Mira Costa student documentary draws attention 

Maddox Chen at a Newfilmmakers LA exhibition May 13. Photo by Garth Meyer

by Garth Meyer

Land that includes Mira Costa High School was once part of a 120-acre wholesale flower farm owned by a Japanese-American who was sent to an internment camp in 1942.

A new student film tells the story.

Two years after a forced move to Manzanar Japanese Relocation Camp in Independence, Calif. – while a white manager and crew tended to Star Nurseries – owner Francis Uyematsu began to sell pieces of the farm. 

The final 40 acres were sold after the war, in 1947, as Uyematsu’s son started to take over the business.

Maddox Chen, a senior at Mira Costa, began making a seven-minute film on the subject last summer, as part of a six-week USC Nonfiction Filmmaking course. 

The idea came from a plaque dedicated at MCHS in 2021. Chen spent more than 100 hours on the film, he estimates, interviewing retired Mira Costa teacher Chuck Currier, who pushed for the plaque to honor Uyematsu. The film includes his granddaughter, Mary Uyematsu Kao.

“Grandpa Cherry Blossom” earned a YoungArts Foundation Honorable Mention Award and inclusion for YoungArts Lab in Miami in April. It was chosen to play in eight film festivals, including the NewFilmmakers L.A. and the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival. 

Chen also received an IndieFest Film Award of Excellence for both Young Filmmaker and Asian Student Filmmaker. 

Chen is the only “Cinema 4 (senior year)” student in Mira Costa High School’s  Cinematic Arts program. Just one student is in Cinema 3 as well. All four years of the program are combined into one class – 28 students. 

Chen moved with his family to California from New York City before high school. He will go back in the fall to start NYU as a film major – one of 250 incoming freshmen in the program.

“It’s definitely a change from being the only film kid in my class,” Chen said. 

“Grandpa Cherry Blossom” screens Thursday at the Hermosa Beach Museum at 6 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Currier and Mary Uyematsu Kao.

Currier was a Mira Costa economics teacher and freshmen football coach. He started the Mira Costa History Project in 2015. Research for his book, “The History of Mira Costa High School – The First Decade” led to the story of Uyematsu, who died in 1978.

Star Nurseries remained in business until 1986.ER


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