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‘The Ito Sisters,’ ‘Defender’ at Berkeley Video-Film Festival

BERKELEY — The lineup at the 26th annual Berkeley Video-Film Festival, being held at the East Bay Media Center, 1939 Addison St. in Berkeley, includes the following:

This film focuses on San Francisco Public Defender Adachi as he and his team take on the high-profile case of 22-year-old Michael Smith, who pleads not guilty after he is charged with nine counts of resisting arrest. Pulled off a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train along with his girlfriend, Smith is wrestled to the ground, the arrest captured on the attending officers’ body cameras.

Adachi employs the images from the cameras to advance the case that Smith’s arrest and the rough treatment he received on the BART platform were racially motivated. Moreover, he avers in the documentary, his client’s odyssey in the criminal justice system was evidence of black-crime bias in ostensibly liberal San Francisco.

But more than just an exposé of racism, “Defender” also shines a light on Adachi and his long career. Shown on the job — getting Smith to the courtroom, consulting with colleagues on the case, and discussing strategy and outcomes — and in private, early morning moments at the gym where he can’t quite get away from work, running into an old client as he works out, Adachi is low-key and affable.

But percolating beneath that placid surface is a lifelong passion for social justice, ignited when he was a small boy learning that his family was among those interned during World War II and finding its purpose in his long service with the Public Defender’s Office.

Adachi was first elected chief public defender in 2001 and was previously deputy public defender. As a filmmaker, his works include “The Slanted Screen” (2006), “You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story” (2009), and “America Needs a Racial Facial” (2016). (

This film captures the rarely told stories of the earliest Japanese immigrants to the U.S. and their American-born children. In particular, the film focuses on the experiences of Issei and Nisei women, whose voices have largely been excluded from American history. At the center of the film are three Nisei sisters: Natsuye (Nancy), Haruye (Lillian) and Hideko (Hedy), who were born on a farm in the Sacramento River Delta and whose lives were directly impacted by some of the most significant events of 20th-century America, from the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 to the Great Depression to World War II.

The film also explores the lives of the women’s parents, Yetsusaburo and Toku Ito, who came to the U.S. to earn money so they could return to Japan, but whose plans were repeatedly thwarted.

Featuring interviews with the three sisters — conducted in their 80s and 90s — the film is also brought to life through family and archival photographs and documents; verbatim quotes from prominent historical figures; commentary and analysis from renowned scholars; and artistic illustrations. “The Ito Sisters” reveals a little-known chapter of American history, focusing on life in what was essentially a California plantation system between the world wars, with Asian and Mexican laborers working the fields of white landowners.

The film explores themes that remain timely today: the meaning of American identity and citizenship for immigrants and their children; and tensions between new Americans and anti-immigrant forces. (

Advance tickets are $10. For more information, call (510) 843-3699 or visit

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