Little-known Adventist hero subject of proposed short film
Educator Erwin Cossentine stood against U.S. internment of Japanese during Second World War
A Seventh-day Adventist educational pioneer who stood against the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War may soon get his own cinematic tribute. "One Small Stand," a short feature film about Erwin Earl Cossentine, is in pre-production as backers hope to raise the final $20,000 to begin production via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.
The group behind the film, comprised of students and faculty at church-owned La Sierra University in Riverside, California, and The Manumitter, described as "a global human rights organization" in a La Sierra news release, hopes to raise the final sum by Nov. 18, said Jonathan Davidson, a development officer at the school and a screenwriter.
"Overall, we’ve received very positive encouragement that the story finally is being told," Davidson said.
At the heart of the story is Erwin Earl Cossentine, a pioneering educator in the church who, after six years in New Zealand and Australia, the last two as head of Avondale College, arrived at what was then Southern California Junior College in Riverside. During his tenure, the school achieved a higher status and became La Sierra College, now La Sierra University.
Following the December 1941 attack by Japanese forces on the U.S. Navy's base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, American entry into the Second World War placed the nation on high alert. Residents of the West Coast — and their government — feared Japanese-Americans would form a "fifth column" of internal opposition, paving the way for an invasion. Such fears turned out to be groundless, and indeed, a number of Japanese-Americans fought valiantly for the U.S. during the war.
That didn't stop a move by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to have Japanese-Americans relocated away from the coasts. Residents and citizens were rounded up, including five Japanese-American-descended students at La Sierra who had come from Hawaii at Cossentine's invitation. Appeals by the school president were ignored, and the students were bussed to a camp in Wyoming.
Cossentine left La Sierra to take the helm at Union College, another Adventist school in Lincoln, Nebraska. There, he succeeded in bringing 25 interned young adults, all but one an Adventist, to complete their educations.
"I was frustrated by the situation," Cossentine recalled decades later. "I was just concerned about the young people."
After the war, Cossentine served 20 years as education director for the General Conference, retiring in 1966. He passed to his rest in 1993.
The example of Cossentine working to rescue the students from harsh conditions imposed solely because of their ethnicity "really shows Seventh-day Adventists living their values of justice and taking care of each other," Davidson said.
The screenwriter said he was "surprised how many people didn't know about the internment," which adds to the motivation to make the story known. La Sierra president Randall Wisbey appeared in a promotional video for the project, and Davidson said the whole "campus is on board" in support of the film.
Davidson said he expects the film to be shown at the United Nations in October 2017, during an event marking the 75th anniversary of the internment.
He said the production would allow La Sierra film students to get hands-on experience in movie production.
"We’re going to have professional filmmakers in lead roles, but also have film students assist the professionals," Davidson said. "We'll get a Hollywood level production, but the students get to be right there and learn how it works and participate. It's a really cool thing for our students."