History

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
The Great War, Part 1 of 3

 

In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the war on April 6, 1917, this three-part, six-hour documentary tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.” The series explores the experiences of African American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native American code talkers and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten.

 

Part 1 of 3
Explore America’s tortured, nearly three-year journey to war. Reports of German atrocities and submarine attacks on American ships erode neutrality, finally leading to President Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”

 

 

How Finding Kukan Was Found

 

By Liberty Peralta

 

Finding Kukan makes its Hawai‘i broadcast debut, Thursday, June 28 at 9 pm. The documentary tells the story of Li Ling-Ai, a female film producer from Hawai‘i who was uncredited for her work on an Oscar-winning documentary about World War II in China called Kukan. A full copy of Kukan has long been missing, while Ling-Ai’s story has gone untold for decades. Both mysteries are unraveled over a seven-year journey on Finding Kukan.

 

The producer and director of Finding Kukan, Robin Lung, spoke with us by phone about the film.

 

Robin Lung
Robin Lung, producer and director of Finding Kukan

 

PBS Hawaiʻi: How did you come across Li Ling-Ai’s story?

Robin Lung: I read Li Ling-Ai’s memoir, Life is for a Long Time, about her physician parents in early 20th century Hawai‘i. I was searching for a Chinese American woman to profile, and I was really interested in the ’30s and ’40s, so I was researching women of that era. There was a biography of Li Ling-Ai on the book’s jacket flap that said that she had worked on this film Kukan that had won an Academy Award. I had never heard of Kukan or Li Ling-Ai before I read her memoir, so that really piqued my interest.

 

How did you come across her memoir?

I had been reading these vintage mystery novels that a friend of mine from New York sent me. They’re written by Juanita Sheridan, and they feature a Chinese American female detective named Lily Wu who solved crime in New York City and Hawai‘i. In an interview, Juanita Sheridan said that she based Lily Wu on some real life friends of hers from Hawai‘i; she had lived in Hawai‘i in the 1930s. That really caught my attention because Lily Wu is not your stereotypical shy, submissive Asian woman. She’s really smart, she’s really independent and audacious. This detective captured my imagination, and I wanted to find out who the real-life woman she was based on might be. I did a lot of research and that’s how I came across Li Ling-Ai’s memoir.

 

If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [which oversees the Oscars] didn’t have a copy of Kukan, how many other Oscar-winning films did they not have?

Kukan is the only Oscar-winning documentary that the Academy didn’t have a copy of. It was very unusual for them not to have a copy of this documentary because they actively collect their Oscar-winning films. That was another question that I wanted to explore in my film: Why did it get lost? We structured it as a detective story on purpose because we couldn’t find definitive answers for a lot of the questions that I asked. Shirley Thompson, who acted as the editor on the film, worked closely with me for five years. The film that I wanted to make is not the film that we ended up with, and that was because circumstances prevented me from having my ideal world. [laughs]

 

What did that ideal story look like?

The story of Li Ling-Ai and her filmmaking partner Rey Scott, and how they made Kukan, is like this Cinderella story. Two novices with no experience in filmmaking, on a whim, decide to make this film about what’s happening in China, and it ends up winning an Academy Award and is shown at the White House for President Roosevelt. My ideal story in my head was that I was going to find out every single detail about this story, and I was going to present it as a very conventional historical documentary, much like the Ken Burns documentaries.

 

Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott in front of the Clay Theater for the San Francisco premiere of Kukan, 1941

 

You had to let go of what you wanted this to look like and let it transform into something else. What was the takeaway for you in doing that?
You’re not in control of your material a lot of the time. You have to work with what you have and what you get. That challenge in how to make something with the limited palette of material you have is what sparks new creativity. That’s the fun part of filmmaking.

 

I also learned so much about how history is told and who gets to tell history. It’s activated me to preserve our own local history because I see that there’s this master narrative that comes from people in power. Our island stories are vulnerable to disappearing over time because the powers-that-be are not working hard to ensure that those stories get carried forward. If we don’t tell our own stories, and we don’t work hard to preserve the material that can tell those stories, then no one else will.

 

Perhaps there’s someone reading this who might not identify as a storyteller, but may be motivated to help preserve our stories. What can they do?

