded research project called Revitalizing Japantown? A unifying exploration of human rights, branding and place, which will be accompanied by a documentary film.
This year’s Big Bang-zai!-themed event celebrates the annual festival that features traditional and contemporary, community and professional arts and culture.
Celebrations kick off with a view of the past with a remount of Tamio Wakayama’s Kikyo: Coming Home to Powell Street photo documentary that captures the first 15 years of the festival, carries on with a trilogy of films about the festival, including Masuda’s film, and includes an expansion to Jackson Avenue.
“It’s an area that we’ve decided to expand a little bit beyond our normal Japanese-Canadian culture, arts and heritage focus, just in terms of recognizing some of the community players, as well,” Lambertson said.
The first festival was staged in 1977, the centennial of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant to Canada, in what was meant to be a one-off event. A member of the Japanese Canadian Volunteers Association, or Tonari Gumi, initiated the festival to celebrate the area that was known as Japantown before its 8,000 Japanese-Canadian residents were displaced during the Second World War, and to echo similar summer celebrations in Japan.
Furor over planned removal of some of the memorial cherry trees a few years back highlighted the importance of honouring the history of the area along with present users of the park, said Lambertson.
The longest running community celebration in Vancouver includes taiko drumming, sumo wrestling, martial arts, bonsai, folk and modern dance, alternative pop, rock and urban music, historical walking tours, tea ceremonies and Japanese food and crafts. The free event runs at Powell Street and Jackson Avenue from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The remount of Kikyo, which was first exhibited in 1992, opens with an artist talk Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. at Chapel Arts. A ticketed event called Triple Threat that features folksinger Ana Miura, jazz pianist and vocalist Emi Meyer and Theatre Replacement’s Maiko Bae Yamamoto with Veda Hille runs at 8 p.m., Aug. 4. The trilogy of films screens at the Nikkei Centre, Aug. 8. For more information, see powellstreetfestival.com.