(2021) color, TRT 84 mins, documentary
An inspired and poetic portrait of a place and its people, Manzanar, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust follows intergenerational women from three communities who defend their land, their history and their culture from the insatiable thirst of Los Angeles. In this fresh retelling of the LA water story, Native Americans, Japanese-American WWII incarcerees and environmentalists form an unexpected alliance to preserve Payahuunadü (Owens Valley), “the land of flowing water.”
Featuring breathtaking photography and immersive soundscapes, the film recounts more than 150 years of history, showing how this distant valley is inextricably tied to the city of Los Angeles. It reveals the forced removals of two peoples–the Nüümü (Paiute) and the Newe (Shoshone) who were marched out of the Valley in the 1860s by the US Army and Japanese Americans who were brought here from their West Coast homes and incarcerated in a World War II concentration camp. Water lured outsiders in and continues to fuel the greed which has sucked this once lush place dry.
Filmed over five years, Manzanar, Diverted captures stunning and intimate imagery of this valley, combined with archival gems and careful research to narrate this epic story of the American West. It begins before colonizers came to the valley and then shows how the US Army and settlers took over the Valley; how the Los Angeles Aqueduct siphoned the Valley dry; how incarcerated Japanese Americans made the land green again; how Patsiata / Owens Lake became a huge health hazard and how this Valley now bears the pain of these stories and the consequences of losing water to diversion.
Manzanar is the name of the former concentration camp that was constructed where an orchard community had thrived before the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) bought it out. Now, it is a national historic site where its annual pilgrimage unifies descendants of those incarcerated and activists who strive for social justice. In a David and Goliath fight, Japanese Americans living in Los Angeles and Native Americans and ranchers from the Valley form a coalition that stops construction of a massive LADWP solar facility across the Valley from the historic site. The film offers a hopeful message of how communities can come together to overcome histories of oppression and halt further development and monetization of a land.