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George Igawa Orchestra at Heart Mountain.

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center will host a public screening of the documentary film “Searchlight Serenade” at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Admission to the center, including the film screening, will be free all day.

Produced by PBS North Coast with mixed-media artist Amy Uyeki, “Searchlight Serenade” focuses on the Japanese American swing dance bands that formed at the 10 government confinement sites throughout the West during World War II. Along with participating in sports and social clubs, performing in these bands and attending dances provided much needed recreation, distraction and joy for Japanese Americans living behind barbed wire. 

The hour-long documentary, which originally premiered in 2012, features interviews with several former incarceree musicians and includes a soundtrack filled with the era’s iconic, upbeat music popularized by Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and other big band leaders. The film also uses whimsical animations created from woodcuts and drawings by Uyeki to communicate the story of these confinement site bands. 

“Searchlight Serenade” complements the interpretive center’s current special exhibit, “Songs on the Wind,” which focuses on the role music played at Heart Mountain. The exhibit, supported in part by a grant from thinkWY/Wyoming Humanities, highlights the camp’s own swing band, the George Igawa Orchestra. Visitors to the center on this free admission day will have a chance to explore the exhibit before or after enjoying the documentary film screening.

Dakota Russell, the interpretive center’s executive director, said the exhibit explores a significant part of Heart Mountain history. 

“The impact that these Japanese American bands had in Wyoming is amazing.” he said. The George Igawa Orchestra was regularly bused to towns around the Bighorn Basin to play dances, and the camp’s Hawaiian band, The Surf Riders, had a Thursday night program on KPOW radio in Powell.”

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