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Festival Laurels

A NOTE FROM THE DIRECTORS


When we first heard about Wat, we, like everyone else we talk to, were amazed to find out that in 1947 he was the first person of color to be drafted into professional basketball -- and by our hometown team, the New York Knicks, to boot. At a time when racism against Japanese Americans was at its all time high, Wat became not only the first draft pick ever for the New York Knicks, but the first collegiate draft pick in professional basketball history. Why had we never heard of him? And how difficult must it have been for him, a young Japanese American man, to be a basketball hero in post-World War II America?

Wat was such a charismatic athlete that even in the post World War II climate, Knicks owner Ned Irish didn't think twice about the racial implications of having a Japanese American player on his team. Wat simply had that intangible quality that coaches look for and dream of in an athlete. The New York City fans were certainly ahead of their time in accepting him, too. During the 1947 NIT Championship Tournament at Madison Square Garden, Wat guarded and shut down Ralph Beard, All-American "Player of the Year" from Kentucky. And when Wat was not recognized in the selection of the MVP, the New York City crowds booed the choice.

Unfortunately, Wat's NBA career was a short one. He only played three games, scoring seven points. Though the baseball world had a plan firmly in place that year when integrating Jackie Robinson into their league, no one thought about the possible repercussions of having a Japanese American player in professional basketball. Who can say how his career might have turned out in a less politically charged time.

Basketball
 

After being released from the Knicks, Wat was offered (but turned down) a spot with the Harlem Globetrotters, who at the time were considered to be the best team in the world. One more fact that speaks to Wat's basketball prowess. Yet until recently he has not been acknowledged by either history books or the Basketball Hall of Fame as the barrier-breaker that he was. Sixty-two years later, we watched him get embraced by the NBA Legends Organization during the NBA All Star Weekend, then invited to Madison Square Garden where he was, at long last, celebrated on the court by the Knicks. President Barack Obama recently welcomed Wat to the White House, where he thanked him for his contribution to history. And not only has famed New York Times sports writer George Vecsey revered the fact that "history had rediscovered him", but finally, so did a legendary building in Springfield, Massachusetts. For on August 8, 2009, we witnessed with great pride together, the inclusion, at long last, of Wat Misaka's profile in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

In telling Wat's incredible story, we have seen lives impacted and dreams affirmed. People across the country, from ages nine to ninety, have moved us with their tales of inspiration from hearing how Wat Misaka triumphed over adversity. It is our greatest hope that in sharing his story with the world, we can all be reminded that the human spirit is powerful and transcending.

We have been humbled by the powerful waves our film has made and as Wat's wife Katie often says,
"how far the ripples go."

Bruce Alan Johnson and Christine Toy Johnson - January 2010

THE FILMMAKERS


BruceBRUCE ALAN JOHNSON (Co-Director/Editor) directed the audience award-winning short film ALL AMERICAN EYES written by and starring his wife Christine Toy Johnson, and with a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, has collaborated with her again to make TRANSCENDING - THE WAT MISAKA STORY. His love of basketball, digital artistry and commitment to diversity and inclusion made this film a perfect fit for him. He has worked Off-Broadway as Production Stage Manager for FALSETTOLAND and the world premiere of VICTOR WOO: THE AVERAGE ASIAN AMERICAN and as a performer, on Broadway as "Joe Gillis" opposite Elaine Paige in SUNSET BLVD. Bruce was also the lighting designer for the "Asian Americans on Broadway" concert series at the Brava Theatre and Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston. An award-winning photographer, he is the founder of Bruce Johnson Photography and Graphic Design, whose clients have included Oscar nominated and Tony and Grammy Award winning artists.

He is a graduate of the University of Iowa (film production). More about his work can be found at www.brucealanjohnson.com

ChristineCHRISTINE TOY JOHNSON (Co-director/Producer) is an award-winning playwright, actor and filmmaker. Her first play, THE NEW DEAL, was the inaugural play to be developed in the "Different Voices" program at the Roundabout Theatre Company, while its prequel, PAPER SON has been included in the Multi-cultural drama curriculum at the University of Michigan as well as the Playwriting curriculum at Wesleyan University. Other plays: INTERNAL BLEEDING (Crossroads Theatre Company's Genesis Festival), ADVENTURES OF A FAUX DESIGNER HANDBAG (in development with Leviathan Lab), "EVER SEE A FAT CHINESE?" (produced by New Perspectives Theatre Company) and THE PERFECT WIFE. Screenplays: NO WAVE WITHOUT WIND(with Charles Randolph-Wright), JUMPING THE THIRD RAIL, DULLY FOR PRESIDENT and OLD, FAT AND UGLY. Her short film about inadvertent discrimination, ALL AMERICAN EYES, (which she also starred in and produced) was the winner of the Audience Award at the Waves International Film Festival, and played the Hearts and Minds and New York International Film and Video Film Festivals. Awarded two consecutive grants from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, she produced and co-directed TRANSCENDING - THE WAT MISAKA STORY with her husband, filmmaker Bruce Johnson.

As a performer, she has appeared extensively on Broadway, off-Broadway, in regional theatres across the country, in film, television, and concerts worldwide for over 25 years and is the recipient of a Boomerang Fund for Artists Grant Award in recognition of her acting and writing careers.

Christine is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the Certificate of Screenwriting Program at NYU. She is part of the elected leadership of Actors' Equity Association, on the board of Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, a member of Leviathan Lab, AEA, SAG, AFTRA, and The Dramatists Guild. For more, please visit www.christinetoyjohnson.com.

THE COMPOSER


ScotSCOT STAFFORD (Original Music) is a composer and music producer. He worked with Christine Toy Johnson on both US and World premieres of WHERE ELEPHANTS WEEP, on which he alternately served as Music Supervisor, Music Director, Conductor, Orchestrator and Composer. As film composer, he composed and orchestrated the score to Pixar/Disney's critically acclaimed hit "Presto" which was nominated for an Academy Award. Stafford is the Founder and Chief Advisor of Studio CLA, a nonprofit ethnographic audiovisual production studio in Phnom Penh positioned at the heart of Cambodia's artistic rebirth. He lives in the San Francisco area with his wife Monica and children Octavio and Amelia. More about his work can be seen at scotstafford.com