Canadian filmmaker, France Benoit is searching for the woman, “Kiri” and her family who the song Kiri’s Piano by James Keelaghan is based on to show them the film she made after being moved by their story four years ago.
It all started in 2010 when the Benoit and her husband were going on a trip from their home in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories to Montreal for Benoit’s parents’ wedding anniversary.
The two flew from Yellowknife to Edmonton and were embarking on a four-day trip to Montreal. Little did they know that Benoit was about to immerse herself into a journey of her own.
The two decided to divide their trip into two and stopped in Winnipeg to watch the David Suzuki documentary, Force of Nature.
In the movie, one particular scene – when Suzuki was visiting an internment camp museum and broke down crying – moved Benoit and her husband.
Benoit and her husband went back on the train.
“What do you do when you’re on the train? You talk,” she said.
Her husband told her that it reminded him of a song by James Keelaghan called Kiri’s Piano.
When Benoit found the old link of the song from 1988 on YouTube, it struck a chord. She burst into tears.
“It’s such a moving song and being a film maker, immediately I saw this as a film.”
The song is about Kiri Ito, a Japanese Canadian woman living in British Columbia during the Second World War, when Japanese Canadians were being forced into internment camps and had their possessions taken and sold. While Kiri’s name is fictionalized, “Kiri” is based on a real woman, who was a pianist.
The song describes Kiri at a time when her house, fishing boat and possessions were taken away and sold by the Canadian government. While all of this was happening, her husband was also taken away from her and their family to work in a labor camp.
Before the government could take Kiri’s prized possession, her piano, she defied and rolled it out to the dock’s harbor and let it slide into the ocean.
After hearing the song, Benoit got in touch with the writer of the song, Keelaghan, who gave her rights to use his song and told her that a member of his family had an indirect link with the family who the song was written about and that in fact this woman had existed.
It was the spring of 2011 when she received funding from the Northwest Territories Arts Council and started working on the script.
With the flowers beginning to bloom, her film also began to come into fruition when she met Wendy Ord, an award winning filmmaker acting as a mentor. Ord helped Benoit construct the story, which was a change of pace compared to Benoit’s past work’s that were primarily documentaries.
With Ord’s background knowledge making the film, Tora, which is set in the same era, dealing with the subject matter of internment camps helping Benoit and with more support and grants, she began filming last August in Yellowknife.
With the film near the finish line, with only editing left to complete, Kiri’s Piano is set to premiere in October, but Benoit said that one thing is still missing.
She is hoping to find “Kiri” and her descendants, so that she can pass the film onto them and thank them for their inspiration.
“I’ve learned a lot from Kiri and I’d like to let the family know that they were seen, they were heard and that they inspired people. If they want to remain quiet, that’s fine too.”
“But I want the message that even though it was a dark period, that act of defiance, throwing the piano spoke and is speaking to people today,” she said.
Benoit has been searching and was in touch with the National Association of Japanese Canadians in southern Alberta, where she was told the family could be living, but found no luck.
Benoit said that she made the decision to not try and find the family before she made the film because she knew that, “Even if I spent days with her family I’d never be able to replicate how she walked and talked and played music and her dresses and her hair.”
She said that she thought, “Maybe it would be better to let imagination and creativity speak to me and do as beautiful a job I could and then try and find them and present them the film.”
“If the family is willing to make contact, that would be wonderful,” she said.
Click here to watch the film’s trailer.
To contact France Benoit, she can be reached at:
Photo by: Kirsten Murphy Photos