The Accidental Filmmaker

Patricia Kinaga just wanted to document victims of domestic violence – instead she wound up being nominated for an Emmy

Published in 2004 Southern California Super Lawyers — February 2004

What do you get when you cross a sensitive lawyer with the Los Angeles city attorney’s office? Award-winning movies, of course. Patricia Kinaga was for almost nine years a deputy city attorney, in touch daily with the gamut of depravity, corruption and wickedness that files through those offices daily.

But rather than turn to drink or slip into depression, Kinaga decided to do something positive. She made a movie. Her first film, About Love, is about and for victims of domestic violence. This first effort of Kinaga’s was nominated for an Emmy in 1992.

“When I was a prosecutor, I saw many women, victims of domestic violence, who came into court wanting to ‘drop the charges.’” She points out that technically this is not possible, as it’s the prosecutor who files such charges. Still, she needed the full cooperation of these women to ensure the cases could be successfully litigated. She needed something to convince her clients that following through on their charges would bring positive results.

“I decided to make a film to explain to these women … the criminal court system and give them a better sense of how domestic violence generally does not stop without some type of intervention.”

Kinaga never intended to be a filmmaker, but the reception of About Love was so positive she decided to repeat the process with a completely different text. Her second film, 442:For the Future, is a docu-drama based on interviews of Japanese American veterans and families who were incarcerated during World War II. Like her first film, the story is an intensely personal one, only this time she wasn’t dealing with clients, but rather with her own family.

“This is a story I grew up with because my dad was in the war and in the unit [442nd Regimental Combat Team],” she explains. “My mom was also incarcerated. That’s how [my parents] met.” The people she interviewed for this film were people with whom she was raised, family and friends of the family, telling their stories of capture and battlefields, and remembering a time surrounded by significant hardship.

Burrowing deep into their memories, she asked hard questions of her interviewees while making sure her subjects felt at ease. She likened the experience to cross-examining a friendly witness on the stand.

“I was asking questions like: What were your most vulnerable moments? On the battlefield, what were some of your close calls? What was it like telling your parents you volunteered? There were a lot of tears.”

Her third film, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, is about breast cancer’s effect on the Asian/Pacific Islanders’ community. It deals with prevention and the elements that hinder prevention; early detection; and education about the disease that kills millions of women every year.

Kinaga is today an employment litigator and partner at the Los Angeles office of Jones Day, one of the country’s largest and most geographically diverse law firms. That firm has given her the freedom and support to continue in her moviemaking, as has her husband, economics advisor (and UCLA doctoral candidate in public policy) Peter J. Wong.

When Kinaga makes a film, she does just about everything on the project, from research to directing to promotion. How does she find the energy and time to fit moviemaking, a law career and raising a family into her life?

“People say I have a lot of energy,” she giggles when asked how she manages to keep pace. “I’ve worked on the films at night and on the weekends as time permits, but when I’m getting ready for a trial and until the completion of post-trial motions, the film projects can lay idle for weeks [and sometimes] months.

“I was once asked by a television station if I would switch positions from full-time lawyering to filmmaking, but my answer was, and remains, no. I really enjoy my work — never a dull moment in employment law! However, if I had the opportunity to take a leave to produce or help write a feature film on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team for a major film studio, I might be singing a different tune.” Hint, hint.

Because she is a first-time mom to a baby boy who has her wrapped around his little finger, she has no personal filmmaking projects under way. But don’t think that Kinaga is planning to slow down, even just a little bit.

“The nonprofit organization which I helped create to support the film projects, Pacific Film Currents (chashizume@earthlink.net), is still active,” she says. “Our latest project is fiscal sponsorship of a documentary to dispel stereotypic myths of Asian women.”

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