I came across this story after Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott had passed away. As I tried to interview people, a lot of times I would connect with them too late; they would have just passed away right before I met them. I think that’s a very common problem that we all face, that we don’t think to ask questions of our elders until it’s too late. There are so many rich stories in everybody’s family.

Also, the questions that are important historically are sometimes things that older people don’t want to talk about. They’re tough times, and those are stories that we need to learn lessons from. Finding Kukan is a bittersweet film because I do find out amazing things, but there are certain things that I’ll never be able to know.

What I would hope that people will do after seeing this film is that they sit down and talk with their elders. Take out an iPhone or a tape recorder and have it rolling when they ask, “What did you do in the war?” or “Why did we move to Hawai‘i?” Those basic questions that they want to know more about and really want to get the answers to.

_____
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 

IN PRINCIPLE

IN PRINCIPLE

 

In this new series, co-hosts Michael Gerson, a syndicated Washington Post columnist, and Amy Holmes, a political news commentator, interview guests to explore the framework of today’s news and political conversations, examining history, faith and culture.

 

 

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Ma Ka Malu Ali‘i: The Legacy of Hawai‘i’s Ali‘i

 

The 19th century was a time of devastating change for the Hawaiian people. This documentary looks at the visionary efforts of five members of the ali’i, Hawaiian royalty, to provide for the education of the children, healthcare and comfort for the elderly. The charitable institutions they created have endured and are thriving and vital institutions today.

 

 

CIVILIZATIONS
The Second Moment of Creation

CIVILIZATIONS: The Second Moment of Creation

 

Civilizations is a new nine-part series that examines human creativity across cultures. The PBS and BBC co-production, narrated by actor Liev Schreiber, tells the story of art from the dawn of human history to the
present day.

 

Inspired by Civilisation, Kenneth Clark’s acclaimed 1969 series about Western art, this epic new series expands the scope globally to reveal the role art and the creative imagination have played across multiple cultures and civilizations. Throughout the series, Civilizations travels across six continents to explore a wealth of treasures created through the entirety of the human experience. State-of-the-art drone and camera movement technology and macro-photography allow viewers to immerse themselves in new ways.

 

The Second Moment of Creation charts the impulse of humans to express themselves creatively over tens of thousands of years, evolving from simple, abstract etchings to painted and sculpted depictions of the animal world and eventually the human form itself

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Roads to Memphis

 

A riveting crosscut narrative of a killer and his prey, ROADS TO MEMPHIS is the fateful story of an assassin and his target set against the seething, turbulent forces in American society that drove two men to their violent and tragic collision on April 4, 1968. In this clip, author Hampton Sides (Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Manhunt for his Assassin) describes why James Earl Ray set his sights on King.

 

 

JACKIE ROBINSON
Part 2 of 2

 

Examine the life and times of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, who in 1947 lifted a nation and an entire race on his shoulders when he crossed baseball’s color line. Ken Burns reveals fascinating stories about the legend’s life on and off the field.

 

Part Two
Robinson uses his fame to speak out against injustice, alienating many who had once lauded him for “turning the other cheek.” After baseball, he seeks ways to fight inequality, but as he faces a crippling illness, he struggles to remain relevant.

 

 

Keepers of the Flame: The Cultural Legacy of Three Hawaiian Women (2005)

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME: The Cultural Legacy of Three Hawaiian Women

 

The lives of three extraordinary Hawaiian women, Mary Kawena Pukui, ‘Iolani Luahine and Edith Kanaka‘ole, are chronicled in this film. It shows how, together, they combined their talents and commitment to reignite the flame of tradition in a time when Hawaiian culture was gravely threatened.

 







JACKIE ROBINSON
Part 1 of 2

 

Examine the life and times of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, who in 1947 lifted a nation and an entire race on his shoulders when he crossed baseball’s color line. Ken Burns reveals fascinating stories about the legend’s life on and off the field.

 

Part 1 of 2
Robinson rises from humble origins to integrate Major League Baseball, performing brilliantly despite the threats and abuse he faces on and off the field and, in the process, challenges the prejudiced notions of what a black man can achieve.

 

 

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