Ray Gonzales knew he had a great story to tell, because he had a great storyteller in Masaji Inoshita. And now Gonzales has won a great award: America's top student documentary.
To accurately relate the account of Inoshita's life, all Gonzalez had to do was aim a camera at the elderly man talking about how he was an American citizen, but of Japanese descent, sent to a Pinal County internment camp during World War II.
That was easy for Gonzales, a videographer with Chandler's Department of Communications and Public Affairs.
Yet to tell the story artfully, Gonzales relied on a lesson learned during his study for a master's degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
"You know when to get out of the way," Gonzales said. "What I learned from my time at the Cronkite school was recognize a storyteller and know how to help him tell his story."
Inoshita's story is told in the 27-minute documentary, "Lessons in Loyalty: One American's Internment Camp Experience."
The Broadcast Educators Association will honor Gonzales at its annual arts festival next month in Las Vegas.
This is the second prize earned by Gonzales; last year, "Lessons in Loyalty" won a Silver Telly, the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional and cable TV commercials and programs.
It was in early 2006 that Gonzales met Inoshita at a local library because the city historian wanted a tape of the man's presentation.
"That's something I highly encourage, because I use oral histories a lot in many of the projects I work on as a historian," said Jean Reynolds, Chandler's public history coordinator. "I just think that individual stories are so important to making history real to everyone."
What Inoshita had to say stunned Gonzales.
"I never knew more than 100,000 people were thrown into internment camps," Gonzales said. "And I definitely didn't know one of these camps was 15 miles south of Chandler."
For a time during the war, the Gila River Internment Camp was Arizona's fourth-largest city, behind Phoenix, Tucson and another camp, Poston, located about 15 miles southwest of the Colorado River Valley town of Parker.
Why America decided that these people, a majority of them U.S. citizens, needed to be locked away is told in the documentary with both nuance and pain.
Karen Leung, director of ASU's Asian Pacific American Studies program, provides context of the forced relocation, while Inoshita heatedly speaks of having opportunists give low-ball offers for the horses he needed to sell from his family's California farm.
Gonzales found a trove of archival material, from photos and films to news clippings, detailing life within the camps. As these were Americans, they engaged in typically American activities: Boy Scouts and baseball, for example.
Eventually, the men were allowed to take up arms for the nation that had imprisoned them.
Inoshita, now 88 years old, also provided a tour of the Gila River complex; little remains beyond rusted barbed wire and crumbling foundations.
Through Gonzales' documentary, Gila River and its inhabitants, such as Inoshita, will never be forgotten.
Said Gonzales: "This is a story that needs to be told, and I'm lucky enough to get my hands on it and be part of that process of telling the story."